Sunday, January 28, 2007

The $10 Threshold

This is my last week torturing myself with cheap wines. For the most part, it’s been money – and wine – down the drain. But I’ve learned that there’s a major difference between the really, really, really cheap stuff (less than $4 a bottle) and the really, really cheap stuff ($4-6 a bottle). But it gets a bit less clear when moving from the really, really cheap stuff to the just-one-“really” cheap stuff ($6-10 a bottle). Some $9 wines weren’t significantly better than the $4 stuff.

Of course, to a wine snob like me, there’s a certain “duh” factor involved in a statement like that. For us wine snobs, $30 is the threshold where we start to think that we might occasionally find a decent bottle of wine. That’s why there are two types of wine snobs: rich ones and broke ones. If you drink two or three bottles a day like I do, it really starts to add up!

For normal people and people with other kinds of drug habits, 30 bucks a bottle is a bit steep. For them, you hit a big psychological threshold when the price of a bottle goes from $9.99 to $10.00. “Whoa! There’s an extra digit there! I don’t know if I’m willing to pay $10 - $10!!! – for a bottle of wine! It better be damn good!”

People expect that extra penny to make a big difference – and wine makers know it. With that in mind, I myself was expecting to finally drink some decent wines this time around by picking bottles in the $10-15 range. In order to maximize my consumer-spending dollar, I decided to take a trip to Costco; the over-sized home of over-sized boxes of over-sized food sold to over-sized Americans.

Given my limited funds (yeah, I’m one of the broke wine snobs), I decided to only get three bottles, and I decided to pick wines that I thought had a pretty good chance of being worth it.

Andrew Murray 2005 Tous les Jours Central Coast syrah ($12.69)
Andrew Murray is the label that Sideways made famous. On the nose, a decent mix of dark blackberry fruit and a bit of earthiness, but overall the nose was a bit weak. On the tongue it had a faint but pleasant perfuminess to it. However, the fruit was not very strong and the wine was a bit hot on the finish, with a fairly strong taste of alcohol. A decent, drinkable wine, but a bit on the simple side and a bit disappointing. 3 stars.

Rodney Strong 2003 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon ($10.99)
This wine was recommended to me by a friend whom I consider to be a connoisseur of cheap wine. Pretty darn decent nose right out of the bottle. Really heavy dark blackberry fruit, with a lot of spiciness. Very impressive for the price. The first taste packed a real whammy of tartness, but that faded quickly, giving way to solid spicy fruit and decent tannins. A solid effort. Revisiting the wine after it had been open for about an hour was a mistake. Suddenly, tons of oak leapt out of the glass, followed by an off, almost metallic finish. This is one wine to avoid decanting. 3 stars.

Chateau Souverain 2003 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($14.99)

This one was right at the top of my price range (and probably $18.99 anywhere but Costco), and by God, it was the only one to really come through. Solid dark fruits on the nose like you expect with a Cabernet. On the palette, really just yummy compared to the swill I've been drinking. This was the first wine I'd tasted in weeks that actually had some complexity and structure. Hallelujah, brother! And it just got better the longer it was open, developing more complexity and deep flavors. 3.75 stars.

Now that my crusade is complete, I have no idea what to write about next week. But fortunately, I have a whole week – and 15-20 bottles of wine – before I have to do anything about it.

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