Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Col. No. 7 - Malbec Great Step to Better Wine

You’d had a Merlot, a Cab, and maybe even a Zinfandel or other type of red wine. You are adventurous with your taste. Perhaps you’re just looking for a consistent wine you can buy over and over and explore the grape as you increase your wine knowledge.

Argentinean Malbec is the wine you should be drinking if you fit in to any of the above categories. Or if you just want to try something different, Malbec might be for you.

Malbec is one of the darlings of the value wine world. You can find outstanding wines in the $12-$18 range at any wine shop. And, Malbecs are starting to show up in many grocery stores.

Malbec was once known as a varietal of Bordeaux, the great wine-making region of France. Malbec has, at times, been compared to Merlot. Malbec’s French history is comparable to Merlot. The French use Malbec to blend into their great red wines. But since they use it primarily for blending, they never really developed the grape to any great extent.

The Malbec grape has thin skin and requires intense heat to make great wines. Apparently, in the late 1800s a French agricultural specialist began growing Malbec in Argentina. And as they say, the rest is history. Argentinean Malbec grapes produced a softer, less-tannin driven wine that proved perfect not just for blending but as a standalone wine. It’s not unusual to find Malbecs with an Italian or French name as many great European producers have bought vineyards in Argentina to grow the grape.

For years Bonarda, a smoky and earthy wine, was the primary grape of Argentina and the country’s famed Mendoza Valley. In 2007, Argentina exported more than 13 million gallons of Malbec. The United States is Argentina’s biggest customer, gobbling up $50 million of the Malbec wines.

So while history is important, why should you drink it and experiment with it? Well, the answer is the same as always and that’s because you’ll like it. Malbec is usually an inky black wine with a very approachable, smooth taste. Some wines will be very soft to almost thin, usually depending on the price point. But others will be fruity or jammy. You’ll taste ripe black fruit, a sense of earthiness, and acidity.

I have expanded my palate by purchasing different Malbecs and comparing them. Malbec is my favorite value red wine. The price point is not limited to the $12-18 I mentioned above. You will find very good Malbecs in the $9-$10 range on occasion. And, there are high end Malbecs worthy of aging that will hold up to the Cabernet and Bordeaux wines that get all the publicity.

News & Notes
- Grape Sense has debuted in Seymour and Terre Haute since my last writing. It’s cool to get feedback. I heard from a descendent of the Bogle wine family who lives in Jackson County. And, I heard from a “wine guy” at Beasler’s Market in Terre Haute after my first column ran there. I also heard from a couple of Terre Haute Star-Tribune readers asking for some recommendations. I intend on visiting Beasler’s soon and will write about that in my blog. (

- The Associated Press reported recently that the United States is poised to become the world’s largest wine consumer. Italy has held the top spot in recent years, but projections suggest the U.S. will become the world’s biggest consumer of wine in 2012. I posted a link in the blog to the AP story.

- I have to include a thank you to Grape Sense readers in Frankfort, Indiana. I traveled to the Gem City Jan. 6 and did a short wine education program for the Frankfort Kiwanis Club.

- Indiana has another winery opening. Wildcat Creek Winery joins 36 other Indiana wineries. It’s apparently in a restored farmhouse right off I-65. I’m going to try to visit several Indiana wineries in spring and summer and feature them in Grape Sense. The other interesting news from Indiana’s Wine Grapes Council is that four more Indiana wineries are due to open this year!

Howard’s Picks:
Caligiore Malbec, from Argentina’s Mendoza Valley. This is not one for the beginners. It is big, bold, and dry. It has some tannins on the finish and was great with dinner. You’ll find it in wine shops anywhere from $12-$18.

Maipe Malbec. This is a great silky smooth Malbec. The fruit on the front of the palate won’t be as strong but it’s hard not to like. Look for Maipe at $10-$14.

Sediento Malbec/Bonarda, a 50/50 blend that rocks! This one is smooth with a bigger flavor at the front of the palate than the Maipe or the Saint Julia you’ll see in wine shops everywhere. The Saint Julia isn’t bad, but a little thin for my tastes. Try the Sediento blend and I think you’ll love it. This wine generally retails $9-$11.

You can read where I buy my wines on my other blog and comments about them. All the wines I recommend are purchased in Central Indiana.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Col. 6 - All About Bubbly on New Year's Eve

It’s hard to understand why people rush out before the end of the year to buy an expensive drink they’ve never had before, and if they have had it - they probably didn’t enjoy it!

Yes, I’m writing today about champagne.

