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Monday Manifestos
It’s Not Bias! It’s Common Sense!

By Charles Olken

I would be the wrong person to tell anyone not to spend their money on fancy wine. I have a cellar full of intriguing bottles from all over the world. We have a kitchen full of gadgets that neither Mrs. Olken nor I need or use—and I am about to run out to Williams-Sonoma and buy her some new toys. I should have bought a Prius, but I didn’t. No, I am the wrong person to preach the gospel of frugality.

And yet, I just cannot help myself—and I am going to make a few Francophiles upset in the process. I came home late Sunday afternoon from a very successful day in the hazy sun at Candlestick Park watching the hometown bullies play decent football for a change. I can’t imagine why since they haven’t performed up to snuff all year. Still, I came home happy as can be and settled into my overstuffed family-room chair to give a careful perusal to the printed news of the day. Yes, I know, the printed news is yesterday’s news, but I am a “print” guy after all and I am not about to cancel my daily newspaper-—not as long as I am a print journalist. It would simply be bad karma.

The Sunday rag came wrapped in an advertisement from the local grocery store, and I was in the process of discarding it when its back page caught my eye. There, in plain sight, was a full page of wine bottles and price tags and savings offers. Put in its simplest terms, a man in my profession does not ignore such things. So, there I was looking over claims about being ready to sell me some fancy wine for big discounts when I spotted the irresistible—the prices on an array of the bubbly.

And here is the kicker. There were wines in this advertisement that represent some of the greatest bargains of the season. Imagine getting Mumm Brut Prestige for $12 when Mumm Cordon Rouge in all its not very exciting Frenchness sells for three times that amount. Imagine an advertisement for Veuve non-vintage Brut, another acceptable but patently “unspecial” wine at almost $40 when the far better Roederer Estate Brut or the J Cuvée 20 are on offer at $17. Why pay $40-50 for most non-vintage Champers and up to $70 to $80 for vintage-dated Champagnes when their qualitative equivalents cost under $20.

And so, dear friends, while I have no wish to deter you from spending large amounts for the best grower Champagnes, for the killer California bottlings from DVX and J. Schram or for the hard-to-be-better-than triple digit French tête du cuvée bottlings like Roederer Cristal, Perrier-Jouet Fleur de Champagne and Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle, I must also urge you to take advantage of the steal of the year.

The top California bubblies in every price category simply outpoint and outvalue their French counterparts. Don’t settle for lesser wine at higher prices. This is the year to buy California bubblies by the boxload. It is not bias talking here. It is common sense.


Oh Goddman It
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:12/13/2010 10:38:23 AM

So not true. I was just involved in a blind tasting and I believe, if my notes are correct, that I placed almost all the domestic offerings...with the exception of Roederer and J, in the very bottom of my tasting notes.  Value can be seen in two ways; good enough or a steal and I am sorry but when talking of things like Mumm, that is just NOT good enough. I see things like Agrapart 7 Cru, ($35.99) as a value...truly beautiful Blanc de Blancs, rich in roasted fruit and yeast with tiny bubbles and a long finish, as a value. If you are going to plunk down $20.00 for "meh" and uninspiring bubbles, kick down the extra fifteen and get something that will make love to you. Not to mention we should all be supporting the little wine shops, you know...the ones that cannot afford to take out full page adds and take lost leader measures with brand name bubbles. Settle now and we will all be settling forever....

the gauntlet
by John
Posted on:12/13/2010 10:41:46 AM

Can't believe I got on here before Sam! [Note to Sam - simmer down! already, girl.] Charlie I agree with you that the quality of the best California sparkling wines is amazing. Saturday with dinner we had a bottle of "La Reve" from Domaine Carneros and a bottle of J Brut Rose that both gave me nearly as much gustatory pleasure as can be had.

Wednesday we are having our winery crew holiday dinner and we plan to start with some French Champagnes from small growers. I don't expect to be disappointed, though yes they were more expensive.

