Thursday, April 2, 2009
You need a good bottle of wine. But you’re late – the party has already started.
Moreover, the company is worth impressing but the budget ain’t big. Worse yet, you think Vermentino is a fashion icon. Worry not. What follows are some simple tips to give yourself a fighting chance at picking out a good, affordable wine at a local shop quickly and easily.FACT FIND
Look for bottles that come from a specific region instead of settling for bottles with appellations that read vaguely, like “California.” The wine in such a bottle can be a blend of reject bulk grapes that taste like nowhere in particular. The more specific the better: “Russian River” trumps “Sonoma” which beats “California.” Similarly, bottles that don’t have a year on the label are trouble. The less a winemaker wants you to know about the wine, the less you want it.FEEL THE HEAT
If in the mood to taste a wine that’s ripe, forward and relatively high in alcohol, choose something from a warm climate. (If you’re unsure which world regions are hot and cold, take it up with your grade school teachers. We’re helping with the wine.) For something subtler, choose a wine from a cooler climate.PICK YOUR SPOTS
Grocery Outlet in Marina (384-4411) is a far-too-often-overlooked place to nab great deals. After recently finding a bottle of Fritz’s 1999 “Rockpile Vineyard” Cabernet there for $4.99, I cried with satisfaction – and went back and bought two cases.
Trader Joe’s is a no-brainer when it comes to snagging cheap European bottles at $5 a pop. But even better values can lurk just a couple of bucks away, as with a Carménère from Chile’s Maipo Valley ($7) – this fussy varietal was brought over from France in the late 1800s before the louse phyloxera infected France’s vines. Its intense purple color and velvety taste makes it mistakable for Merlot, but it is much more sassy.
At the P.G. T.J.’s (656-0180), people like Sherryl Harriman can help bird-dog such bargains. She’s a certified sommelier and a former chef whose husband, Kris, is the wine director of Casanova’s Restaurant in Carmel, a long time recipient of Wine Spectator’s Grand Award (for more on local wine wisdom to tap, see “Call for Help,” below).
And Monterey’s Whole Foods (333-1600) seems to improve its selection constantly, building an increasingly eclectic mix of great wine from around the world at prices from $5-$50.
Cost Plus in Sand City (393-2078) is a good place to pick up obscure winners like Portuguese reds for under $10. P.S.: Keep an eye on that country – there, world famous ports have long been made from the indigenous grape Touriga Nacional. But now they’re producing distinct and inexpensive non-fortified wines from the same grape.ALL FOR HELP
Take a minute to talk with the people working in the wine department. You’re late anyway – showing up five minutes later with a better bottle in hand is a superior play. And next time around, the gleaned wisdom will make you quicker and smarter.
If he likes you, Otis Cribbs at Monterey’s La Casa Bodega (655-3222) will chat you up and pour you a taste of something. He stocks with a lot of local wines and rarer finds like Penner Ash Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Patrick Schrady at Nielsen Bros. Market (624-6441) may reminisce on the time he went to Germany and overstayed his visa – and recommend a bottle of ’03 Studert Prum “Wehlener Sonnenuhr” Riesling Spatlese from Germany’s Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region ($18).
Jacques Melac at Rancho Cellars (625-5646) will sell a modest Syrah from St. Joseph, France for $15 or hook you up a highly allocated bottle of Harlan Cab for a few hundred.
The gals at Southern Latitudes in Carmel (622-7652) will quickly clue you in to the wines of the Southern Hemisphere. That leads to delicious discoveries: After drinking one of Meerlust’s Cabernet blends from Stellenbosch, South Africa, I’ve reconsidered what the Old World can mean (their vines were planted centuries ago).
Ryan Sanchez of Carmel’s Surf N Sand (624-1805) wine and spirits store can find what visitors need quickly, whether he’s pairing the morose with that greenish-yellow liquid Edgar Allen Poe loved, absinthe, or the thirsty local-leaning wine lover with the very reasonable and refreshing Chesebro Vermentino.
At the Monterey WineMarket in P.G. (646-0107), George Edwards is renown for pairing obscure wines with food. (Newsflash! – J.Lohr’s Valdiguié, a red wine, is delicate enough to complement light white fish – and although such info can be life altering, there’s no reason to get a tattoo that reads “carbonic maceration.” Just appreciate how the wine was made and drink it young.)
Ken Rauh of A Taste of Monterey in Monterey (646-5446) knows the stories of nearly 100 wineries in Monterey County, and probably carries their wines, too.
If the party’s near downtown Monterey, Bob Massaro and crew’ll point you in the right direction at Terranova (333-1313) with bottles from hundreds of wineries sprinkled around the world.
Victor Kong of Star Market (422-3961) in Salinas knows how to find what you want. In fact, he knows what you did last summer and where you work; in short, he knows his customers and they know him. He doesn’t fail folks looking for a good pour – and just might help you save the party.