Saturday was the day I stopped pretending. I was in the wine store to get a few bottles for a party – two of red and two of white – and I just grabbed whatever the store had put out and was under ten dollars. I didn’t read the blurbs, I didn’t parse the labels, I didn’t ask the guys in the store for recommendations. I just grabbed, and was out of there in five minutes. Believe me, it was a liberating experience.
Now, I know perfectly well that not all wine is the same, but from the perspective of the average consumer, it might just as well be. The trouble is that there are so many countries these days producing decent wine, and so many vineyards, that unless you’re going to make a special and serious study of the subject, you basically have no hope. There must be literally 50,000 decent producers in the world, and when you multiply by several varietals and several vintages, you’re up to a couple hundred thousand unique kinds of wine that you could nominally try to keep track of.
I’ve decided that I’m not going to bother – not now, not ever. My basic attitude is that a ten-dollar bottle of wine is a ten-dollar bottle of wine. Sure, some are better than others, but even if you find one you like, you’ll never see it again, unless you go back to the same store the very next day. My feeling is that the science of winemaking is so widely understood by all makers, and that the level of competition in the market is so insane, that no maker can consistently release bad wines and continue to exist.
So what say the oenophilic Dopers? Am I just raving here?
I really can’t taste the difference in most alcohol. I can have an ale or beer or lager or whatever, and by the 4th sip, it all tastes the same (pisswater). Wine is largely the same way–I just don’t have the means to detect the nuances, so that while the first few sips may be distinctive, after a while it all comes down to acidbitter or fruitacid. It’s been ages since I drank hard alcohol, but that was the only thing I used to drink because I enjoyed the variety (both straight and as mixed cocktails) more.
In the under $10 a bottle market, you’re basically rolling the dice with every bottle.
But, I like some better than others. There are some I keep going back for, and some I know to shun.
And, no. . .you don’t need to go back to the same store the next day. I don’t fully get the wine-supply chain, but keep track of what you like. You’ll see it again. . .maybe a different vintage, or maybe you want to find the same varietal/vintage/region with a different producer.
There’s still work to be done below $10, but you’re never going to find something great, and like you said. . .you’re unlikely to find total swill.
Speak for yourself. I can tell the difference. I’ve had really good bottles of wine for $10, and really bad ones, but the bulk in that price range is simply all the same. If you just want the occasional bottle of wine to go with the lasagna, then no biggie. But if you spend even a little bit of time tasting wine and trying to education yourself about it, I have no doubts that just about anyone will establish their own criteria for “good” versus “bad.”
But according to theory, you can’t shuffle vintages/varietals/producers willy-nilly like this. If you could, what would become of connoisseurship?
Besides, what are the chances that I’ll remember anything about a given bottle of wine? “I think it was Clos du something, and it was some kind of red from Australia, or maybe South Africa. But I remember I liked it!”
That’s part of the problem. I don’t buy enough wine to take the trouble, and I think most other consumers are in the same boat. But the way the industry is today, you don’t really have to pay attention, it seems. The chances of getting something truly awful in that price range are about the same as those of getting something truly great – not high enough to worry about, in other words.
But the part about speculatively buying a different wine from the same producer, or a different year – it seems your chances are high of getting another bottle of the same middling quality, no? In other words, is it worth even playing the game at this price level?
A friend of mine had winetasting as a hobby and he used to let me taste various expensive wines. I can’t remember liking anyone of them more then I liked the standard Safeway’s wines. (The Dutch variant of Safeways, that is). I actually often liked those wines less, because those good ones had a peculiar taste that made them extraordinary. But extraordinary, to me, tasted just “different” or even “off”.
I never wanted to become a connaisseur. Seems to me a willfull decision become someon who likes less and less wines.
I have a few standards I really like and keep a modest stock of (mostly malbecs, sangiovese/chianti, a few pinot noirs), and have no problem recognizing them. All of these are less than US$20/botttle. There are a few better wines–veering up toward the $50 mark–that I’ll buy as presents or for infrequent special occasions. You don’t need–and unless you’re a professional or an elitist–a comprehensive knowledge of world wines; you merely need to know what you like. A few selections in the basic variatels should cover you for most situations.
At the $10 level, though, I’d be wary about grabbing just anything off the shelf; I’ve had a wide experience with utterly undrinkable ~$10 wines; there are some good ones to be sure, but a lot of really awful ones, too.
If you don’t really care about the taste of it, why not just grab Gallo or Turning Leaf or somesuch? They’re not great wines by any standard, but they are exactingly consistent from vintage to vintage, and the lack of individual character makes them blend in pretty well with whatever you serve.
There certainly is a considerable difference. If there weren’t, my wife wouldn’t complain about my guilty pleasure – Widmer’s Lake Niagara wine, made from Niagara grapes.
But just because it’s made from Labrusca grapes doesn’t guarantee it will be awful or sweet. Try Bully hill wines. Or the Cayuga wine I just bought from a New Hampshire (!) winery – surprisingly dry wines from nominally sweet and foxy grapes.
There are certain wines we’ve identified as ones we like, regardless of rigin, and I taste a consistency in the, from vintage to vintage.
I used to be in “they all taste much the same” camp, but I noticed a while back that there was something in common among the white wines that I didn’t like so much - they were mostly Chardonnays. So from then on I paid attention to the grape variety and discovered that Sauvignon Blanc does it for me. I’ll buy other varieties sometimes, just not Chardonnay, and I simply go by price. I usually aim for £4 - £6, and the wines you can get in that price range taste just fine to me.
There’s some basic principle of snobbery that doesn’t let me serve Gallo at a party. (And what I know is that once I take the price tag off, people don’t know whether I’m serving them a $10 or a $25 bottle of wine.) But after that, all bets are off. Just knowing some varietals or regions that I like is useless. There must be 10,000 acceptable Pinot Noirs under $10 out there, and the chance of any particular one being dramatically better or worse than its neighbors seems low enough that I can ignore it.
And Cal, the fact that acceptable wine is being made in New Hampshire, of all places, is reinforcing what I’m saying here. 30 years ago, you’d have been scourged for suggesting that decent wine could come from Napa Valley, let alone New Hampshire or Canada or Long Island or Great Britain. Nowadays, they make decent wine everywhere. Just wait till China gets into the act.
It’s not just quality. Different wines taste different. There is a big difference between a pinot noir/Burgundy and cab/Bodeaux. I choose depending on what I am eating with it. We are lucky in Portland to have a fantastic selection of wines, even in supermarkets. I can find really nice wines for under $10, especially from Italy and Spain. It’s harder to get good domestic wine cheaply for some reason.
Actually, I’m not amazed. I was just highlighting what might be surprising. Before this winery was operating, there was another NH winery (called, IIRC, The New Hampshire Winery) on the slopes of Pat’s Peak near Henniker, N.H. They made great wines and sold interesting foods and had an African Grey parrot in the shop. But, alas, they’ve been gone for a decade or so.
At this point, I doubt you can find more than a handful of pinot noirs at that price range that are better than drinkable. (They used to be the real bargin in wine, but over the last five years or less they’ve started to become stupendously overpriced.) Find yourself one or two common labels in any of the variatals you prefer and stick with those. I’ve yet to go wrong with anything I’ve had from the reasonably priced Bonny Doon Vineyards (despite the annoying website and penchant for screwtops). Or just get a selection of some inoffensive K-J or Turning Leaf or whatever. But they don’t all taste the same. (Well, except for port, on which I must agree with Dung Beetle.)
That’s my basic strategy too. I choose my category (red or white) and price (under ten bucks). Finally, if there is a choice I go for the wine with the highest alcohol content so I get more bang for my buck.