by Eric Englund & Karen De Coster
wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used.
William Shakespeare (15641616), Othello, II. iii. (315)
best use of bad wine is to drive away poor relations.
~ French proverb
and subjectivist economics go hand in glove. What does this
mean? Well, subjectivist economics "…is based on the
theory that the value of goods is not inherent in the goods
themselves but is in the minds of acting men; that economic
value is a matter of individual judgment which may vary from
person to person and for the same person from time to time."
In the case of wine, individual judgment can be impaired by
intimidation (i.e., lack of knowledge) and ill-conceived notions.
Certainly, you have heard statements such as "I don’t
drink white wines" or "red wines are just too dry
for me." As wine enthusiasts, it is our objective to
push you out of your comfort zone, encourage you to try something
new, and explore the glorious world of wine.
about the 1980s, wine has been marketed to the masses like
never before. There are zillions of affordable – or just plain
cheap – wines available, whether from California, Brazil,
Australia, Italy, South Africa, Chile, New Zealand, or even
France. What's more, states such as Oregon, Washington, Michigan,
and Ohio are emerging as places known for having some pretty
decent wines. In fact, a barrage of competition from foreign
wine makers has caused the US wine market to mature, giving
consumers more choices and better quality wine at lower prices.
This has allowed the middle class to partake in the experimental
stages of wine enthusiasm by starting out with cheaper, mass-produced
wines before moving on to a more all-embracing wine hobby.
as we all know, is a magnificent place that has emerged as
one of the world’s finest wine regions. Just prior to the
emergence of the mass-producing wine era, the Judgment of
Paris (or the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976) pulled the red carpet
out from underneath France as the world’s undisputed top wine
producer. This is when California wines were granted the highest
scores – gasp! – from top wine-tasting experts.
wine, however, has had its dark days. As a matter of fact,
government policy was responsible for transforming consumer
demand for wine and altering the US wine industry through
its Prohibition swindle. Napa valley had already established
itself as having some of the world’s finest wines, and indeed,
Napa was making wines that were taking Paris by storm. Then
along with Pierce's Disease and Phylloxera came Prohibition,
and the abandonment of some of California’s finest vineyards.
California included some 700+ wineries, while after the repeal
less than 200 of these wineries were left. Some wineries stayed
in business during the government’s purge by making legal
wines – those used for religious ceremonies – or table grapes
and grape juice. These products were a far cry from the fine
wines that formerly had been produced in California’s vineyards.
In addition, during Prohibition, a head of household was legally
allowed to produce 200 gallons of wine a year for personal
use, and this served to increase demand for the poor quality
grape used for home wine-making. Thus it was inevitable that
California saw the displacement of old vines producing quality
grapes, as low-quality grapes came to replace them.
ended, and California was left with significantly altered
vineyards, the wine purge had not only left California with
inferior and/or abandoned vineyards, but also, the average
American’s taste in wine had considerably shifted. Instead
of demanding dry, superior wines produced by old, quality
vines, wine consumers demanded sweet, high-alcohol wines –
hence the cheap, jug wine and the era of fortified wines.
Thus the dark days of wine were with us until the age of baby
boomers and economic prosperity brought with it a new generation
of wine lovers who re-fueled the demand for non-fortified,
fine wine. Consequently, let’s fast-forward to the modern
world of wine and all its splendor.
wine is noteworthy. In fact, mass production and the use of
low-quality grapes have brought forth a new class of wine
known as "plonk."
Plonk is a low-quality wine, usually made for the non-discriminating
masses. Stores everywhere are loaded with tasteless wines
– both domestic and foreign that offer no distinction
in taste between grapes or brands. In fact, whether these
wines cost $5.99 or $18.99, they barely differ from one another
as regards quality. Wines like Kendall-Jackson and Sutter
Home have managed to achieve mass-market appeal through marketing
genius. Kendall-Jackson sells its Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet
Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir for $15$20 a bottle, and for
the most part, it’s no better than wine that sells for half
the price. But somehow, it’s deemed by the masses to be "above
the norm." Pure marketing! Not that we shall criticize
the mass marketing of wine, since it’s actually wonderful
to see the glorious grape replace the dreadful rice beer,
Budweiser, as the household staple for adult beverage intake.
say, Kendall-Jackson, there are far better wines out there
for slightly more, or even less. Windsor
wines, at a few dollars more per bottle, are far superior,
and actually have a distinctive taste as opposed to Kendall-Jackson’s
everyday plonk. The Windsor Zinfandel, at less than $30 per
bottle, is perhaps one of the finer Zins in its price range.