These days if I am going to buy a large-production sparkling wine it is going to be Gloria Ferrer and not Cristal. I will pay more per bottle - a lot more - to support the efforts of high-quality artisanal producers, whether they be Californian, French or otherwise.

Oh No!
by John
Posted on:12/13/2010 10:42:32 AM

AAAK - I DIDN'T get on before Sam! Hahahah!

Cristal sucks
by Sam
Posted on:12/13/2010 10:57:20 AM

Tried to get in before the bubble maven John? Nice try but I am relentless in my defense of bubbly wine, sent here to stop the world from drinking crpatastic bubbles...and I'm quick because I don't sleep and junk. Just curious why such smart and wine versed men still drag out the ever crusty Cristal as the pinnacle of all sparkling nirvana? Drives me nuts that. I've had it. lots of times, only once (and it will be forever so) on my dime and sorry, it's boring and heavy of the front loaded sweetness side. Moineaux, Saves, Dhondt all under $100 and all, by far better and more interesting wines. I shan't simmer down...just starting to bubble.

$17 for J. You Can't Beat It
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:12/13/2010 11:07:26 AM

My dear Samantha--

When you and I tasted grower Champers a couple of weeks ago, we agreed that Jose Dhondt and Marcel Moineaux B/Bs were superb. They are also $70-80 and are hard to find.

J Cuvee 20 at $17 is simply a steal. I was not rated as high as the Moineaux or the Dhondt but it costs $50 or more less. Value for money does count. Mumm Brut at $12 is a better wine than Mumm Cordon Rouge at $35 tasted blind side by side, in my opinion.

I know your fabulous store and many other good merchants have some of these limited edition grower Champers. But $12 is not $35, and while Gloria Ferrer did not feature in the ad I saw, I have to agree with John right down the line. It is not "meh". It is good wine.

And as much as I admire you, my dear Samantha, I don't think your French-first palate is as entirely open to what CA bubblies do for the average punter and even for those of us having the gang in and not wanting to pony up $80 for Marcel Moineaux's admittedly grand B/B.

by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:12/13/2010 11:23:09 AM

French first? I was tasted blind on those wines and from what I tasted....I would never love sparkling wines the way I do if that was all there were. Boring, simply boring and something I would not return for another glass of. I think it's rather unfair to color me as bias here Charlie, (and I love and admire you as well) I have tasted and consumed far more bubbles in my 13 years as a sparkling wine buyer than most do...ever so not to toot my own horn but I think my opinion is valid and very well informed on this one subject. So answer me this, why is it that Americans drink so little sparkling wine? Just reserve it to special occasions and celebatory events? Might it be that they are drinking, for the most part, boring and factory made plonk like yellow label, Mumm, Moet, Domaine Carneros and Piper Sonoma? All wines that if they did not have a sparkle to them would be denounced as the bland and flat wines they are? Maybe not, maybe I am just a freak for the layering and texture of people like Saves and Agrapart, (still under $40) but I have to think, or believe that those wines are truly special and deserve to not be mentioned in the same breath or compared to Mumm Napa. That's like comparing Arnot Roberts or Littorai to Bogle. Oh and for the record, Moineaux is $60.00 not $80, least at my shop.

eyes open
by John
Posted on:12/13/2010 12:43:38 PM

Note that my pricing contrast is between what I prefer to spend $ on for large-production wines versus the $$$ I am willing to spend to experience artisanal production.

Charmat anything is like setting dollar bills on fire. That's just me. I don't mention Cristal as "sparkling nirvana" by any means - I bring it up because it is a universally-recognized luxury brand. Don't care for it myself. That's just me. I also don't care for Dom, or Grand Dame, or heaven forbid anything with Nicholas Feuillatte on the label. That's just me. My palate is not thrilled by Mumm from either continent, so I never buy it. That's just me.

Not knocking anyone's choices here - enjoy what you want.

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