As a wine shop owner, I am constantly researching, reading and tasting wines and beers from around the world in order to make sure I have a great selection of wines and beers on the shelf for the wide and varied taste and price preferences of Oakton Wine Shop customers. Lately, I have seen many articles trying to define or mold what constitutes “good value” in the world of wine. It seems everyone in the trade – from the wine media to wine shop owners — have fallen prey to the notion that in order for a wine to be a “good value” it must be under $15. Well, the more I think about it, the more I disagree with the concept that “good value” is necessarily related to a single, specific price point. A more realistic way to define “good value” is to consider two or more wines of comparable price (no matter what that price point is for a specific individual) and after tasting the wines you are able to made statements like, “After tasting the wines, Wine A is good but I believe Wine B is a better value because it has more depth, character, lingering flavors and I find that to be more exciting!”
Recently, I was reading an article on Spanish wines and the author claimed people could find the best values were not in the well-known regions in Spain. Rather, good values in wine could be found if you were willing to look for lesser quality grape varietals that were enjoyable enough to satisfy the palate for the evening. Wait a minute why should anyone have to sacrifice overall quality in order to save a little money by settling for just a “satisfying” wine experience? We all work hard to earn a living and I believe people want and deserve to get the most out of their wine experience. I believe it is similar to what we all expect from a medical doctor. If you go to a doctor with a rash on your arm and the doctor says he can prescribe a $15 medicine which should satisfactorily relieve about 75% of the rash, do you think you will be pleased with that experience? I would think most of us would be willing to spend a little more on a prescription medicine which will eliminate the rash and thereby give us a complete and exciting cure.
Maybe it is not this simple. First, I think we need to define what value really means. According to Merriam-Webster “value” means, “A fair return or equivalent in goods, services, or money for something exchanged.” Ok, this definition is a good start, but when it comes to consuming wine or beer I think we want to feel like we are getting more than just a “fair return” for our dollar.
One of the factors which I believe plays a small, but important part, in what consumers believe wines are worth is the common perception that all wines cost the same to make and therefore when you pay more for a wine you are simply paying for the egos of the winemakers or a major marketing campaign. Well, the fact of the matter is not all wines cost the same to produce. There are many factors which determine the ultimate retail cost of a bottle of wine. It starts with the cost of the land, the vines, the building(s), labor, utilities, insurance, state and local taxes, and the list keeps going. Each of these costs vary from locality to locality. And after the wine is produced and bottled, it has to be shipped to every corner of the United States and possibly the world. Oh, and do not forget the federal and state regulations on alcoholic beverages, and the costs involved in complying with them. I have often wondered how anyone in the winery business actually makes any profit. Obviously, the cost of the land is a very large factor. In some areas an acre of land suitable to grow grapes could cost $100,000 but just down the road the land is priced at $150,000 because the soil, rock and drainage are markedly better. Thus, the cost of a ton of grapes from the $100,000/acre location is different than the $150,000/acre location. And as the vines get older they produce fewer grapes which results in even a greater difference in costs per ton per acre. The bottom line – all wines do not cost the same to produce.
Maybe we need to look at the decision process wine buyers use in order to establish which wines they will be offering on their shelves for sale. At the Oakton Wine Shop we spend most of our days tasting wines from around the world. We look for several standards when tasting wine and beer in order for us to make a decision on what to bring into the shop for our customers.
Here is what we are looking for when making the decision:
- · Clarity and color of the wine. Does it look old or fresh? Is it clear or cloudy?
- · Aromas – are they appealing or are they a turn off?
- · Flavors – what are we tasting in the wine, is it enjoyable? Is it balanced? Is the alcohol in check? Is it sour or bitter?
- · Finish – is the finish short or long?
- · Does the wine have a short life span or long?
- · If long how long?
- · Do we enjoy the wine?
- · Where is the wine from?
- · What is the varietal?
- · Compared to similarly priced wines do I enjoy it more or less?
- · If more, why?
I think this last question is what truly establishes “good value”. Every day when I taste wine I am constantly thinking about all of the wines I have tasted during the day or previously and comparing them to each other. In my mind some wines are better than other wines.
On a recent weekend, I had a series of meals each served with some very nice wines. When I came to work on the following Monday, I was reflecting back on the wines I tasted and was thinking about which ones I liked the best and why. All of the wines were roughly the same price but they were from different regions, of different varietals and from different vintages. Clearly, they were all “satisfying”, but in the end two wines stood out significantly from the rest. These two wines raised my satisfaction level much higher because they exhibited the depth and structure and flavors which lingered on the palate for a long period of time.
