Monday, September 04, 2006

Rant: "Cheap" Wine

The East Bay Express this week features an extensive article on wine--or rather, on the wine reviewing business and its shortcomings. The article laments that nobody seems to review wines that are less than $10 a bottle or wines that are readily accessible in grocery stores. In response, the Express is going to start a recurring feature, cloyingly titled "Wineau," that will only review wines that are less than $10 a bottle and that are readily available in local grocery retailers.

My question is...why?

There's no need to review wines like that. It's the same reason that newspapers don't review Chili's or McDonald's or most basic mom and pop ethnic restaurants. The audience for these venues are predetermined--based primarily on foot trafiic, bargain hunters, and people who are afraid of new things.

I'm not denying that there are some good sub-$10 bottles of wine. There are many. Trader Joe's is full of them. Are there any great wines for under $10? Not that I've tasted. The fact remains that cheap wines generally come from high-yield grape growing regions that produce fruity, tasty wines that are eminently drinkable but lacking in depth or complexity.

What most people don't realize is that it's hard to make bad wine. Most cheap wines, even of the jug or box variety, are drinkable. They might not be terribly complex but they aren't gut-wrenchingly bad. People confuse the fact that a wine doesn't make them want to gouge there eyes out as a reason that the wine is good. Coupled with a bargain basement price they might even think that this wine is great. The fact is... well, no. It's not.

From a very basic standpoint, it's impossible to have a great cheap bottle of wine. The types of soils that produce interesting wines are not ones that are prone to the highest yields. A vineyard's yield (and consequently the cost of the grapes) is the single most important factor in a wine's price. High, fertile yields produce innocuous grape-y wines. See Charles Shaw. Charles Shaw is from a winemaker out of the Central Valley. The Central Valley is the largest wine-growing region in the world--but can you name one major Central Valley winemaker? Exactly.

I do applaud the Express on one aspect of their new "Wineau" column. Each feature is going to showcase and educate about a specific region, grape, or appelation. This is a good thing. If consumers become more savvy about world wine regions then they can begin to understand the types of wines that they like and begin to seek out their own great values--in particular those wines in the $10-$20 range that can be quite phenomenal.

Just remember that finding a drinkable wine under $10 is like finding a fuckable chick at a frat party. It's pretty easy, but it's not going to leave you with any lasting memories. Save up your money and your best pick-up lines and get a wine that won't leave you with genital warts. Save the $5 wines for parties or afternoon drunkification. Get a nice bottle (a great bottle) for those nice dinners. It'll make you a better person. Trust me--I'm awesome. And I don't have genital warts.

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