Let’s say you get an email out of the blue Monday morning. And let’s say it’s an editor at the Columbia Tribune reminding you that your column’s due – like ASAP. You’d forgotten entirely. Well, you’d write a column, and this would be it.
Finding a cure for the wine blahs
The last few years have been very kind to beer geeks. Small breweries are popping up everywhere — including several new ones just this year in St. Louis — and beer festivals draw thousands of enthusiasts. While the big boys still reign supreme, the American consumer is getting pickier with each passing year, seeking surprise, variety and — gasp — flavor.
“It appears that some of the mass-produced beers, Coors and Budweiser, are getting squeezed,” industry analyst Sam Zippin told CNNMoney.com this year. Consumers “are either going to really low cost beers, like PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon), or they’re going to the craft beers.”
The beer renaissance is welcome but has come at the expense — for me, if not for the average consumer — of wine. Despite its historical and unfair reputation for inviting snobbery, I’ve always found wine and wine people interesting and engaging. Regional and geographic variation are pronounced with wines — you don’t have to be a sommelier to tell whether a rich, oaky white wine is more likely to come from California or France. It’s fun. Wine also is much more approachable than it was 15 years ago. Every other winery it seems is making decent wines in the $12-and-less range and slapping a cute kangaroo, owl or red truck on the label. The wine aisle is a kinder, gentler place to shop these days.
But as wine has become more democratized, it also seems to be more homogenized — a little boring. The supermarket wine sections are full of reliable, drinkable and largely unremarkable wines these days. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that bottle of kangaroo-labeled shiraz — it’s a great everyday wine — but it’s nothing memorable or interesting.
The Mid-Missouri consumer looking to remedy this situation has a few options. Top Ten Wines on Ninth Street has the best selection and most-knowledgeable staff in town. Service can be a tad prickly, but I’ve long since made peace with that aspect of the shop. It’s my go-to place when I want to pick up an interesting bottle while I’m out running errands.
A whole other untapped resource awaits the wine consumer online. Many importers and wineries operate quarterly buying clubs or online shops that are worth checking out.
North Berkeley Wine offers a monthly, three-bottle wine shipment based around a particular theme. Prices range from $50 to $250 and focus on limited-production and hard-to-find wines. (www.northberkeleyimports.com/Wine-Club)
Food and Wine magazine listed Avalon Wine as a “comprehensive source of top Washington and Oregon wines” and noted that their wine clubs are a great way to access up-and-coming wines from the Pacific Northwest. (www.avalon wine.com)
If you already know what you want, Mission Fine Wines out of Staten Island, N.Y. is a respected online retailer with a broad selection of wines from around the world. (www.missionfinewines.com)
Although wine shops offer peace of mind, wine clubs can be a bit of a crapshoot. Many ship monthly or quarterly, and some carry wines from vintages that didn’t sell well on the open market. Wine Spectator Senior Editor James Laube says these wines are basically being “dumped” onto wine clubs. This is why I’d I’d never joined one before, but a $100-off coupon to join Laithewaites Wine’s “4 Seasons” (www.laithwaites.co.uk) wine club lured me in. Skeptical of the quality I’d get for quarterly, $129/case shipments, I popped a few corks from their first installment this past weekend. There was a stunning, racy viognier from Chile, a very pleasant white Burgundy and a rather ordinary Bordeaux. I’d heard of none of them before, and at about $10 a bottle, I’ll take that chance every time.