Or for a really fantastic bargain, there is France’s Barton
& Guestier. Its Beaujolais, Merlot, and Cabernet wines
can be had for $5.99 on sale, making it perhaps the best bang
for the buck in the world of wine. Even at its everyday price
– a couple dollars more it’s a very decent wine at
a ridiculous price. The authors of this piece find the Barton
& Guestier Beaujolais
to be one of the best "everyday wine" values on
new brands offer up cutesy names, colorful bottles, and/or
and robust labels to attract the younger, less sophisticated,
beer-type crowd to its product. Wine brand names such as Red
Bicyclette, The Little Penguin, Urbane, Big House, Toad Hollow,
Yellow Tail, Gnarley Head, Goats do Roam (South Africa), Dog
House (California), Funky Llama (Argentina), Monkey Bay (New
Zealand), and even Fat Bastard are meant to entice, entertain,
and win over the normally non-wine consumer. Again, most of
it is merely homogenous plonk in terms of taste, however,
in the long-term, such strategy is admirable for its attempt
to persuade the consumer that wine is a promising alternative.
For that, we salute the Wal-Mart World of Wines.
going to the grocery store, it is inescapable to see shelves
upon shelves full of Chardonnay. Unfortunately, this is one
of the most abused grapes in the world of wine. There is so
much poor product available, it is a shame. In our opinion,
a key issue is that many Chardonnays tend to be over-oaked
which is like taking a mallet to the palate. Who really
wants to drink overly-flabby plonk? Thankfully, lightly-oaked
and, even better, unoaked Chardonnays are gaining in popularity.
However, when perusing the store shelves, we would like to
direct you away from Chardonnay and try other white wines
we’ll get to reds later.
start by saying "hooray
for Viognier!" This terrific white wine is complex,
layered, and opens up beautifully. It is an aromatic wine
best know for its apricot, peach, and spice flavors. Serve
this wine chilled and sip on it slowly. As time passes, you
will note that different flavors emerge as it approaches room
temperature an evolution of flavor may go from apricot
to buttery almond. It nicely accompanies spicy Asian foods.
Three of our favorites are produced by EXP,
and McCrea Cellars.
wine that is typically misunderstood is Gewürztraminer.
Unfortunately, it is often pigeonholed strictly as a dessert
wine. Nothing could be further from the truth! The German
word gewürz means "spiced," and these wines are
known for their crisp and spicy attributes. Arguably, the
world’s finest Gewürztraminers come from the Alsace region
of France located in the northeast and on the German
border. A wonderful quality of this grape is that it produces
a wine which is sweet and spicy yet "big" enough
to stand up to a steak as long as it is a high quality
Gewürztraminer such as those produced by Domaine Zind
Humbrecht. However, an absolute favorite involves pairing
Gewürztraminer and Indian food. To be sure, this wine
pairs well with spicy Chinese, Thai, Mexican, and Korean foods.
For a great everyday Alsatian Gewürztraminer, we recommend
by the way, Gewürztraminer does make for an excellent
dessert wine. Just look for a late harvest Gewürztraminer
and you won’t be disappointed.
1970s, Chenin Blanc was one of the most popular white wines
in America. Sadly, it was over-produced, and forgettable wines
became the order of the day sounds a bit like today’s
Chardonnay story. Hence, what comes to mind are generally
bland and uninspiring wines. Fortunately, with careful viticultural
practices, this grape can produce terrific wines with a floral-honeyed
character and a zesty acidity that is satisfying to the palate.
It pairs quite nicely with barbecued chicken. A favorite of
ours is Barton &
Gustier’s Vouvray. This nice French Chenin Blanc is readily
found in supermarkets at, typically, less than $10
a bottle. A bargain, to be sure. Another suggestion would
be to try Windsor
Vineyards’ multiple gold-medal winning 2005 Chenin Blanc
which may only be purchased directly from the vineyard.
for something truly off the beaten track, have you ever heard
of symphony wine? "The
Symphony grape was developed in 1948 at the University
of California, Davis by Dr. James Olmo from crossing the Muscat
of Alexandria with Grenache Gris. A delicate Muscat flavor
and aroma characterize the wine. Symphony wines show unusual
resistance to oxidation and maintain their light color, flavor
and bouquet for ten or more years in the bottle at cellar
temperature." Three wineries that produce this obscure
wine are Volcano Winery,
Maple Creek Winery,
and the aforementioned Ironstone Vineyards. At $8 a bottle,
Ironstone’s "Obsession" symphony wine is a bargain.
