Assorted wine (links)

By Felix Salmon
June 16, 2010
is out, and in it I talk a little bit about my wine contests; previous installments can be found here, here, and here, and I should definitely thank Tamara Lover for the original idea. If you want the price-quality graph and scatter graphs for the Beaujolais contest, here they are; they look much more like Merlot than Pinot. For the real nerds among you, the spreadsheet is here.

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My second wine column for Reuters is out, and in it I talk a little bit about my wine contests; previous installments can be found here, here, and here, and I should definitely thank Tamara Lover for the original idea. If you want the price-quality graph and scatter graphs for the Beaujolais contest, here they are; they look much more like Merlot than Pinot. For the real nerds among you, the spreadsheet is here.

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While I’m at it, I should mention a couple of other wine links which have caught my eye of late.

Eric Asimov had a great piece on the way in which Bordeaux is falling out of favor among the younger generation of sommeliers and wine lovers, partly because of the price factor:

Good Bordeaux might start at $35 to $50 retail, and $85 to $100 in a restaurant, and soar from there — far more than, say, reds from the Loire, Beaujolais or Alto Adige, darlings of the sommeliers and neighborhood wine shops.

At those levels, you don’t want to experiment. And if you’re playing it safe in Bordeaux, prices are much, much higher.

And Mike Steinberger has an equally great article in The World of Fine Wine — you’ll have to download it as a PDF — about the distinction between traditionalists and modernists in the wine world. He points out, quite rightly, that it’s not nearly as simple as the partisans (mostly self-styled traditionalists) would have you believe, and that in general both sides of the battle have come out very well of late.

Elsewhere, Jonah Lehrer talks about why wine tastes better when we know that it’s expensive, and Mike Veseth draws another important distinction, between what he calls Wagnerians, who enjoy wine every day, and Martians, who feel that there’s no point in making wine unless one aspires to true greatness. He quotes Thomas Pinney as saying something that I, for one, must definitely bear in mind as I continue on my way as a wine columnist:

The people who write about wine in the popular press largely appear to be Martians, who take for granted that anything under $20 a bottle is a “bargain” wine and who routinely review for their middle-class readership wines costing $30, $40, $50 and up. Even in affluent America such wines can hardly be part of a daily supper. They enforce the idea that wine must be something special — a matter of display, or of costly indulgence. That idea is strongly reinforced by the price of wine in restaurants, where a not particularly distinguished bottle routinely costs two or three times the price of the most expensive entrée on the menu.

I’m going to be spending next week at the beach, and this morning I bought two mixed cases of wine, including quite a lot of rosé, for $248, tax included. There were a couple of relatively expensive reds in there, but nothing over $15 a bottle, and I have every intention of getting a great deal of enjoyment out of all the wine that I bought.

It’s only natural for someone writing or talking about wine to gravitate to the rare and fabulous and expensive. But I’m a great believer in wine as a wonderful — and really quite affordable — everyday drink. It’s not always easy to find great wines for under $10 or $15 a bottle — which works out, on a per-glass basis, at less than the cost of a coffee at Starbucks. But it can be done, as I demonstrated with my $5.99 Morgon from Trader Joe’s, which did so well in the Beaujolais contest. And it’s definitely worth the effort seeking those wines out.

6 comments

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I think the Pinney comment gets to the heart of why I’m such a big fan of the craft beer movement. For $8-$12 retail (non-New York prices), I can get a 750mL beer I’ve never had before in an incredibly wide range of styles. Even at a restaurant, paying $20 for something like this (frequently with a 8.5% and up ABV) is easily affordable. I enjoy wine, but I find that beer is every bit as classy, and more diverse. Plus, it’s way easier for me to understand.

Posted by MitchW | Report as abusive

MitchW- I think if you look around you can find an even greater diversity of wine styles in the $8-$15 range – and depending on your thirst for alcohol a 750ml bottle of wine will last longer then a 750ml bottle of beer.

Posted by topofeatureAM | Report as abusive

FYI, there’s a restaurant that’s going to open soon in my neighborhood where the wine will be sold at retail + $5, basically a corkage fee. The restaurant owners run a wine shop a few blocks away, so they apparently will regard the restaurant as a place to show their wares. Should be interesting.

Posted by MattF | Report as abusive

Felix, You should give the Perrin Cotes du Rhone a try next time you are at Trader Joe’s. It goes for $6.99 here in California, I assume they carry it in the New York stores. Very good every day wine, which is something we don’t do very well here compared to Europe. Some of the Santa Barbara wineries are starting to make Rhone style wines but they charge $40 a bottle, which seems to miss the point of these wines.

Posted by Lakerman | Report as abusive

I don’t doubt it, topofeatureAM. I’ve just never been particularly lucky at picking out wines I like. Partly this is ignorance, and partly its due to the fact that our excellent neighborhood wine shop (where I did have fantastic luck for a few months) was a casualty of the recession. Though I’m skeptical that there is more diversity in wine these days than there is in beer. A decade ago? Unquestionably. Now, I’m not so sure.

As for the 750/ABV part, I meant that as an indicator that the bottle was great for sharing, much like a bottle of wine.

Here’s an interesting question: I’m just starting to see fine beer show up on on the menus of top notch restaurants. Is this because the restaurateur would prefer me to purchase a higher priced (and higher mark-up?) bottle of wine, or because the beer movement hasn’t been fully integrated into the industry yet?

Posted by MitchW | Report as abusive

I have actually found some decent bottles of Bordeaux within $8 – $15, Ive also found some pretty good duds too. My wife and I blog about our finds at random stores trying to keep below $15 and we’ve had pretty good success with finding some exceptional wines. Unfortunatley society see’s more value within the price tag thsn in the actual product. Check us out if you have a chance, http://www.recession-wines.com

Posted by Delrio80 | Report as abusive