Updated: Oct 15, 2021
From the (late) Greenwich Citizen:
Like all the other sectors of our economy, the wine trade is having its troubles too. You’ll hear the owner of your favorite wine shop say that wine is “an affordable luxury,” and that the wine industry is “recession-proof.”
He might even tell you that customers are still spending the same amount, but they are doing so on three bottles instead of one. That is, they are drinking cheaper stuff, but they have increased their consumption. The hypotheses for this odd behavior are many: customers are eating in more often, they don’t want to be seen spending a lot of money on an expensive bottle, or they are drinking their troubles away.
Certainly, all of these theories have a grain of truth, but anyone who says he believes them whole-cloth is either in denial or engaging in the politics of the stiff upper lip. Margins are down, volumes are down, and retail employees – already on the edge of our economy – are losing the work hours that keep them from falling off the financial cliff, if not losing their jobs entirely.
But what does the retailer’s financial situation have to do with your wine purchasing decisions? Well, a lot of shop owners are panicking while telling their customers to remain calm. Sort of like Kevin Bacon in the final scene of Animal House. They are introducing “recession specials.” Wine that used to be kept in an inaccessible corner of the shop for the dinosaurs who drink wine by the gallon is now being featured in regular bottles in prime retail space.
Retailing purchasing – not only buying good wines for a store, but knowing the store’s customer well enough to buy what he/she likes and in the right quantities – is becoming somewhat of a lost art. Always crucial to a store’s viability, purchasing becomes the very essence of survival in lean times.
Rather than panic, let’s take a look at five wines that are quite affordable, but that also taste good. The dollar amount in parentheses is the full-margin price of the wine. Except for the Diseno, it is also the lowest price at which you will find it in the State of Connecticut.
Nominee 1.5 liter California Chardonnay and/or Merlot ($9.99)
This is the only jug wine on my list. For $10, you get the equivalent of two regular-sized 750 ml. bottles. The Chardonnay is clean and crisp, in the new, un-oaked style now favored by most drinkers. It is still full-bodied, but does not have the cloying, over-the-top, buttery, cedar flavors of so many poorly-crafted Chardonnays in this category. The Merlot is direct, with good acidity, yet retains the plumminess that so many drinkers love in Merlot. It is not overly fruit-forward, it is full-bodied without being dense, and it does not leave that disastrous oak-chip taste in your mouth after you have swallowed. Both wines are simple, straightforward, and quite nice as daily drinkers.
Robertson Gewuertztraminer ($8.99)
Robertson is one of the most under-rated wineries in the world. It is run by the Robertson Family, in the Robertson Valley in South Africa. It is also entirely organic. I had a tough time deciding which of the Robertson wines to feature, since the Chenin Blanc and the Pinotage are also excellent. But the Gewuertz stands in a class by itself. I have had Gewuertztraminers from Alsace (its ancestral home) at twice the price that did not compare to this one. It is clean, filigreed, yet with full fruit flavor and all the myriad spice and herb tastes that a good Gewuertz should have. Customers are still debating whether to embrace South African wine. Whether this has to do with perceptions of quality, or with a visceral, antiquated disdain for South Africa itself, it is time for people to stop, look and listen to what is coming from the third antipode – the Cape of Africa.
Casa la Ermita Santa Ana Monastrell ($9.99)
Casa la Ermita is located just outside the city of Valencia. Better known for the eponymous oranges, Valencia is one of the food and wine capitals (Paella originated here), and also one of the hippest cities, of Spain. The America’s Cup was last defended here, and it is where the Royal Family sails. Casa la Ermita was founded about 30 years ago, but it has become one of the biggest brands in Spain. Despite the increased volumes, the quality is still outstanding, but the Monastrell stands apart: velvety and brambly at the same time, with rustic properties but also quite smooth. It is powerful wine, but so well balanced that you don’t think about it going down, especially when accompanied by a good steak or game.
Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($8.99)
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (not to be confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano) is perhaps the greatest value in wine today. For a nominal price, you get wonderful cherry and red fruit flavors on the front of the palate, but substance and black fruit on the back. Masciarelli is an individual producer who makes wines of exceptional quality (this is his introductory wine) in a region that typically produces very good, if high-volume, wine. This is perfect pizza and red-sauce pasta wine.
Diseño $10.99 ($9.99 lowest price)
I confess I’m not usually a huge fan of Malbec. Its huge fruit and blueberry undercurrents are too much for me, even with a big steak. Diseño is a different story: it has tannic and acidic structure. The tannins are a physical presence, so the wine is not just fruit. The acidity balances out the fruit of a grape that is probably best suited to the blends for which it was historically used.