Monday, January 15, 2007

Moving Up in the World

Why am I doing this? I keep asking myself that. I actually went out to the grocery store and bought a shopping cart full of cheap wine. I mean, the Franzia and Boone's Farm were bad enough, but I bought a whole basket full of Woodbridge, Sutter Home and Gallo wines as well. That's just plain humiliating for a wine snob like me. It's like Brad Pitt getting caught buying low-grade crystal meth in some alley in downtown Oroville. A guy like that, you'd think he could afford the good stuff - and have a taste for it. Thank God no one recognized me!

Even worse, now I actually have to taste them. The sacrifices I make for this column simply boggle the mind.

Fortunately, I prepped myself for the task by spending a weekend tasting wine in Lodi. Poor Lodi , the butt of Credence Clearwater Revival songs and any number of jokes about hick valley towns. But, based on my wine tasting experiences last weekend, it deserves every joke and every slight tossed at it. Never have so many bad wines been served to so many people in such a small town. But it was a good experience because it lowered my expectations to such a level that I might actually feel blessed to drink Gallo.

Gallo Twin Valley Chardonnay (non-vintage)
After the huge oak bombs that I had in Lodi, this was actually a semi-refreshing change. Cheap chardonnays are known for two flavors: butter and oak. Interestingly, this wine actually bucked that trend. Though it definitely had some oak, it didn't crack me over the head with a two by four. Don’t get me wrong, this wine weren’t nothing special, but it weren’t hideous neither. Actually, for the price – and to my astonishment – this wine was actually drinkable. 2.5 stars.

Woodbridge 2004 California Merlot
I’m not a merlot fan, and not because of the movie Sideways. I couldn’t care less what some actor spewing some piece of dialog says. But the fact is that merlot makes some of the wimpiest, “blah” wines in California, pathetically generic stuff that could be anything and tastes like nothing. Sure, merlot makes some of the best wines in the world, but in California, it’s hard to know what you’re getting until you taste it.

Well, this little wine actually puts out – relatively speaking. Sure, it’s got a fair amount of oak to it, but nothing obnoxious or over the top. But peeking through that (and its low class pedigree) is a wine that almost – almost – has some real character. Again, a stunner. 2.5 stars.

Sutter Home 2002 California Cabernet Sauvignon
I’m not sure what the deal was with this wine. They tend to push the vintages on these cheapo wines pretty fast. Two years is about as much lag time as these producers can handle (partly for marketing reasons, but partly because their wines begin to self-destruct after a couple of years in the bottle. Chateau Latour this stuff ain’t.). This wine was a 2002 and must have been collecting dust on the store shelf for at least two years. And it seemed to be showing signs advanced age. It wasn’t actually bad; it just lacked any sort of character or body. A weak, but not seriously flawed wine. 2 stars.

Sadly, these three wines were among the best I tasted this weekend, and that makes me a bit leery of recommending any of them. The best bad wine is still a bad wine after all. I’d only feel safe recommending these if you’ve been drinking Franzia or Almaden - you poor, poor soul. Amaziungly, these wines actually represent a huge, gigantic step up from box wines, and are worth every penny of it. I honestly never thought I’d hear myself say anything remotely like that. Writing this column brings me to a new low every week.

Next week I’m going to move up the scale to $9-10 per bottle wines – the stuff you might find in Cost Plus or Costco, and probably what you consider the “good stuff”. Some day, I’ll actually drink a real wine for this column. And you’ll all send me hate mail. Sigh.

You can see me taste this week’s wines at:

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