The U20 Imperative – The Large considers wine value

large-in-bellagio.jpgWine has inspirational powers. Kermit Lynch on occasion publishes thoughtful da-kine-wine musings from Jim Harrison in his newsletter. In his page 10 December 2007 piece Mr. Harrison considers his own contradictions when it comes to balancing side pork with red wine. A fun read from a prominent author.
Large has appeared on this blog in the past. He is an enthusiastic wine-taster who is developing his own wine-mind. He creatively shortened the battle cry “no wine over $20” to “U20” wines showing some marketing chops otherwise found at his Alternity Records website. Did you know Jim Harrison is one of the foremost artists creating advertising works for Coca Cola?
The Large has assembled some ideas as only he can. Here he is unvarnished, untamed, and in glorious U20 mode.
Budget Unconscious? There’s simply no doubt all but the wealthiest among us are under considerable cost pressure out there. If your ARM isn’t through the roof [ed. my ARM feels like it is broken] and you start to worry about $20k at the budget end of a year for your kid’s college expenses… Then there’s Bush talking about Iran and Word War III pushing oil back up over $100 a barrel, not to mention a good 7 foot Christmas tree now pushes over the $100 mark. Where to get a break? Think grapes and fermentation for starters. Don’t think cheap, think smart value vintages.
There’s always a sigh of slight remorse when I pull out that last bottle of Qupe Rousanne from the cooler (an ’04)–one of the most delicious whites with a fruity, complex, and tart finish–but at $43 a bottle, just imagine the satisfaction of finding something comparable–or great but different–like the White Knight–recently in abundant supply at the Woodland Hills Wine Co. for about $10.99! Okay, I admit the Rousanne probably blows it away–but here’s an 06 Clarksburg Viogner with a crisp, complex nose–a delightfully dry alternative to a pedestrian $30 bottle of Chardonnay–think about a 3 to 1 value in that scenario–at least for me. It does require a lot of tonto.jpegdetective work, and brushing up on your savvy business skills to practice some relationship building. You find a trusted confidant, whose taste and U-20 recommendations are built on a foundation of trust–that guy or gal you rely on at Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, or your favorite wine shop. [ed.: Large echoes prime directive; my local guide is Steve Goldun at WHWCo] There’s risk too–you may wind up talking to some clueless dolt who’d equate 2 Buck Chuck to an ’04 Ridge Monte Bello. You have to be bold enough to sift the disingenuous from those that know. But remember it’s ultimately your palate that must be the judge (no offense, Chuck). The satisfaction of sipping the divine, titillating your taste buds like an 0-40 rather than U-20–is truly worth some good research and chatter with some fine wine merchants who are happy to turn you on to some rare bargains. Now you’re starting to understand the lure of the U20 mission.
Healthy U-20 Psychology. As you move further along in exploring the U-20 imperative, you’ll discover the considerable psychological benefits–specifically in terms of the mental calisthenics of budget transference and expenditure justification. As I’m sure my good friend, Dr. Stumpf (aka the ‘Vinemaster’) would attest, the U-20 hunt is half the fun [ed. note: Hunting U20 Wines coming to youtube soon], and there are any number of mind exercises that can delight and astonish your friends when they start exploring the wonders of U-20 wines. Forget about tasting the stuff–for a few minutes while The Large elaborates. capri-blue-crop.jpgLast summer I found myself vacationing on the Isle of Capri–a modest room there goes for about EU220–ouch! In a small mart I stumbled on a blue bottle of some island grown white grape… “Capri Blue”–price? EU9! Even at about $13 with the exchange rate–the savory, crisp, unusual flavors still linger in my mind as one of the best whites ever–just because your limiting yourself to a great bottle of wine for under $20 doesn’t mean you can’t spend a fortune to find one! Look, not for a moment would I commit to going cold turkey on the occasional splurge: a nice Cargassachi, Siduri, or Foley Pinot Noir, well north of the $30 mark. But my refined palate simply outpaces (along with my daughter and wife) my cash flow, and in truth, truly savoring two to three outstanding bottles a week does not have to add up to another car payment (or my daughter’s latest “I’ll have to go to school naked if you don’t buy them Daddy” designer jeans). The U-20 imperative is mental-health-friendly, in that with only minor impact on your pocketbook, you can escape the aforementioned dilemmas at least temporarily.
