May 31, 2005

On Wine Value, and a Bargain Southern Rhone Red

I suppose it’s right and good for a fan of anything, as I am of wine, to have a few pet peeves about his hobby.

Some are minor, like how people misuse the word varietal. As in "that’s my favorite varietal" or "how many grape varietals are in that blend?" It’s variety, in both cases. Grape varieties can be varietal just like comics hopefully can be comical. But saying "that’s my favorite grape varietal" makes about as much sense as saying "he’s my favorite comical."

Which makes me think of the annoying myth where you have to be sophisticated to appreciate wine. Apparently that’s not true at all, what with the wine crowd constantly effusing about favored grape varietals.

Yet some peeves are more serious. Perhaps the worst, because it seems to be reason number one that people give me for why they aren’t into wine, is that you have to spend a lot of money to get good wine. It’s simply not true.

Oh, but here comes a related peeve. Yes, yes, yes, you’ll constantly read in the wine press about great values from the world over. But they’re usually high volume, mass marketed brands that, given what they offer, don’t seem to be a nice way to spend $10 at all. Gallo of Sonoma, Kendall Jackson, Georges DuBoeuf? Yes, all likely to be found almost anywhere in the US. But good value? Maybe if you’re really into Hostess doughnuts and fast food. For the most part, these and virtually all the other big brand wines have as much distinction as the Red Lobster.

No, value in wine is admittedly a more complex, personal, and to some degree a local concept. Now I’m the first to admit I love, and love to taste, wines that cost a whole lot more than $10. But if you are interested, you can drink and even cellar terrific wines for an average of $10 a bottle, pretty much anywhere you live.

Sure, it doesn’t hurt to live near regions that produce wine you like. There are always some local values you won’t find elsewhere. But retailers almost everywhere discount good wine that they simply can’t sell. And you can’t overlook buying and shipping wine from retailers across the country, just like you do from Land’s End or There are high quality retailers out there with some amazing deals on wines that are worth your time and money.

One little blog entry can’t convey all the ways to find discount wine. I’m passionate about the subject, and I will write more about where you can find great deals. But here’s my personal favorite. Bargain bins. Of course, they vary widely by region, and truth be told I’ve never found as consistently great bargain bins as we have here in Portland. But even if you’re not a manic bin browser like me, keep your eyes open for unusual things your local retailer might want to get rid of. Stay away from suspect wines – leaking out the top, faded labels from too much light exposure, low fill levels, etc. All bargain hunters must learn some painful lessons with dicey purchases, and wine bargain hunters are no different. But it’s fun and often worth the search. And if you’re like me, you might get to the point where you turn down bargains because you simply find too many.

Today’s inspiration? A $14 wine that I found in a bargain bin for $8 that tastes like a $20+ wine. When you find something like this, you know you’ve spent your time well.

2001 Andre Brunel Cotes du Rhone Villages "Cuvee Sabrine"
This southern Rhone red wine is a typical blend of grenache, syrah, and mourvedre, and the producer happens to make wine for the widely noted Chateauneuf du Pape property Les Cailloux. It offers a dark ruby color with a lovely perfume of the southern Rhone – red berries, black pepper, stones, and the classic garrigue or mixture of earth and herbs that you might notice on a walk in this area of France. In the mouth the wine is gorgeous, with rich stony fruit, pepper, and clean earth flavors. There is bright acidity, fine tannins, and a fairly long finish with some alcoholic warmth.

Overall, the wine is a little slick compared to the traditional producers, made in a more modern style that preserves the fresh fruit character of the grapes. But there’s simply question where this wine comes from, and it is delicious over two nights (I only saved some in the name of science) with food and on its own. This was the best wine under $10 I’ve had in a long time and it will hold for a few years even if it doesn’t develop much. It’s great as it is, and for $8 it might as well have been free.


jens at cincinnati wine said...

Are you sure about the term varietal versus variety?

A wine made principally from one variety of grape and carrying the name of that grape.

Vincent Fritzsche said...

Exactly. I should have been more clear. A wine can be varietal, but a grape is a variety. So a cabernet sauvignon varietal wine is made with the grape variety cabernet sauvignon. Admittedly, language is constantly in flux. So many people use varietal as a noun, rather than as an adjective to describe wine, that sooner or later it will become more accepted. But I'm stubborn.

Yeah, I know, pedantic. But some things I guess just have to be.