I guess at the end of the day “good value” is in the eye of the beholder not what someone else tells you it is. I would love to hear your feedback; contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
After an early morning rise and breakfast, and I highly recommend having a hearty breakfast before starting to taste any wine, we headed up Howell Mountain Road to the top to Cade Winery. Wow what a view overlooking the Napa Valley floor, it makes working there amazing just for the view but thankfully the wines are amazing as well. Cade Winery is a sister winery to Plumpjack Winery which is located in Oakville District of Napa Valley. They share similar philosophy in making great varietal wines from the area in which the winery is located. In this case being a top of Howell Mountain the wines are rich and dense with elegance and heartiness to them. We started off tasting wines and then touring the property. The first wine we had was the Estate Sauvignon Blanc which unfortunately is only available at the winery. The fresh acidity mixed with a lovely lemon apricot notes make for a perfect wine with fresh shellfish. Next was the Cade Napa Cuvee Cabernet, which is their entry point Cabernet while mostly mountain fruit there is a small amount of fruit from the valley floor. Big and powerful and classic cabernet yet at the same time supple and soft notes on the mid to back palate were very welcomed for drinking now. We then tasted their Howell Mountain Cabernet which is a classic Howell Mountain Cab, big rich tannins, massive fruit and needing time to mature. We finished this portion of the tasting with the Plumpjack Cabernet which is beautiful and rich with supple tannins and a nice velvety texture on the palate. We then toured the winemaking facility where we saw their tanks and caves in which they store their oak barrels what a beautiful site. We finished the tasting with the their Estate Cabernet which they sell in packs of 2, one screw cap the other cork closure. Wow! This wine is super elegant and rich and shows a very long life ahead of it. The palate leaves you wanting more and more, a wine worthy of any special occasion.
have been maturing in the barrel for over a year and are about to be blended and then bottled to be held onto for a another year or so before release. It was interesting to see how the individual components are shaping up and you can visualize how the final blend will be. We started with the Cabernet Sauvignon which was big and powerful and was going to add the power and velvety texture to the palate. Next was the Cabernet Franc which had a slight amount of restraint but all structure and firmness. The Petit Verdot was next and had huge tannins and blue fruit. The next barrel we tasted was the Malbec which was full of fruit and lushness. The final component, and what will most likely be the largest percentage of the grapes in the final blend is the Merlot, not your typical green astrigent Merlot. This is big and full bodied Merlot with plenty of lush fruit and great structure, I can see the wonderful potential for the 2011 Oracle and there will not be much of it available as the vintage overall was not a large crop compared to the 2009 or 2012 vintages.
After leaving Miner and getting a quick lunch at one of my favorite
In the wine business one of the great perks of our job is to visit different wine regions throughout the world. One of my favorite places to visit is Napa Valley, there is just something soothing and magical about being there. This time I took along my parents and Lisa (who has never been to Napa) and it was enjoyable to watch someone who has never been there to stare in amazement at everything and take it all in.
Our trip started at one of the more famous vineyards in the valley, Robert Mondavi.MondaviDana was our guide throughout the visit and he started us off by touring the 490 acres they have in the Oakville District in the heart of Napa Valley. It was great to see the different methods of growing vines throughout the vineyard, from the old spacing to the new tighter trellis system. We were lucky as the white grape varietals were just beginning to start to have bud break, and the reds were mostly dormant just waiting to break out. After touring the property we returned to the winery where we learned about the winery itself and the construction/addtion they built 12 years ago. They have hand made oak fermentation tanks from France which help to enhance the fruit and add a little more character to the wines. From there we descended into their barrel room which looks amazing housing all of their red wines from last year in a perfectly temperature controlled area to let the wines rest and develop. Here they also store some of their library selections going all the way back to the 1970 vintage.After leaving the barrel room we returned upstairs to the bottling area where they were preparing to bottle the 2011 vintages. We then saw the bottlling line and watched them hand bottle and label some of their winery only selections. It was amazing for as big and the amount of wine they produce there are still some things they still do by hand. After all of this walking we now thirsty and hungry. We tastesd several of their reserve wines in the barrel room including the 2009 Reserve Cabernet which was absolutely fantastic. The wine was rich elegant and full bodied, the fruit was well balanced with the right amount of oak and tannins.We were treated to a spectacular lunch at the winery in their private dining room. The lunch featured vegetables and spices which were grown on the property along with locally sourced proteins. Two pairings stood out in my mind the Mondavi Cabernet paired with Five Dot Ranch Ribeye and Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, one of the classic pairings I know but very well done with the meat just melting as you cut into it. For dessert we were treated to Almond Cake and fresh berries and whipped Crème Fraîche paired with Moscato d’Oro. The delicate notes of the fresh berries were balanced perfectly with the slightly sweet and thick Moscato.