Champagne, from my very limited experience, can be exhilarating or just plain awful. This column is being written on research more than experience. I try to stick to things I know when writing about wines. But it’s the time of year people are looking for some direction and advice.

Let’s start with a little education. The only real ‘Champagne’ comes from the Champagne region of France. You see the word ‘Champagne’ on other bottles but if it’s not French, then it’s not Champagne. The explanation for all of that involves lots of history and understanding of Old World (Europe) wines. But let’s not go there today.

There are a handful of major Champagne houses in France but probably the best known is Dom Perignon. Moet et Chandon produces the famous green-bottled wine with the shield-shaped label. The champagne is named after a Benedictine Monk, born about 1638, who purportedly discovered the method for making champagne, some say he worked on blending methods, but the Dom Perignon name stuck.

It’s always good to know what you’re getting in a bottle. The classic Dom Perignon is 55% Chardonnay, and 45% Pinot Noir. And as you probably know it’s expensive. I believe the current release is a 2000 vintage which sells for around $130 a bottle.
I’ve never had it but have certainly heard its praise from others. Dom Perignon is portrayed in at least one ad campaign having said it was like “drinking stars.”
And if you want to take a step up from Dom Perignon, try Cristal produced by Louis Roederer. It is known for its flat-bottomed clear, “crystal bottle, cellophane wrapper, and gold label. It’s also known for its $350 price tag.

So there must be an alternative. And, there are lots of alternatives. I read numerous wine columns and blogs and found some recommendations that make sense.
Italy and Spain have some marvelous white wines that are becoming increasingly popular. They are very affordable, consistent with the ‘under $25’ approach.

Italy’s Prosecco is a frothy, bubbly and fun wine made in the region around Venice. You will find mass market Prosecco wines and smaller producers. If you’re into it, look for Prosecco from the Valdobbiadene region. You’ll find some great buys in the $15-$20 range.

Prosecco is generally lighter than champagne, less alcohol content, but you still get the bubbles!

Another great pick is a Spanish Cava. Cava hails from the region around Barcelona. Cava sparkling wines have become very popular and can be found in the $10-$20 range.
What about good U.S. bubbly? Perhaps the best known name is Korbel. That company found loopholes in international treaties that allow it to use the word “Champagne” on their bottles. They offer several price points.

Washington state’s leading winery Ste. Michelle makes a Brut for $8.99. Gloria Ferrer, from California’s Sonoma Valley, is one of the U.S.’s leading producers. The winery’s top-of-the line product is Royal Cuvee which sells for $35 and was awarded 93 points by Wine Spectator. They have less expensive bottles as well.

If you want something nice and are near a wine shop, go ask for their recommendation. It’s important to support these smaller shops during these tough economic times. Any wine shop will have a selection that should fit your budget.

And Martini and Rossi’s ‘Asti Spumante’ - about nine bucks - remains a nice mouthful of bubbles for New Year’s Eve.

A couple of notes: “Grape Sense” has expanded to Crawfordsville, Frankfort, Terre Haute, Seymour, and Wabash, Indiana, newspapers. I have not spent much time working to spread the column but I continue to get great e-mail response.

Have a great and very Happy 2009!

PS: A special toast to those who recognize Christopher Walken in the photo center left. This is from his Saturday Night Live skit where he constantly refers to the pleasures of a fine "champanya."

Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow: The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true. - Lord Alfred Tennyson

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Col. 5 - Wine Shipping Laws Very Complicated

Do you have a friend who just loves a certain California Chardonnay or delightful Oregon Pinot Noir?

Maybe you’d like to send a friend some wine or order a half case of your favorite fermented grape juice from Napa Valley for a special gathering or anniversary.

I’m here to help you but maybe just confuse you. There are no laws more convoluted than liquor laws. And especially confusing is the ever-changing laws regarding wine shipments.

There is mystery, intrigue, lots of greed, and more greed (and did I mention greed?) behind the laws that allow wine shipments to cross state lines. During a summer visit to Oregon’s Willamette Valley I had a nice chat with the owners of a new winery who had just opened shop after long careers in international finance.

“We quickly learned there is only one business with more regulations than finance and that’s liquor,” said Donna Morris, who owns Winderlea Winery in the Valley near Dundee with her husband Bill. By the way, Winderlea makes incredible Pinot Noir. It’s not of the price point I normally recommend in this column, it is in the $45-$50 range.

Maybe you want to try some $50 Pinot from Winderlea, Lange Winery, or Domaine Serene. Or how about a bottle of Russian River Valley Pinot from Gary Ferrell? Perhaps you’ve always wanted one of those ultra-expensive bottles of Insignia from Joseph Phelps in Napa.

