Saturday, May 10, 2008

And just a hint of snobbery

I always get a kick out of people who are, or believe themselves to be, wine experts. They'll take a sip of wine and talk about the flavors of vanilla, black pepper, tobacco and blackberries that shine through. There's a line in the great movie "Sideways," after Miles (played by Paul Giamatti and shown above with Jack, played by Thomas Haden Church) takes a swig at a California winery. "There's just the faintest soupcon of, like, asparagus and just a flutter of, like, a nutty Edam cheese." Asparagus? Cheese? I've taken in a lot of red wine, and I'm obviously no expert, because all I ever taste is ... well, wine. We've been conditioned to believe that something that is more expensive, be it wine or food or cars, is inherently better than something with a lower price tag. Eric Asimov, in his New York Times blog "The Pour," recently wrote about a new book by food writer Robin Goldstein called "The Wine Trials." Goldstein gathered up 500 volunteers and had them try more than 500 unidentified wines ranging in price from $1.50 to $150 a bottle. Professional wine tasters in the group had different opinions, but the average Joes and Janes preferred a $10 bottle of champagne from Washington state over Dom Perignon, and they thought Two-Buck Chuck, the ultra-inexpensive cabernet from Charles Shaw in California, was more quaffable than a $55 cabernet from Napa Valley. I've had Two-Buck Chuck, and it's a very good wine. Of course, we can't get it at our Soviet-style state liquor stores. But that's another issue. Asimov also pointed to a study by the California Institute of Technology and Stanford Business School showing that the more expensive people think a wine is, the better they like it. The researchers gave their subjects the same wine twice but gave them two different prices for what they were drinking. They always preferred the "higher-priced" wine. I think what this tells us is that we're a bunch of sheep. The best advice I ever got about wine was to experiment and then drink what you like, label or price be damned. Some wines that I've enjoyed around the $10-a-bottle range are Barefoot merlot, Rosemount shiraz and Firestone gewurztraminer. Please feel free to share some of your favorites with me and readers of the blog. And, as always, "To your health."



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill ... $1 a bottle in the'70s. Yah!!

May 10, 2008 at 10:22 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

Been there. Malt duck and Wild Irish Rose also were big favorites back in the olden days.

May 10, 2008 at 10:42 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

Ouch! Strawberry Hill. Boy, I had my share of that stuff! I always used to say that the only reason that junk was ever made was for young people to get drunk on. If you went to a dinner party and the host or hostess lovingly removed a chilled bottle of Strawberry Hill from the ice bucket and unscrewed the cap (there would be that pregnant pause as the guests waited for the seal to break) then poured some into a glass for tasting, you'd probably not go back for another meal and the hosts would be ostracized from the community.

I worked in an Italian restaurant for three years (not Olive Garden) and we routinely sampled wines so we could make recommendations to the guests. Many people selected our suggestions based on our reaction to and description of our favorite wines. But I'm like Brant...all I ever managed to taste was wine, except for chardonnays, which I hate. You always hear some reference to oak or "oaky tones" when people describe chardonnay, and that's exactly why I hate it. I don't want to drink oak. I want wine. choices: I almost exclusively drink Carlo Rossi burgundy wine. Yeah, it comes in a big jug with a screw-off cap, but I just love it. So has anyone I've ever served it to - and I never hid the fact that it is a cheap wine from a gallon jug.

Other wines I love include Blackstone Merlot, Kendall-Jackson pinot noir, and my very favorite, Coppolla cabernet sauvignon. These ones have corks! All are less than $15 per bottle and all of them are wonderful wines.

One of the things that we were taught about wines and food is that the old guideline "red with red meat, white with fish or chicken" has gone out the window. Drink what you like. Drink what tastes good to you. I don't like white wines so I don't drink them. However, I eat an inordinate amount of chicken and fish, and I've always thought the cheap red wine I drink to be a perfect complement to either.

May 11, 2008 at 7:37 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

I like to open up a "nice" bottle of wine every so often, but for everyday use - and you know, of course, that we should drink red wine every day for "health reasons" - I buy Garibaldi pastavino barbarone. Like Priguy's Rossi burgundy, it comes in a big old jug with a screw-off cap, but it's very tasty, and the price is right. And outside of the Firestone wine I mentioned earlier, I never drink white. I guess once you go red, you never go back.

May 11, 2008 at 9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alice White Chardonnay --$7 a bottle. Pretty good.

Strawberty Hill was better than Boone's Farm Apple, which could remove paint.

May 11, 2008 at 3:28 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

Both Strawberry Hill and Boone's Farm apple were multipurpose - you could drink them (as we did), strip floors down to bare wood or even clean the gunky buildup on your car's engine. But when you're a kid whose sole income is yard-mowing, it was the right wine at the right price at the right time.

May 11, 2008 at 7:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gabbiano Chianti-12 bucks. Blue Moon Riesling- 10 bucks. Masi Valpolicella- 11 bucks. Robert Mondavi Johannesburg Riesling-11 bucks. Napa Ridge Pinot Noir- 10-12 bucks. All super awesome. So are the ones yinz all mentioned.

May 12, 2008 at 8:17 AM  
Blogger Park Burroughs said...

I find the cheapest jug wines to be wattery and lacking in taste. But I find it difficult to discern between a good $10 bottle of wine and a good $50 bottle of wine. Of course, we live in Pennsylvania, so make that a good $12 bottle.
There are wonderful, oakey Chardonnays from California and Australia in that range. I haven't found an Australian shiraz that I didn't like, regardless of price. And for less than $12, you can get a California old-vine zinfandel, a Cotes du Rhone from France or a Chianti Classico.
And my favorite "cheap wine" is Mouton Cadet Bordeaux.

May 12, 2008 at 12:05 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

I'm making my shopping list.

May 12, 2008 at 2:10 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

Thanks for mentioning Gabbiano chianti. It's excellent, as is just about anything from Mondavi - which can range from ten bucks into the hundreds per bottle. And Park, you summed up shiraz for me too. And don't forget it's American cousin, syrah.

What I remember of the times I had after ingesting large quantities of Boone's Farm is hazy at best, but I seem to recall some fun times. Of course, if my children did the same thing, I'd lock them in the back room.

I too rarely open "the good stuff," but when I do, it's going to be one of the three I mentioned. The other suggestions are very good too, and I just might have to expand my shopping list a bit.

May 12, 2008 at 3:37 PM  
Blogger Mike Jones said...

Nothing beats the $4 bottle of Winking Owl at Aldi (when I lived in the civilized state of West Virginia that sells alcohol in grocery stores).

May 12, 2008 at 4:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am reverting to a wine snob, albeit, a cheap wine snob... I find the Gabbiano Chianti to be drinkable immediately, unlike the aforementioned Australian reds that, while REALLY good -eventually- need to breathe for a while longer to get that harsh alcohol taste to mellow out. Australian reds taste dirty, dusty, and hot. But, to someone who lives on strong, black coffee, that is a pleasing taste!

May 12, 2008 at 9:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dirty, Dusty and Hot? The Australian Cowboy Three Stooges?

May 15, 2008 at 4:57 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

Just tried the recommended Gabbiano chianti, and it's outstanding, and affordable. Thanks for the heads-up.

May 17, 2008 at 5:05 PM  

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