The Wine Curmudgeon was in august company earlier this month, helping several of the top restaurant wine people in Dallas pick cheap holiday wine for The Dallas Morning News’ regular wine feature. It was a fascinating experience, and not just because we found some terrific wine for the paper’s readers. Rather, I got to see wine from a different perspective — those who buy wine for restaurants, and where the cost of the wine isn’t as important as it is to them as it is to me.
Among the highlights of the tasting, which looked at wines costing less than $13 or so:
• The best wine of the tasting? A long-time member of the $10 Hall of Fame, the Chateau Bonnet white. The best red was also French, the Jaboulet Parallèle 45 Rhone blend, and which tasted fresher and more interesting than the last time I had it.
• How much terrible cheap wine is there in the world? So much that even I was surprised, and I probably taste more crappy wine than almost anyone. Too many of the wines were embarrassments — no varietal character, fruitiness verging on sweetness for wines that weren’t supposed to be sweet, and flaws like unripe fruit and off aromas.
• Availability reared its ugly head more than once. One wine we wanted to recommend, the Zestos rose, didn’t make the final cut because the only Dallas retailer that carried it out was almost sold out. This, said several panelists, happens more often than not, depriving readers of quality wine. Also, there were too many old and worn out wines in the tasting, because Dallas retailers leave them on the shelf instead of dumping them for newer and fresher vintages.
• The restaurant perspective was fascinating. I evaluate wines by price — is there value for money? Hence, I don’t treat a $5 wine the same as I do a $50 wine; I expect more of the latter. The restaurant perspective, if not exactly the opposite, is about quality. Is it a quality wine to serve to their guests? If so, then they decide if it’s worth the money.
Finally, a tip o’ the WC’s fedora to my pal Tina Danze, who oversees the tastings, for asking me to participate. It was much fun, and I was flattered she wanted my cheap wine experience on the same panel with people like Paul Botamer, the wine director for Fearings at Dallas’ Ritz-Carlton.