Good luck.

The wine shipping laws from state to state are so varied, so confusing that you can drive California Highway 29 through the heart of Napa and stop at 15 wineries in no time at all. And if you ask about having their wines shipped to Indiana, you may get 15 different answers. I’ve literally done just that.

The responses start at yes and no and then go to crazy things like the number of bottles, the number of cases, and whether you can hop up and down and rub your tummy at the same time!

Wineries must register with each state where they ship their wines. The registration fee might be $10 in one state and $500 or $1000 in another. So whether you just call an out-of-state winery, or visit an out-of-state winery, there is no guarantees you can get the wine back home unless you bring it back with you.

Some wineries do ship to Indiana, but again there are no consistent applications of the law.

In Indiana the in-state law has been altered and changed and is equally confusing, but a little less so. And did I mention greed earlier? The nonsense all began way back after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Indiana law initially required producers to only sell through a limited number of wholesalers. The wholesalers were king and remain a strong lobbying force whenever wine shipping laws are discussed today.

Do you remember the “beer baron” debates about beer distribution several years back? Think ‘beer barons’ and just substitute ‘wine shipping.’

The good news is you can have wine shipped from Easley Winery of Indianapolis or Huber Winery from down near the Ohio River or any of the more than 30 Indiana wineries to your doorstep. But there is one catch. You have to provide identification proving your age on site (point of sale) at the winery before they can ship to you.

“We’re very conservative in our approach,” said Meredith Easley of Easley Winery. The family-owned winery spokesman said they have forms you can fill out at the winery or events they attend. They make a copy of your driver’s license to keep on file and then they can ship you their products. For first-time wine drinkers, try their Reggae Red or Reggae Blush.

So in Indiana you can get wines from our wineries if you have visited and given them your identification information. If you want to buy from out-of-state wineries, it’s different state to state and winery to winery.

Most wineries have great websites. And almost every winery website will list the states they will ship to and those they will not. It’s a great tool.

So introduce your friends to a good bottle of wine during the holidays. If you can’t get the wine you want shipped do two things. First, visit some of the really large wine shops in the nearest big city and using your best judgment or recommendation from the sales staff, buy a nice bottle and put a big bow on it.

Second, write your Indiana legislator and tell them to end the nonsense in wine shipping laws.

Who would oppose lesser restrictions on shipping other than wholesalers? Well, the badly misinformed lead the way. There may not be a more serious youth issue than underage drinking. Every time the discussion of wine shipping laws begins there will be those who will wave their arms and wail about giving young people easier access to alcohol. And for the record, I’m against that.

But that argument is a false one – kids and alcohol just stir emotions. There has never been a documented case of an underage person illegally buying wine on the internet and having it shipped to their doorstep. Never!

And if you apply a little common sense, would a teenager go to the trouble to order a $20 bottle of Cabernet from California and wait a couple weeks for a Friday night buzz? Or, would they find an older friend to go to the local liquor store and ask them to buy a six pack?

The complexity of the Indiana’s law breeds frustration. Just call me frustrated. I learned today I couldn’t order Winderlea’s fabulous reserva Pinot because of Indiana’s silly law.

Free commerce is a foreign concept to liquor laws.

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Col. 4 - Let's Make a Trip to the Wine Shop

It’s time to get out of the supermarket and into the wine shop.

There are good wine shops near wherever you live Better stuff isn’t far away. You have to get away from grocery store wine – that wine has ruined many potential wine drinkers.

Most of the grocery store stuff is from the bottom of the barrel – pun intended! It’s swill! It’s unpalatable swill! The biggest thing I’ve learned about wine the past five years is that for only a few dollars more, you can be drinking much better wine.

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to wine prices at the local market and notice they’re creeping up. They are increasing because more people are buying value wine and often end up less than satisfied but don’t know any better. They’re not getting any help. But you can go to a wine shop and buy substantially better wine at an equal or minimally higher price because the market is so competitive once you get out of the grocery.

Smaller wineries cannot afford the marketing and often don’t have the product to supply major grocery chains so they work with smaller distributors and stock the shelves of wine shops. And back to our first column, which one do you want to drink – the bottle that came from 80,000 cases or 2,000 cases?

So let’s get ready to go to the wine shop.

Start thinking more about wine when you drink it. What were the characteristics you enjoyed? Do you want something smooth and mild on the palate or do you want a big mouthful of flavor. Do like a little acid on the finish or do you like the tannins (that slight bitterness) which helps balance the strong flavors of big-tasting food?

