Wednesday, February 20, 2008
You'll be surprised what $5 will buy
Good Libations columnist Gordon Kendall
- Gordon Kendall's column, "Good Libations," runs monthly in Extra. He welcomes readers' questions and comments about wine, beer or spirits.
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You can't pick up the newspaper these days without reading discouraging economic news about the mortgage crisis, jobs going overseas and the ever-increasing price of gas and groceries.
The exchange rate of the euro against the dollar has caused the price of European wines to increase. Look at last year's record-high Beaujolais nouveau prices. Napa Valley has developed all of the available vineyard land, and the resulting high price of real estate has sent prices of Napa appellation wine into the stratosphere.
Don't abandon wine in the face of this discouraging news! Many bottles selling for about $5 locally are very drinkable. While not complex, these wines have broad appeal.
The primary thing that makes a wine expensive is supply versus demand. Suppose you have a vintner in Napa Valley who grows his or her own grapes in a prime location. This estate-bottled wine will have a high price because only a limited quantity can be produced, and the vintner has controlled every aspect of production from growing the grapes to bottling the wine.
Let us suppose, however that Mother Nature dishes out a less-than-perfect growing season and that the grapes, while good, don't make the winemaker's cut. Rather than declare a loss, the vintner can offer his grapes on the bulk market at a low price, and an enterprising conglomerate can pick them up and blend them with other similar grapes. Our theoretical blend might not have a lot of distinction and complexity, but sometime the various components from different sources create a synergy with a harmonious result. Although the finished product will have a pedestrian generic California appellation, it should be low in price. The back label would probably state something like, "Vinted and bottled by Bronco Wine Cellars."
Fred Franzia, the guy who created the Charles Shaw wines ("Two Buck Chuck"), got his start by buying bulk wine for next to nothing during a glut of California wine in the late 1990s. His winemaker is a master blender who makes diverse blends better than the sum of their parts. This wine is only available at Trader Joe's stores and therefore not obtainable locally.
Clever vintners seeking value have other money-saving tricks up their sleeves. Rather than shell out $800 each for fancy French oak barrels, a winemaker can obtain some inexpensive toasted oak chips, place them in a muslin bag and throw that into a tank of fermenting juice. The finished product will have the oak taste without the high price.
Southeastern Australia produces great value wines. Using automated processes such as mechanical pruning and harvesting, vintners are able to minimize costs. In some cases, the wine is produced and loaded into large tankers for export and then bottled when it arrives here. This method holds the costs down. Australian wines are usually made in a user-friendly style with lots of soft, upfront fruit but not so much complexity and nuance. Hey, who needs complexity and nuance when you are broke?
Gordon's picks for $5 wine
Available locally Prices and availability may vary.
Mattie's Perch Cabernet Shiraz Southeastern Australia
Here is an example of bulk Aussie wine bottled in the states. The wine displays a medium crystal-clear garnet color and aromas of strawberry liqueur. The palate opens with a blast of fruit featuring strawberry and blackberry flavors and finishes with silky soft tannins. While not complex, it is perfectly fine with burgers on a weeknight. $5
Fossi Bianco Italy
Although classified as "vino de tavola" (simple table wine), this fresh mixture of Garganega and Trebbiano displays a light greenish color and pretty floral aromas. Garganega is the primary grape used in more expensive Soave, and this nonvintage wine is similar with light, fresh honeydew melon flavors. Serve this clean white wine with hearty seafood dishes such as roasted salmon. $5
Alice White Shiraz 2006 Southeastern Australia
The wine wears a deep ruby robe and emits powerful aromas of blackberry, spice and cocoa. Luscious sweet fruit washes over the palate with plush and soft body and imperceptible tannins. Intriguing aromas of chocolate and mocha develop after time in the glass. People who don't like red wines because they are "bitter" should try this, maybe with meatloaf. $5
Banrock Station Shiraz 2006 Southeastern Australia
This shiraz is a bit lighter in body than the Alice White described above. It displays a medium crimson hue and aromas of raspberry liqueur and spice. The palate has soft note of a cherry cough drop and a lingering finish all but devoid of harsh tannins. Pair it with pizza. $5
Resonata Nero d'Avola 2006 Sicily, Italy
Nero d'Avola is the predominant red grape variety planted in Sicily and makes up 100 percent of this wine. The grapes are soft-pressed and fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks for a soft texture and mild tannins. Aromas of blackberries lead to flavors of red fruits and rich earth. Serve with roasted lamb or grilled meats. $5
Figaro, Tinto 2006 Calatyud, Spain
Many farmers combine their grapes at the cooperative they collectively own to make this wine. The grape variety is 100 percent Grenache and, after fermentation, spends a short time in oak barrels to add a vanilla note. Flavors of ripe red fruits are on display with a touch of smoke and dusky tannins on the finish. Try it with garlic-roasted chicken. $5
Gordon Kendall's wine and spirits column runs monthly in Extra. He welcomes comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org