Most Wine is Bad. It’s True.

New World rack of bottles

New World rack of bottles in your nearest supermarket

The simplest truths are often the most obvious. At a recent tasting one of the Young ‘Uns asked how can she identify the best wine at Trader Joes. Young Un tasters such as PT8Y live on a budget and prefer to limit wine purchases to $10. Boom! The obvious truth was revealed. Buying decent wine at TJs requires knowledge that draws on several data sets. The easiest answer, it turned out, was – when in TJs – look for a Spanish or Italian label in the target price range. Avoid popular domestic labels. “You mean like Cupcake” she replied proving she already was onto the obvious truth.

We were tasting some of the Best of Wines that evening; mostly Pinot Noirs; a couple domestic and a couple of Burgundies [ed. reviewed below, patience]. Naturally, she wanted to taste wines like these often as possible. tBoW promised to take her on a TJs field trip. What she needs is a lesson in PLONK PRINCIPLES.

What should someone know in order to avoid buying PLONK WINE? There are several keys, presented herein hierarchically, from quickest to master to those requiring more time and dedication.

Old World rack of bottles in Piedmont

Old World rack of bottles in Piedmont

Begin with the Old World / New World dichotomy. The Old World – Europe – has produced wine for centuries. Longevity is good but not always. There are bad wines in Europe, too. Old World also means lots of variety which means one should look at undervalued regions. These are usually the ones with the funny names from Spain and Italy. Folks fear French wines because they have been stigmatized by trophy hunters who focus on the “trophy” regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy. There are plenty of other Old World regions. However, getting to know these falls under advanced study.

In the meantime, try out these ideas.

Think international like New Zealand (Pinot), Argentina (Malbec and Torrontes), and Chile (Cabernet). The New World goes beyond US wines, which often violate the quality/price principle anyway, making them a generally poor value choice. Quality and price do not move in parallel directions. You will be able to stick to your budget if you stick to this and other principles to hunt down quality at cheap prices. Cheap on its own ain’t enough.

Go with the importer. This is the name on the bottle, often on the bottleneck… like Robert Chadderdon. Or on the back labels like Louis/Dressner, Neal Rosenthal, Charles Neal, Kermit Lynch and Peter Weygandt. Each of these importers offers great value for great wines. There are other newer importers who respect the importance of the quality/price ratio. You can buy any wine confidently if it has the name of one of these guys on it. Their wines are always international, always Old World, and often under $20.

domestic class

New World class

Avoid domestic unless you absolutely know the winery and winemaker. New World American wines probably have the highest trophy wine density among all wine regions. Forget about Napa. Look for Sonoma , Mendocino, Monterey. Look for Lodi!

If all these tips are too much to recall when facing down a $20 bottle rack with $15 in your pocket, then head to your local premium wine shop and buy out of the bargain bins. That is the quickest low risk strategy.

Most wines on the market will disappoint. Buying the pretty label or the recognizable name, or from a supermarket display next to the fish counter, is the surest way to find yourself saying something later like “not bad really…it only cost $8.” You could have bought a $14 Sancerre which is French Sauvignon Blanc; much more palatable than domestic which, in general, tends to be overly grassy. The French veersion will have an alcohol level no greater than 13%, and will complement most meals including meat.

The following are NOT examples of U20 wines but they are examples of great wines for excellent value.

MoreyMersualt06WEB2006 Pierre Morey Mersault Les Durots $40: Picked up from Garagiste. Jon Rimmerman spends much of the year traipsing around Europe hunting down Old World values. His hit rate is close to 99%. This is a Garagiste Burgundy steal that was fabulous. The downfall to Garagiste has been documented on this blog. When you decide to build a cellar for current and later consumption and if you have the patience to wait for deliveries twice a year, then you will do very well buying from this guy. The wine has kind of a tropical back palate. High tone. Distinctly Old World in weight and Burg in exotic charm. Threw “kitty litter” which was identified as potassium bitartrate crystals [ed. Goldun again right?]. First time we have seen these tiny “silica balls” from Burgundy. Thoroughly enjoyable wine. Screw top which is also unusual. 12.5%

lafargevolnay07WEB2007 Michel Lafarge Volnay $37: Goldun stole this wine so we could afford it. This wine shows the charm of the 2007 vintage which Goldun says is a vintage at its peak right now. Silky soft with flavors bridging the beets and the sweets. Beautiful, delicate, exotic. Pinot Noir at its most charming. 13%

SCottPaulD12208WEB2008 Scott Paul D122 Pinot Noir: Willamette Valley Pinot Noir purchased at the winery in Carlton. A screw top meant for early drinking. Dirty nose without much fruit. Either in a dumb phase or quickly come and gone. 13.5%

hardiePE09WEB2009 Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir VQA $35: Unfiltered wine from Ontario! Drinking a New World PN from Canada is where wine gets to be fun. Whod’a’thunk? Lean. angular. Perhaps too early? More intriguing than the Scott Paul wine. Beety flavor profile. Opens up and shows some white pepper. Glad we tried it. Kris-B TAFI wine. 11.5%

2010 Brousseau Pinot Noir $28 (guest discounted): Covered this winery a couple months back. This was the first wine opened ahead of those above. Showing nicely once again. Not an easy call for the OW/NW game. Tastes like Pinot Noir. Chalone neighbor and inheritor. Buy direct from the winery. 13%

HOW TO TASTE: We often hear people who enjoy wine say they do not know how to describe what they like. Not comfy with words like fruity and barnyard? While listening to the Supremes we realized Diana’s silky smoky voice reminded us of Pinot Noir. The harmonies are Premier Cru. “Flo she don’t know… ?”

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