Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Finest Team of Wine Drinkers Known to Mankind

One of my favorite movies as a child was THE GUNS OF NAVARONE directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring the great Gregory Peck, David Niven, and Anthony Quinn. The movie is one of those great World War II epics in which there is an impossible mission to be undertaken by a rag-tag outfit of hard drinking, spit fire talking, down on their luck men who have a chance to finally redeem themselves. In this case, their mission is to take out an impregnable Nazi mountain fortress that has two massive guns threatening a Royal Navy rescue of British soldiers stranded on a Greek Isle. Good to know that the British are still stranded on Greek Isles in the form of drunken tourists.
In the weeks since my first post, I have been assembling a rag-tag group of wine drinkers to take out the impregnable fortress of wine inequality and the threatening guns of lack-of-quality and lack of good taste. My team is ready, and we have been planning our first Brown Bag Event in which we'll have a tasting of wines all under $12.99.
The first region we are taking on is the Great State of California (we might hone it down to one particular wine growing region - there's a good chance Paso Robles will be first up). California is the Navarone of Wine Regions to me in terms of affordability and quality. I find it very difficult to find an affordable and great tasting California wine for under $12.99. It could be because our real estate is so expensive, or it could be because the California wine culture puts a lot of emphasis on elevating wine above everything around it. That emphasis leads to a lot of heavy taste engineering - which is costly.
Don't get me wrong. I love California wine, but it tends to fall in a range of $20 and above. Then again, there could very well be bargains out there in the every day affordable range. There has to be.
And in my first major review, me and my rag tag team of wine lovers will be bringing them to your attention.
Oh, and I promise to start adding pictures and stuff that most people like in blogs.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The search for an affordable great wine experience

When I was in Italy on my honeymoon with my wife Christine, I had a number of incredible wine experiences. There was the Monday night we spent in an empty, off season Montalcino where we found a bi-level wine shop stepped down into the rocky hilltop town. There we sampled four surprisingly huge tastings of Montalcino's finest - including the off the charts '97 Brunello. The shop overlooked the twinkling lights of a night drenched Tuscan countryside. There was also the night we went to what seemed like a sports bar in Trastevere in Rome. The place had incredible pizzas, sausage stuffed fried green olives, and wine we bought by the liter. And then there was what was described as the Virgin Mega-store of wine shops: a sprawling shop complete with "wine tasting" machines. You bought a pre-paid debit card, and barrel shaped machines dispensed one ounce pours of some of the best tasting wines on the planets. If scientists are trying to create artificial intelligence in computers, they should study these machines.

The great thing about these experiences was that they did not cost much. Sure, sitting in a wine shop built into the side of a fortified several hundred year old town drinking wine is special, but it was also accessible. The pizzeria in Trastevere seemed like a place you could go to often. A neighborhood place. The wine mega-store, which was in the town of Greve in Chianti, again allowed budget wine lovers like me the chance to taste outstanding wines without taking a big financial hit - somewhat like a wine timeshare.

The point of this blog - The Brown Bag Sommelier - is to seek out delicious tasting wines that are priced so that they can be a part of your life. In Italy, we found wines that came in liter decanters. They were house wines, not incredibly complex and nuanced, but balanced, delicious, and honest. They were wines that were part of a culture that saw wine as a part of a meal.

When I hear the term, cult wine, I wonder if wine in America has become a misplaced fetish. I don't want to drink wine that is denied to the greater part of humanity. I want to drink wine that is available and accessible.

And I am going to find those wines - no matter how many bottles I have to go through.