After this amazing lunch who would of thought we would want to taste more wine, ahh but is the life. Our next destination was Franciscan Wine Estates where we had a lovely tasting and learned a little of the history of the winery. We tasted through the new releases including their Sauvignon Blanc, Cuvee Savage Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet. The wine which stood out the most to all of us was the Magnificat which is a blend of the 5 noble grapes (Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec), the richness of the Cabernet was well balanced with the other varietals to make it a smooth and easy to drink wine.
For dinner we went to one of my favorite places in Yountville, Brix. They have a wonderful selection of
dishes which are made using local produce and local meats. We started the evening with a new label from Dalla Valle, their Collina Dalla Valle which is made from younger vines grown on the hillside. It was super rich and elegant and needed time to mature and become an excellent wine. We followed this up with a bottle of the 2008 Hoopes Cabernet, still a wonderful bottle of wine but not as elegant and rich as the Collina Dalla Valle. A long first day but well worth it, a good nights rest is in order as tomorrow will be another day of traveling the valley in search of more wine.
The last day of any trip is always a sad one. But after 16 days on the ground covering 2o wineries 4000 miles, 240 courses of food, too many weird food items to list, 1200 different wines tasted and too many hotel rooms to mention it is nice to finish the trip on a high note. We were invited to Silvis’ home in Probleda in Priorat. But first Silvia wanted to show us where she is sourcing the white wines for Odysseus. When you hear about steep hillsides you think okay how steep could it really be, well if you look at the picture I have included here it is pretty steep. The slate soil provides a minerality and richness in the wines.
While the weather has been cooperating for the most part today is by far one of windiest days I have experienced in a long time, and thankfully they have plenty of windmills in the area to harvest all the wind power, because they were certainly working overtime today.
Well what trip to Spain would not be complete without a trip to see Silvia Puig? I would dare to say one of the most popular winemakers we have had visit the shop since we opened. We were also joined by her father in the morning as we tasted through 6 vintages of their wines. I was incredibly impressed with how well the whites were showing this year. The 2009 Garnacha Blanc tastes better today then it did three years ago. Of course some of my favorite red labels the 2004 & 2006 did not disappoint. But more importantly tasting up to the current releases you can see Silvia is making incredible wines, and the more she works with the vineyards the better the wines are. The 2010 vintage as I mentioned last year was one of the best I have had from her and was reaffirmed this year look out for the 2010 in a few years because it will be a short vintage but the quality is so amazing you will have a hard time keeping the corks in the bottle and the wine out of your glass.
As we arrive in Priorat we stop at the oldest winery operating in Priorat – Celler Cecilio. Our good friend August is there waiting for us to show us around and taste his wonderful wines. A winery we have always supported here at the shop but not done to much with but after tasting the wines again this year I am determined to change it. The elegance, minerality, and power of these wines is simply amazing. On top of it August the winemaker and owner is a character who just makes you want to sit down pop a bottle and listen to what he has to say because it is insightful, thought provoking and funny.
After spending a few days along the Mediterranean coast we drove about thirty mile inland and headed to Conca de Barbera to see our fiend Joan Escoda. Joan is making some powerful and statement building wines which are all biodynamic and exsquite. Joan took us on a tour of his vineyards, and he is where no one else wants to be. He is growing Pinot Noir on a ridge top above everyone else which is why his Pinot Noir is so unique and powerful. As we tour the vineyards it is amazing to see all of the vegetation which is grown along with the vines which he says give the soil more nutrients and protects the vines from a lot of pests. Unfortunately not against Boars which love to eat the best fruit in the vineyards, this year they ate most of the Cabernet Franc and Merlot so there will not be any 2012 Coll de Sabetor.
Oh a dreary wet Sunday morning and we head up to the top of a mountain near Sitges in Penedes, to our “House” Sparkling Producer – Finca Valldosera. Jordi is there to greet us with his typical energy and a glass! They are in the midst of renovating the winery and adding guest rooms to the winery so we skipped past all of the rooms which had a fresh coat of paint on the walls and to the tank room which held all of the 2012 wines awaiting their time to go into bottle. The production levels for 2012 were about 60% of what it has been in previous vintages due once again to tough weather conditions. But as with all of the other producers we have visited with the quality was very high. We then adjurned to the newly renovated tasting room to try all of the bottled releases and again fell in love once again with their cavas.