We were fortunate recently to attend a holiday dinner celebration where our host opened extremely good bottles of wine from his collection.
Later, in passing, we mentioned this to someone who replied, “Is that expensive stuff really all that much better? All wine tastes the same to me.”
After giving it thought, we came up with an analogy to help the person understand: Think of a beautiful heirloom tomato you’d find in the farmers market in the summertime. It’s juicy and sweet with great texture and flavor. Now, think of a tomato you’d find in a supermarket in January. It’s red now, but it was probably green when it was shipped from wherever it was grown. It’s very firm (maybe hard as a rock) and has very little taste. Compare the two tomatoes. Wine, to some degree, is like that.
In addition to the conditions under which the grapes were grown, unlike the tomato, it then undergoes a metamorphosis and under the guidance of a winemaker is transformed into wine. Like the tomatoes, not all grapes, winemakers or wines are created equal.
The question, as was put to us, involves two aspects of wine: quality and price. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, the two aren’t always related.
It’s possible to plunk down big dollars for a bottle of wine only to be disappointed. Conversely, you can find high quality wines at affordable prices. When we began writing this column years ago, we determined to find these wine values and let our readers know about them.
We were recently invited to a private tasting for the wine trade and press in Charleston. We sampled about 100 wines. Many were excellent. Some of the wines have retail prices more than $100.
Of all the wines we tasted in this session, we felt this blended wine by Runquist was the best value for the price:
• Highly recommended: 1448 Jeff Runquist Wines 2010, Amador County, Calif., about $19. This wine from the Sierra Foothills is a combination of nine grape varieties but mostly Petite Syrah. It’s a very fruit-forward wine with bright flavors of dark berries and cherries. It’s very complex with cascading layers and floral aromas with nuances of spice on the finish.
Many grapes grow well in Napa Valley but the area is known internationally for Cabernet Sauvignon. You pay a premium for Cabs from Napa. Educated Guess is 100 percent Napa Valley fruit crafter by legendary winemaker Barry Gnekow.
• Highly recommended: Educated Guess Roots Run Deep Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley, Calif., about $21. This is a well-crafted wine with bold flavors of blackberry, cocoa, cherry and earth. It has soft tannins with notes of vanilla mid palate. It’s a long wine with minerals and spice on the finish. Aged 10 months in a combination of small French and American oak barrels. At this price it’s a great value.
Okay, at $95 it might be difficult for some people to consider any wine a bargain. This is one of the wines that our host served and the one we liked best.
If you can afford it, this wine is a very big step up in quality. If you’re going to splurge on a wine ,this one will more than give you your money’s worth.
• Very highly recommended: Paul Hobbs Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley, Calif., about $95. This wine is an experience you’ll long remember. It’s a multidimensional Cabernet Sauvignon with concentrated flavors of great depth. Deep dark garnet in color, it has pronounced flavors with layers of cassis, black current, tobacco and earth. It’s a bold wine with a long finish with expertly balanced tannins and acidity. Aged 20 months in small French oak barrels. You’ll want to take your time sipping this wine and experiencing every nuance that it has to offer.
If you try these wines, particularly the Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon, and still feel wines all taste the same, then in one way you’re blessed: you can happily drink inexpensive wine and save a lot of money.
Jim and Marie Oskins live on Lake Wylie. For questions about wine, or food pairings, email firstname.lastname@example.org.