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Friday Fishwrap
Accused Again—Too Expensive

By Charles Olken

I am hoping that the CGCW blog reader who bragged about buying Muscadet and Bierzo Crianza for under $40 the pair, right after mentioning $80 California wine, was just pulling my chain. Admittedly, it is easily pulled because I have grown weary of the lies and exaggerations—and that includes the notion that the only place to find wines of value is to look offshore. Oh sure, I described that kind of commentary as “myth” the other day, but let’s call it what it really is. Uniformed false information.

Now, let’s be clear. I have no problem with the wines mentioned. Maybe they are just fine, maybe not. That is not the question here. I can match them for beauty and value without even breathing hard.

What I am going to prove in a few short sentences is the utterly base and false nature of the accusation that stands in the middle of the statement.

Here are three Chardonnays that are brilliant wines for the money. The Bjornstad Sonoma County 2010 bottling at $25 is crisp, clean, deep and wholeheartedly recommended in our recent review of the variety. It is joined in the above 90-point range, just to mention a quality marker in passing, by the Stephen Ross Edna Valley 2010 at $24. These are wonderfully balanced and well-proportioned wines. No one is going to accuse either of excess—unless they are simply treated offhandedly by those who have never tasted them but “accuse” them of excess because they are from California. And for those who do not believe that a tight, minerally, no oak Chardonnay is possible here, please give a try to the Lincourt Sta. Rita Hills 2011 at $18.

Okay, so I have sort of painted myself into a corner with the near and over $20 tags on my Chardonnays—and I could have listed a dozen Sauvignon Blancs as well. To make it under the $40 barrier for two wines, I offer the following—again wholeheartedly recommended in Connoisseurs’ Guide through the rigors of blind tastings. Let’s start with Brophy Clark Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County 2009, $16 and add in the Bonterra Pinot Noir Mendocino County 2010, also $16, as very fine choices in balanced red wines whose lively step is sure to please. But, for those wanting something more substantial, say for lamb or pasta, try the Buena Vista Sonoma County Zinfandel 2010, $15, whose zesty fruit is matched to a somewhat fuller but not heavy frame.

That is all I have to say on the subject. These wines speak volumes as proof that there are plenty of priceworthy, balanced California wines. I could go on with these kinds of blind-tasting tested listings for another hundred entries. That is why I object to those who suggest otherwise. They are simply blowing smoke. No need to say more. Try the wines, please.

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No Subject
by TomHill
Posted on:11/2/2012 11:08:48 AM

Good rant, Charlie...and one I totally agree with. There are plenty of great values out there and you just have to look around for them.

   We had a Torrontes this week (ForlornHope) that was absolutely world-class, greatest Torrontes I've ever had. Priced at $20. One of my people acknowledged it was danged good, but pointed out you can get one from Argentina for much cheaper price. Happened to have a $12 in my fridge, so cracked that sucker open and it was as dull as dishwater. The ForlornHope blew it away.

   I get a lot of (unsolicited) e-mails from retailers (like K&L, WineHouse, WineHound) touting this or that wine has an absolute steal and how it blows away anything from Calif at that price point. And, almost invariably, it's from Portugal/Spain/Italy/Greece or some such. I get kinda tired of it. I just wish some of these retailers were as pro-active in seeking out and touting some oof the bargin Calif wines as they are seeking out another NapaVlly cult Cab.

End of my rant.



