How to drink great wine during the recession

red wine pouringI surveyed the room, sparsely filled with cosmopolites, edibles and alcohol, hoping this would be the night I would spot the elusive “good value wine.” In this wretched economy, I find it crucial to provide my readers with a respite from high prices. This is perhaps the tenth formal wine-tasting fundraiser my husband and I have endured this year — the slashed decoration budget shows, the food is less lavish, and the less-than-half-of-last-year crowd of jet-set faces milling about the room doesn’t broadcast excitement. Is the belt-tightening palpable? Or am I projecting my own struggling bank account? Or maybe it’s just that my favorite strappy 3-inch heels are on their last legs, foreshadowing a dreaded shopping mall trip. I hate shopping; does that make me less of a woman?

The wine samplings attending this affair, much to my chagrin, are the usual tragic suspects: Little Black Dress, an insipid, childishly marketed red blend; an equally offensive Barton and Guestier Burgundy (I assure you that anything under $12 from France’s famed Bordeaux, Burgundy and Loire regions sucks right now); a smattering of over-oaked, cheap chardonnays; and the requisite naughty-designated wines, featuring an astringent, high-alcohol grenache named Bitch. Sigh … I hope this catchy name trend dies a long, slow, publicly humiliating death, like New Coke. Then we can all go back to choosing wines based on merit.

A quick glance at the logo-laden program holds promise at a well-stocked German table. The enthusiastic wine dude representing the offerings seems relieved, since I apparently sound more engaging than those who ask for something “not sweet.” I’ve only tried a couple of the wines before, including a random red made from the esoteric Dornfelder grape. Most of the selections fall on the sweet side, making wine dude the popular guy at the tasting, even though most people ardently deny liking sweet wines. Whatever.

Messing up my moment is a tux-wearing, foppish drunk who ambles up, thrusts out his well-used glass and barks, “Red.” Risky business at a German table, but something tells me he didn’t notice the sign. Keep the alcohol flowing buddy — the cops outside will be happy to provide tonight’s shelter at the jail. My new friend smiles politely and pours him a swig of strawberry-Kool-Aid-colored pinot noir, sending the blotto loser to his next victim. Wine dude wasn’t fazed; I imagine the poor guy deals with all manner of inebriation and classless guests. I admire his tasteful tact. His German wines really aren’t bad, but their $15-$25 price tags unfortunately don’t qualify them for my recession selections.

Soldiering on. Cartlidge and Brown, a California winery noted for its “modest prices,” is in the house. Expectations run high, but after a quick taste of each, only the zinfandel rises. The others — cab, pinot, syrah — just kinda lay flat in my mouth, offering no fruit or personality but plenty of tannin and acidity. Maybe I need to try them with food? Nah, that’s too much trouble; the alcohol has made me lazy. I should sit for a bit.

Fortunately, I find my sit-down-and-enjoy-the-event wine: Catena Malbec, a reliable, silver standard for malbecs. I think I can drink this one the rest of the evening, until a refreshing wheat beer calls my name.

Recommended Wines

Cartlidge and Brown 2006 Zinfandel Amador County (California) Recession Buster! Dark and juicy, with blackberry, blueberry and vanilla all rolled into one. $11. 3 stars

Girard 2006 Petite Sirah Napa (California) Rich and silky, with roasted black cherries, coffee and vanilla. Firm, leathery tannins that need air to ease up. Definitely a food wine, with something fat-laden and delicious. $28. 4 stars

Disappointing Wine of the Week:

Ca del Solo 2007 Muscat Monterey High in alcohol and slightly sweet with lemon-lime, muchlike a vodka tonic. Decently tart but worth about $9, not its $17. It’s shameful that the normally forward-thinking Bonny Doon Vineyard is charging so much for a relatively unknown variety — prevents exploration.

Other Reviews:
Aspen Daily News Review
San Jose Mercury News


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