However, Maple Creek Winery’s 2005 Artevino Estate Symphony
wine is well worth the $22 price tag a wine described
as: "Fresh, crisp and delicious, with tropical floral notes
of pineapple, mango and banana. Off dry and perfect for hot
days and spicy foods!" Get some before summer is over.
we were both members of the "ABC" (Anything but
Chardonnay) club. As wine enthusiasts, this really isn’t a
logical position to adopt, even though the Chardonnay grape
is the most abused grape in the world. After all, there are
so many talented winemakers in the world, there are bound
to be fine Chardonnays available. And, oh boy, did we find
Vineyards produces world-renowned Chardonnays. The Kistler
1999 Chardonnay produced from grapes grown in the McCrea Vineyard
located in Sonoma County, California is spectacular. Kistler
ages its Chardonnays in French oak barrels for periods of
between 11 and 18 months. What we found is that chardonnay
and oak-barrel aging can be a match made in Heaven.
us decided to take a bottle of this wine with us for an evening
of fine dining. The waitress opened the bottle for the group,
and we waited for the main course to be served before trying
this Kistler Chardonnay. The first sip was stunning! This
wine is voluptuous, elegant, and complex. The balance of citrus
flavors, minerality, and crisp acidity was unlike any other
white wine anyone at the table had ever experienced. Although
many may find this difficult to believe, this white wine was
"bigger" than almost any red wine. This Kistler
Chardonnay is so memorable, it can still be tasted to this
Big Red Ones
to the medicinal wine – reds! Let’s face it, red wine is just
plain good for you. It fights off bad cholesterol, protects
against colds, and brings good health and longevity to your
ticker. And it makes you happy to savor it. There is so much
to explore in the red realm, but first off, let’s look at
Zinfandel. The creation of White Zinfandel is perhaps one
of the greatest crimes against humanity. The red grape that
makes White Zinfandel is disrespected, flogged, and betrayed
in order to achieve its proletariat status in the world of
wines. Here’s Scott
Gunerman on White Zin:
is the ultimate Rodney Dangerfield (No Respect!) grape because
of its association with that awful tasting (sorry ladies)
yet highly profitable wine known as White Zinfandel. White
Zin is a "pink" wine made from Zinfandel grapes left in
contact with the grape's skin for just a short time. Bob
Trinchero from Sutter Home Winery started this fad in the
early 1970's and made this wine into a HUGE commercial success.
Many wineries make the lion's share of their profits from
their White Zin sales. The winning formula? Simple: cheap
grapes + huge yields + broad California designation (ever
heard of a single vineyard White Zin?!) = gigantic money.
Too bad you didn't think of that first you'd have
enough cash to fill an Olympic size swimming pool. I'm willing
to bet that the majority of White Zinfandel consumers have
no idea that Zinfandel is a red grape and capable of making
monster wines that can knock your socks off. Don't believe
me? Go to a Zinfandel tasting, and see for yourself!
is more dreadful than a glass of White Zin – yet people rip
it off the store shelves like it is penny candy. It’s the
most popular wine in America –yikes!! As the old joke goes:
"If she drinks White Zinfandel she is easy, thinks she
is classy and sophisticated, and actually has no clue. If
he drinks White Zinfandel, he is gay." All White Zinfandel
should be taken out behind the barn to be shot. Now onward.
stuff is not of the "white" variety. Zinfandel is
a red-skinned grape that produces intensely flavorful wines
that are unique in flavor. Zinfandel off of the "old
vines" is akin to a reserve and tends to be richer and
more flavorful due to the age and quality of the vines from
which it came. Windsor, yet again, makes a smashingly great
Zin, as does Ironstone. Neither brand is expensive, and Ironstone
can be had for about $10 per bottle, or under $30 for the
Old Vine variety. Francis Coppola Zin is also a tasty bargain
at less than $13 per bottle. These wines – Zin, that is
are typically of a far better quality than the mainstream
Merlots and Cabs that are in the same price range. So why
wait to try them?
many red wines are oftentimes pure plonk. Unfortunately, the
ultra-mainstream, mass-marketed brands such as Woodbridge,
Rosemont, Jacob’s Creek, Blackstone, Fetzer, Gallo, and even
some of the Beringer wines, are virtually homogenous in taste
and quality throughout the $6-$20 price range. So why pay
$20 for mass-produced plonk when you can get Australian plonk
for about $6-$10. Or, if you’re smart, you can buy a Barton
& Guestier, French red – Merlot, Cabernet, Beaujolais
for the same price as the Aussie stuff. Now make no
mistake about it – forget anything encouraging you may have
heard about Two-Buck
Chuck, that awful stuff offered up by Trader Joe’s. As
Slate’s wine man Mike Steinberger said, "It sucks."