Flip Side to Rants
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:11/2/2012 9:47:04 PM

So as the French wine buyer for our store, and a self confessed lover of all things Loire, I had our domestic buyer in my face, all excited that he found a domestic Cabernet Franc that "Tastes just like Bourgueil" and as someone that is (no matter how often you think I might not be) very open to the wines of my home state and willing to try my hardest to love them, well I couldn't wait to try Bennett's discovery. Um, yeah, fucking thing is $34.99!!! Are you freaking kidding me?! So you want me to buy a $35 bottle of wine, that tastes like the ones I sell for $15?! Now, why the hell would I do that and why would I instruct my cash strapped customers to do so? That is simply nutty and no matter how tasty the wine was, (and it was tasty, and did in fact remind me of the wine from the Loire...that are half the price) it makes zero sense for me to buy that. Have the same issue with most Loire varieties as a matter of fact....cannot, and will not, say the same about Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay or maybe even Pinot Noir, (but that, for me, big maybe as I do think I can find cheaper and better Pinot Noir from places other than California. The ones I do love from here tend to cost way over $50 for some reason) and I would NEVER, as a retailer, send out emails shit talking on any region, period. That is not only shitty, it's bad business.

price points
by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:11/3/2012 9:32:39 AM

I've always wondered how domestic wine producers can expect people to drink wine daily at prices that most people simply can't afford on a daily basis.

The idea behind my retail shop in Manhattan was to offer wines at prices that allowed people to buy a bottle every day, and I didn't care where the wines were from, as long as they were solid and priced right. Few customers had the money to spend $25 a day on a bottle of wine; $15 max.

I have to say that it was damned hard to find a reasonable and reliable stream of American wines that matched European wines when it came to the $15 (and under) price range.


by TomHill
Posted on:11/4/2012 4:03:43 PM

Sam sez: " $34.99!!! Are you freaking kidding me?! So you want me to buy a $35 bottle of wine, that tastes like the ones I sell for $15?"


Well...perhaps that be true, Samantha. But I know folks who would be appalled to spend $15 for a btl of Bourgueil CabFranc from the Loire  when they can buy a Romanian CabFranc, that speaks of CabFranc to them,  that sells for $8.

   The one Loire-like Cab Franc that I recall that was very much like Loire CabFranc (the Matthiassen)  sells for $35-$40 (as I recall). Why should I but that when I can get a Loire CabFranc for $15, or a Romanian CabFranc for $8?? was danged good CabFranc and had some of the earthy/loamy character of Loire CabFranc, but also had the lushness/ripeness of NapaVlly CabFranc.

   And it is, after all, the NapaVlly. Land and labor is more expensive there than in the Loire or Romania. So I would expect to pay a premium for a CabFranc from the NapaVlly. Or, you could argue, the Loire is the true home for CabFranc and they should not be growing CabFranc there in the NapaVlly. They should only be growing CabSauv there, that sells for $100, compared to premium RedBdx that sells for $500 and up. What a sad/boring place that would be there in the NapaVlly if everything is CabernetSauvignon. I'm all for them trying CabFranc, Ribolla, StLaurent, Mondeuse in the NapaVlly. And I fully expect them to cost more than those from Austria/Friuli/Savoie/Romania. And maybe...just maybe...the world's greatest StLaurent may come from the NapaVlly (which, I would claim, it does).

End of my rant.



The End Game
by Adam Lee/Siduri Wines
Posted on:11/5/2012 8:53:00 AM

As a former retailer I certainly understand the excitement of a bargain to your customers.  And I think the Loire represents some of the finest wines at some of the most remarkably inexpensive prices in the world of wine.  However, I also am aware that these bargains don't come without a price....eventually.  The Muscadet region (as one of the wines mentioned in the original post) is in one of the greatest crisis moments in its history....with massive bankruptcies, the distillation of wines, and prices falling by 50%.  This story is a bit out-dated, but still somewhat accurate....

Inexpensive wine?  Yes...but the cost is high.

Adam Lee

Siduri Wines

F*Bomb Retail
by Greg Wormley
Posted on:11/6/2012 2:35:40 PM

I am also in the wine retail business and must agree that their are plenty of California wines out there that are affordable and fun to drink.  Please focus on the word "fun", as wine is fun, not a chore.  Customers buy what they can afford, and if they like it, what's the problem?

There are wonderful bargains to be had from around the world and we should be happy to be able to enjoy them.

No F*Bomb needed,


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