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.