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Sunday, March 18, 2007

But I Only Have a Hamilton!

Lots of people are looking for wine utopia. What do I mean? Allow me to explain.

Wine utopia is the place where you can get outstanding wines for nothing more than ten dollars. You don't even have to know anything about that region. Just pick a bottle and it will be good. Do a little work and you might even find an exceptional bargain.
Just like with other Shangri-Las, Wine Utopia's hard to find. Let's look at a few candidates.
Many wine writers, magazines and even customers say that Chile is wine utopia. This may have been true at one time and yes, there are plenty of decent red and white Bordeaux varietal wines available in Chile, but most of them are just that, decent, and no more. They aren't spectacular or even great, at least not for my palate.
But there's another problem. The reds have, well, a certain aroma I don't like. I coined a new descriptor to describe it:

They have something in them that smells earthy, but not in a good way. No, I'm not talking barnyard, though that is a standard descriptor for some wine aromas. This is more related to Bordeaux minerality, but minerality gone bad. It seems to be unique to most - but not all - Chilean reds. Chile, to me, is more Purgatory rather than Utopia.

Australia used to be the best place to find a 10-dollar beauty. No longer. Now Yellow Tail will cost you a ten-spot. While there are still some great, inexpensive bottles, the era of the cheap, Aussie wine rated well over 90 points is over. You have all have discovered the Australian secret. It's your fault.

California has never been home of the great wine bargain, at least as long as I have been in the wine business. Granted, that's less than five years, but I can't imagine there has been a major shift in that business model either shortly before or shortly after I fell into the wine world.

France and Italy are another matter. There are plenty of well made, low priced wines produced by both these countries. The problem with these countries is you're expected to do research.

In Europe, they match ground to grape, so if you see a specific region or area or appellation on the label, you should know what grapes they grow there. I mean French consumers know that Burgundy will be Pinot Noir and the Italians know that Chianti is dominated by Sangiovese, why shouldn't you?
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of good bottles you can get for an Alexander Hamilton in both France and Italy. You just have to do some hunting, and that's not very utopian.

Well, if you can't find Wine Utopia in Australia, France, Italy, California or Chile, where the Hell is it?

Spain. That's the closest you're gonna get.

Why Spain? It's simple. Whether you're looking to buy sparklers, reds, whites, roses or dessert wines, they make some of the best quality, bargain priced wines in the world.
They have one of the oldest winemaking cultures in the world - Spain first got its grapes from the Phonecians, some 5000 years ago. Most European cultures started producing wines with Roman invasions, much later than Spain
Though they're old hands at winemaking, Spain has some of the newest equipment, youngest and most innovative winemakers and most exciting new techniques for making wine.
When it comes to grapes, they have the same blend of old and new. They use both native grapes (Verdejo, Parellada Mencia, Bobal) and international varietals like Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah to make wines. Heck, they've even found out that some French grapes are really Spanish (Grenache and Mourvedre)! As far as grape variety goes, you get the best of old and new with Spain.
And nobody, I mean nobody, knows how to blend fruit, oak, acid, earth and tannin better than the Spanish.
Here's how much I stand by my assessment of Spain as the closest thing you'll find to Wine Utopia right now. I don't even think you have to look at the wines. Try this method for choosing a Spanish wine next time you head to the wine store:

1) Go to the wine retailer you know has the widest selection of Spanish wines you can think of.
2) Stand a little bit closer than arm's length in front of the Spanish wine section.
3) Close your eyes.
4) Wave your arm around randomly (and gently!) the rack and after a few seconds, let your hand rest on a bottle.
5) If that bottle is over 10 bucks, repeat steps 2-4.
6) Pick up that bottle, pay for it and take it home.
7) Drink.
I think you're gonna be shocked at the results. You may find a bottle that's good, regardless of whether it's red or white.
And if you actually read the labels, you might find a highly rated wine for your ten-spot.

I only have two disclaimers about this method.
First, one hallmark of Spanish wines is their earthiness. You'll find plenty of fruit in many of these wines, but they love earthy flavors, too. I still think you'll be shocked at how good a wine you can find for 1000 pennies.
Second, if you're used to drinking only California wines, European wines generally need food. They don't drink wine without some kinda snack right there at the same time - olives, almonds, cheese - something. As a result, they build the wines to go with food. You should drink them that way, too.

Try this out but don't do it with Spain alone. It's a fun way to explore any wine region, if not the most efficient. Let me know how it works for you.


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At 7:17 PM, March 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm always amazed at the depth of your knowledge about wine. Who else would know all these things and can then bring them together in a $10.00 bottle of wine!


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