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Tuesday Tributes
Looking For Mr. Goodbargain

By Charles Olken

I love a bargain. In fact, I love a bargain so much that I have been accused of looking for wine love in all the wrong places—like Napa and Sonoma and Santa Barbara. I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment.

Or maybe I don’t have the patience to traipse around from wine store to wine store looking for older Austrialian Rieslings or Semillons—as my good friend Dan Berger has suggested that we all do. Of course, having given this information, Dan then recommends his bargain of the week. Not an older high acid, long-aging wine of the type that his article champions but a “soft, plump” Merlot from Hogue. The irony is too much not to bring forth a giant grin. I don’t question the Hogue; I just love the juxtaposition of a long article whose guidance is totally at odds with the wine recommended.

Nor can I follow the advice of one Robert Parker Jr. whose bargain choices go as high as $25 for everyday quality Zin and Riesling. The wines in question may be decent, like the Trefethen Dry Riesling that he rates at 87 points and we rate at 89. Either way, a quite good wine. But a bargain, or similarly priced Sauvignon Blancs?

Folks, you can do a lot better than that. And here are a bunch of wines, taken directly from our blind tastings and recommended in Connoisseurs’ Guide, that prove the point:

93 CHATEAU STE. MICHELLE Eroica Riesling Columbia Valley 2009 $20.00 GOOD VALUE
Although the aromas of this vibrant young wine take a bit of time and coaxing to come around, they and the similarly lively and nuanced flavors that follow speak directly to very fresh, wonderfully pure Riesling fruit. We typically find Eroica bottlings to be restrained and a bit backward when still in their first years, and that is the case here. That said, the wine's delicacy should not be seen as a failing, and, if it is an attractive, slightly sweet foil to lighter curries and sundry Southeast Asian foods in the short term, it is impeccably balanced and has years of increasing beauty before it reaches its peak.
Reviewed: September 2011

87 KENDALL-JACKSON Vintner's Reserve Riesling Monterey 2009 $12.00 GOOD VALUE
Nicely framed aromas redolent of ripe peach, hints of flowers and jasmine may take their time to open up but open they do and become quite pleasant in the process. The wine is slightly sweet on the palate and gains a bit of roundness as the result but it is also very well-balanced at every stop. It will be a happy mate to pan-fried fish and chicken dishes.
Reviewed: September 2011

87 CLOS LA CHANCE Estate Zinfandel Central Coast 2009 $18.00 GOOD VALUE
Fresh, young, berry-like fruit fragrances are backed up by the clean, like-minded flavors of this balanced, middleweight effort, and, if never an extravagant wine, it is focused and constant and built for the table. It will not fade away anytime soon, but it is sure to make an enjoyable mate now to Summery barbecue standards running from grilled sausages to spareribs slathered in sauce.
Reviewed: September 2011

87 DRY CREEK VINEYARD Fumé Blanc Sonoma County 2010 $12.00 GOOD VALUE
Sauvignon Blanc grassiness gets top billing here even as a bit of citrusy, mineral-tinged fruit manages to make itself known and complete the varietal picture, and, while the wine is not especially deep or layered, it is fresh, firm and well-balanced. It finishes with the kind of brisk, palate-cleansing acidity that makes good Sauvignon so food friendly, and its very modest price invites drinking on a regular basis.
Reviewed: September 2011

88 CONN CREEK Herrick Red Napa Valley 2008 $18.00 GOOD VALUE
Conn Creek's inexpensive Cabernet-based blend is something of a revelation at the price. It is rich, well-fruited and carefully balanced with a real sense of reserve and polish typically found in far more costly wines. Its layered delivery of juicy dark fruits and sweet oak is bound to tempt early drinking, yet do not be fooled by its price tag into thinking that it is a simple gulper to be drunk down right away. It is much more than that, and it will continue to grow for a number of years.
Reviewed: August 2011

87 SANTA BARBARA WINERY Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 2009 $15.00 GOOD VALUE
Clean, crisp and suggestive of green apples with a touch of butter for richness in its aromas, this wine does a fine job on the palate with its ripeness nicely tempered by burgeoning acidity and its citrus-tinged flavors that last well into its bright finish.
Reviewed: August 2011

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Another Rec
by TomHill
Posted on:9/12/2011 9:00:46 AM

Another rec I'd add, Charlie, is the DryCreekVnyd Heritage Zin '09 at $15 at TraderJoe's.



Dry Creek Vyds Bargains
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:9/12/2011 9:31:00 AM


You will get complete agreement from me on that score The wine is $19 front-line retail. At $15, it is a nice find.

Both the Zin and Fume Blanc from Dry Creek Vyds are excellent wines, hold their quality from year to year and have very attractive prices.

They are the kinds of wines that I would like to see as part of wine lists because they are fine wines, well-priced from a recognizable name. The non-geek winelovers need not be befuddles by wine lists.

But when I said something like that recently, Jon Bonne went on Twitter to describe wines of that ilk as big-distributor crap.

I like wine lists to offer new discoveries probably more than the next guy, but when wine lists only have wines that nobody has heard of, then they are being done for the narrow-minded geeks and the sommelier's ego.

What possible harm is done by putting very good wines like those from Dry Creek Vyds on a list?

by Bill Smart
Posted on:9/13/2011 9:56:20 AM
Charlie and Tom - first, thanks for the shout out on our wines. It is very much appreciated and in fact, humbling, to know that our wines are so enjoyed.
On the subject of DCV on wine lists, this is something we have been harping on our distributors for years. Year and year out, our talking points have always included that DCV always over delivers - meaning that the wine tastes much more expensive than it actually does which makes it all the more attractive for a BTG program or wine list. For the most part, this message goes unheard. There's just too much competition and distributor "priorities".
The fact that some writers take umbrage with wines at everyday price points is just plain ludicrous and frankly short sided. Wine is not a popularity contest and the pretty girl at the dance does not need to get all the attention. My point is there are well made wines at all price points and just chasing the latest craze (or pretty girl) is a pretty short sided view of wine.
Wine Lists
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:9/13/2011 10:15:04 AM

Hi Bill--

I had dinner at a very fine restaurant in San Francisco the other night. The restaurant is Frances and because it is small and neighborhoody in orientation, it has great food at prices that are far less than in the trendy hot spots with their posh settings.

The wine list was pretty good, but like so many San Francisco restaurants, it was a collection of not especially well-known wines--nothing that my neighbors would recognize. Th only Zinfandel, for instance, was from Oregon. This is when wine lists go from useful to geekish pomposity. Too bad, because I loved the restaurant.

I just don't understand how a fine restaurant could sell food that people understand but not wine. I don't want all big winery bottlings by any means. But, for the life of me, I cannot understand why a restaurant would not search out bargains in known wines like the ones that Tom Hill and I have recommended.

And it simply makes no sense for the wine critic in the SF Chronicle to brand those wines as big distributor crap and dismiss them out of hand.  He is furthering the notion that wine appreciation must be an arcane art, and so are the wine lists that follow in that vein with no regard for the ordinary punters who are the majority of their customers.

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