Port wine – what about that? Port is a staple as a desert
wine; it originated in Portugal. "Officially," Port
only comes from Portugal like Champagne comes only from the
Champagne region of France (all others are sparkling wine),
and bourbon comes only from Kentucky. Port is higher in alcohol,
and, in its vintage form, can be aged for decades. Once again,
Vineyards makes a Rare California Port that we think challenges
many of the fine Portuguese Ports in regards to quality. It’s
sweet – as is the nature of Port – and makes for great after-meal
respect to red wines, cabernet sauvignon is the kingpin. A
misnomer regarding cabernet sauvignon pertains to the belief
that it is an ancient variety of grape. Genetic
studies, performed at U.C. Davis, have determined that
cabernet sauvignon is actually the hybrid offspring of sauvignon
blanc and cabernet franc. Nonetheless, this terrific varietal
produces some of the world’s finest red wines. To continue
with our mission, however, we want to guide you to try something
a bit different. Yet, before moving on, we would be remiss
to not pass on two recommendations for excellent cabernet
sauvignons that are excellent values in spite of appearing
to be somewhat expensive these are better than many
cabernets that have triple-digit prices. Hence, if you are
willing to spend a bit more money, definitely try the Dutch
Henry 2001 Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($58)
and/or the Salvestrin
2003 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($49).
is a wonderful winery in Yorkville, CA, (Mendocino County)
that epitomizes being off the beaten track. Yorkville
Cellars produces some delicious wines using varietals
typically thought of as blending grapes. For example, Yorkville
Cellars produces an intensely flavorful wine made of petit
verdot. As stated on their website: "It is unique and
seldom seen. There are only 895 bearing acres (compared to
71,536 of Cabernet Sauvignon) of it out of a total vineyard
acreage of 440,296 in California." This deeply intense
reddish-purple wine has raspberry and red-cherry flavors and
can cellar for decades. Such a big wine pairs well with Cajun-blackened
steak and zesty barbecued pork ribs.
grape, considered to be mostly a blending grape, is cabernet
franc. Well, Yorkville Cellars comes to the rescue again.
Their 2003 vintage is 79% cabernet franc and 21% cabernet
sauvignon. In their own words: "Rich and full-bodied
with lots of Bing cherry and blueberry fruit. Hints of licorice,
toasted spice and herbs on the nose with a touch of burnt
sugar or maple syrup. Good structure with moderate tannins,
light herbal note mid-palate and a hint of violets to finish.
Try serving with pork chops, lamb kabobs or sausage with peppers."
For $18, this wine is a bargain. A great price for the "other
you ever tried a Bordeaux-style wine? Yorkville Cellars produces
one using all five classic red varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon,
Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. It has a
magnificent name "Richard the Lion-Heart." Here
again, in Yorkville Cellars’ words: "Our Richard is always
deceptively soft, yet complex and features a long, smooth
finish. Wine critics typically compare it favorably to wines
at twice the price and even more, so it represents great Mendocino
‘bang for the buck.’" At $30 a bottle (for the 2001),
this may be one of the finest values on the market.
winery to produce such unusual and wonderful wines makes it
simple for you to experience lesser-known red wines
all at reasonable prices. And, by the way, all of Yorkville
Cellars’ wines are crafted using certified organic estate
grown grapes. Talk about being off the beaten track. This
winery truly goes the extra mile.
the economic way of thinking, wine is something that can cater
to both high and low time preferences. The June 30, 2006 issue
of Wine Spectator notes, "The top wines are built
for aging. But their opulence should please consumers with
less patience. They are wines for a generation that enjoys
instant gratification as well as long-term pleasure."
There are some things that are just meant to be enjoyed in
the here-and-now, and the heck with later. Luckily, wines
are now drinkable while young, especially those in the modest
price ranges. Hence, no need to wait around before raising
the mass production of wine has triggered shelves full of
appalling plonk with Budweiser appeal. Then again, mass production
and mainstream popularity has also brought forth an amazing
array of wines bringing to the market a new sense of
variety, affordability, and creativity that only entrepreneurship,
competition, and inspired marketing can provide. From Boone’s
Farm to Beringer to Kistler, fortunately, there’s a little
something for all of us.
the cause of and solution to all of life's problems
~ Homer Simpson
De Coster, CPA, has an MA in Economics, and is an accounting
and finance professional in Detroit. See her website and blog
Send her mail.