February 13, 2009

Tighten That Belt and Try Some Great Bargain Wines

The other day, Highland resident Dave Perry was bemoaning the effect of the economy on his wine-drinking habits.

"Up until last summer, I would look for bargains, but I always treated myself to a couple of bottles of something special too. Boy, are those days gone," he said. "We drink wine with just about every dinner, so between price hikes and the worry about the economy, we're reaching for magnums of Australian wines and more of what's on sale instead of what I really want."

But there turns out to be a silver lining to this belt-tightening: While he might not be able to get what he had his heart set on, he's finding some great, low-priced wines from places he may not have looked before. "There was the Bodegas Solar de Urbezo Dance del Mar 2007 — lots of juicy tempranillo in a wine that drinks much older than it is," he says of a Spanish red from the obscure Cariñena appellation, and then mentions a terrific red and rose from France's Luberon that retail for about $8.

This sort of open-minded experimentation gladdens the hearts of sommeliers and retailers everywhere. At Barolo Grill, Blair Taylor is now seeing people try wines they wouldn't have paid any attention to a year ago. "People who would have ordered a Barolo might say now, you know, I really like Barolo but I'm not really up for spending that much — what can you recommend?" he says. "So we're selling more Langhe nebbiolos — wines made from the same grape grown in the same region, but just not aged as long." At a fraction of the cost of their more prestigious counterparts, they are great values.

Isn't he upset about the lost revenue? No, he says. "I love this approach. People have always gotten too hung up on a name." Besides, he's happy that people are still dining out. "The other night, one of our regulars said to me, 'You know, Blair, in our version of cutting down, we're not going to be taking any large trips or buying new cars, but we're not going to give up our Friday night at the Grill.' "

Not everyone is. The latest Niel- sen report revealed that 50 percent of consumers are dining out less often and are instead stocking up on ramen noodles (up 30 percent) and Spam (14 percent). But they still aren't giving up wine: Sales are up 7.9 percent.

To encourage this trend Pete Marczyk at Marczyk Fine Wines set a goal for the New Year: To have 200 wines under $20, and 150 of those under $15. That's a major move for a store with room for only 250 selections, but he's not finding it a drag. "It's hard to find wines that are real wines under $7," he says, "but a $15 bottle of wine here should rock your world. Maybe you won't find a pinot noir, but there are incredible wines coming out of the Rhône, Provence, Spain. ..."

And people are up for checking out these wines. "People are looking to have sommelier-level service without paying the markups and cost of having someone else pull the corks and wash the glasses," he says. That's what's allowed him to sell cases of ruche, an obscure northern Italian grape variety. "It's kinda rustic but full of Piemontese soul, a real sense of place — it's delicious," he enthuses, and it sells for $12.99.

There's another silver lining to the new wine economy: At Argonaut, Sheila Carey says she's now able to buy high-end wines that once were sold almost exclusively to restaurants. So the person who used to spend $100 on a bottle of Merry Edwards pinot noir at a nice restaurant can now pick it up for half that at Argonaut and take it home for dinner.

Now that's a way to brighten up Spam and ramen noodles.

What they're drinking now


Bodegas Solar de Urbezo Cariñena Dance del Mar (Spain, $12) "Lots of juicy tempranillo in a wine that drinks much older than it is."

La Vieille Ferme Côtes du Luberon Rouge (France, $8) "A blast of tannin with no jutting edges."


Cantine Barbera Sicily Nero d'Avola (Italy, $15 retail) "It has a big, rich, spicy character but it's also elegant."

Guerrieri Rizzardi Valpolicella Ripasso Pojega (Italy, $23 retail) "Can you say baby Amarone? Bang, bang, bang for the buck."


Château de Pellehaut Côtes de Gascogne Blanc (France, $10) "Ugni blanc, gros manseng, colombard, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc . . . crisp citrus, pear."

Funky Llama Mendoza Shiraz (Argentina, $9) "Blackberries, cassis and mild peppery spice . . . a good pairing with almost anything from ratatouille to braised short ribs."


Cupcake Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon (California, $11) "Full-bodied yet smooth, with soft tannins."

Lindauer Brut Sparkling (New Zealand, $11) "A blend of chardonnay, chenin blanc and pinot noir . . . crisp, complex and well-balanced."

This article first appeared in the Denver Post.

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