Fun Wine-Mind-Unwind Games. As my friends in the sciences might intone, “Consider the U-20 mission as a social tool to engender cognitive harmony (if not gradual cognitive degradation).” mystery-rack-1107.jpgGather five to eight friends or new acquaintances or three or four couples who enjoy tasting great wine and invite them to help you crack the enigma of your Mystery Rack. The Large keeps a Mystery Rack always at the ready–meaning three or four promising U-20s (always some potential losers, or wild chances, mixed with a couple well tested vintages). Add some goat cheese and crackers, and for less than $60–you have one hell of a small-scale party in the works. Everyone rates the bottles from 1-10, picking a best value of the evening. Sure, you take a few risks on some clunkers–but what’s the downside? $30? Many of you lose that and much more regularly betting on football. On the other hand, think of the prolonged savings if you find that awesome label at $12.99 that goes at $9.99 when you buy a case–great with casual meals, but still passing muster on the holiday dining table. Here’s a sampling of what lurks in my current Mystery Rack:
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2006 Southern Right Pinotage Walker Bay, South Africa $15.99
2005 Ghost Pines Cabernet Sauvignon blend (61% Napa 39% Sonoma) – $18.99
2005 Point Concepcion Esplandia Paso Rosé $9.99(!)
2005 Terrazas Reserva Malbec Mendoza, Argentina $14.99
2005 Trenel Beaujolais Saint Amour $18.99
2005 Arroyo Del Sol Pinot Noir – Arroyo Seco, CA $17.99
First of all, I’m compelled to inquire of the Vinemaster, “What the **ck [ed. note: ed. reserves exclusive right to consider and act upon expletives on tBoW] “is a pinotage?” [ed.: note wikipedia entry] A beautiful right whale on the label though–sure to please Al Gore. Crazy Boers. We’ll find out soon enough. The Malbec is terrific–the ros√© is amazing for the price. As for the other two I have no clue, but the cab came highly recommended as a holiday special from Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa. In Harvard business school they teach you risk is great–if it’s managed. The U-20 mission is not without risk. I tried an ’06 Saint Cosme Cotes-Du-Rhone ($10.99), lemon notes on the finish or not, it struck me as another countless boring but passable budget French wine. On the other hand, I found a Syrah-Grenache blend that was fabulous and distinctive with a deceptive nose and a strong raspberry notes on the finish–same price at Woodland Hills Wine Co, and more than adequate as a wondrous contrast to another merlot or zin, with real complexity (‘05 Mas Carlot).
Helpful hints. As the Vinemaster would insist, get to know your importers (their names, not necessarily in the biblical sense). Get to know great vintages and regions that have had a particularly good harvest and yield. The above mentioned Trenel is a Robert Chadderdon selection–according to my buddy at the Woodland Hills Wine Co. always a good bet. If you don’t know an authority personally–ask around at a couple wine shops–browse the magazines, and don’t take anybody’s opinion without testing and tasting for yourself! Thanks to the Vinemaster’s wisdom imparted about the ’05 Beaujolais villages crop, I’ve savored many a revelatory bottle at $11 to $14 which I’ve found more savory than some Pinots at twice the cost!
The Grand Prize. In conclusion, the U-20 mission empowers the budget epicurean to minimize risks, and maximize sustainable returns (i.e., consumption)!clouseau.gif It requires a little networking and detective work, but ultimately, what’s good for business is good for the palate (Orson Welles notwithstanding). Of course the grand prize in the U-20 mission is to dupe some particularly smug, want-to-be wine auteur who’s offered up a $40-60 so-so bottle at a social occasion, and pour a subversive U-20, and watch some tasters get loopy over your ’05 Beaujolais or Mystery Rack #2. I can’t lay claim yet to having won the Grand Prize–but I have raised the Vinemaster’s eyebrows and elicited a sly smile more than once with a delicious U-20 find.
[ed. final note: My eyebrows may never descend following your tour de force. Go to the head of the class. Always an upside when The Large is in da haus. Thank you Chris for adding to the world of U2 wines. All love.]
2005 Inco Bianco La Viarte $13: I could not resist including at least one U20 review. This wine was served on New Years Eve. I got to it late, as in post several champagnes and reds, but I did taste it. Notes say tangy, fresh. 13%. I liked this wine and found it impressive even after the preceding parade. Today I received the new Kermit Lynch mailer (snail mail of course) and there is the 2006 Inco Bianco. He calls it a value-of-the-month and identifies it as a Friulian wine made up of mostly Tocai Friulano with small %ages of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Grigio. Herddat Kermie.

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