The most important thing in finding a shop isn’t its inventory or how pretty the shop appears. You need to meet the wine shop proprietor or the shops sales people and have a nice long chat. The biggest wine novice mistake is the fear of asking a stupid question or worrying about their wine knowledge.

Just like mother told us, there are no stupid questions. Talk to the person about what wines you’re familiar with and what you liked and didn’t like. Listen to their questions. If the shop offers wine tasting events try to get to one.

Then after you have the conversation, invest your faith and a few dollars in the wine person’s recommendations. If you like the wine you take home with you, you have found a good wine shop. Give that shop and that salesperson another try. Eventually, like any friendship, you’ll establish a rapport that helps you find wine you’ll like at a price you’re willing to pay.

This is the way I buy wine. I have about four or five stores I buy wine from regularly. I trust my knowledge but almost always take home a bottle or two recommended by the shop owner.

And now a few words about labels and those nifty little tasting notes some shops put up beneath some or all bottles. For the most part, those can be helpful. But remember, the description on the bottle is part of the winery’s marketing.

The notes in the wine shops might come from one of the big wine review publications like Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate. Some shops do their own notes, those are the places I might be more inclined to trust. Sure, the wine shops want to sell you wine as well but the proprietors can talk to you about those notes and see if it’s a wine that fits your taste.

Howard’s Picks:

Cork and Cracker, 2125 E. 62nd St., Indianapolis – near Glendale Mall. This is one of my favorite places. Proprietor is a former wine distributor and really knows wine. If Ashley is in, take her recommendations. 200 wines at $15 or less!

Mass Avenue Wine Shop, 878 Massachusetts Ave., Indianapolis. This small shop downtown also offers wine by the glass and a limited menu. All of their wines are in the value range with a good staff able to answer your questions.

Deano’s Vino, 1112 Shelby St., Indianapolis. I give Deano much of the credit for my wine knowledge. He runs a fabulous Wednesday night tasting which is more seminar than anything. He keeps a nice selection of wine on hand and has a restaurant with fabulous food. If Deano is in the house, he’s as knowledgeable as anyone you’ll find.

Two others of note: Vine and Table, 313 East Carmel Drive. A great gourmet food market and wonderful wine, liquor and beer selection. Great staff! Kahn’s Fine Wines, 5341 N. Keystone Ave., Indianapolis. Kahn’s is probably the oldest and most respected names in wine in the Indy area. They have the biggest selection of wine from value to very high-end. The store is regularly staffed with very good wine people.

Ft. Wayne
There are several great wine shops in Ft. Wayne that I haven’t visited. Wine Styles on Coldwater Road and Wine Time on Jefferson Blvd. Many of these newer shops focus on a particular segment of the market. Of course, there are the multiple locations of Cap-N-Cork around the city as well.

Col. 3 - Oft-Maligned Merlot Making a Comeback

There’s comfort food, the comfortable recliner, and those comfortable old shoes.

Then there is the oft-maligned but comfortable Merlot.

Merlot’s reputation as the punching bag of all wine snobs reached its zenith in 2004 in the movie Sideways. The movie is a bittersweet comedy with a central theme of wine, Pinot Noir to be specific.

The main character, played brilliantly by Paul Giamatti, is a wine geek trying to find great Pinot Noir while on a ‘bachelor’s” trip prior to his buddy’s wedding. His buddy is merely interested in exploring his freedom before tying the knot.

To make the long story short, the soon-to-be groom sets the two guys up with a couple of young ladies for dinner and adds the girls want to drink wine. Giamatti’s ‘Miles’ reluctantly agrees and spurts out one of the more memorable lines in any recent movie.

I can’t repeat that line here. Let’s just say he makes it very clear, in specific language, he’s not going to drink any “expletive deleted” Merlot.

I take the time and space in this column to share that story for those who haven’t seen the movie because it represents the attitude of many wine drinkers.

You’ll find Merlot served at many social functions. It’s easy to find, relatively inexpensive, and it’s a great starting point for people wanting to get out of the real cheap grocery wines and try something with a little more body. It’s often served because it’s easy to drink, rather inoffensive, and a safe choice.

And there comes the rub. People who drink a lot of wine will tell you it doesn’t have much body or character. On occasion, I’ve been one of those people.

But taking a hit in the name of wine journalism, I went out and bought a bottle of California Merlot specifically for this column. I’ll recommend it below.

Merlot means ‘black bird in French. The grape is used in the great French signature blends coming from Bordeaux. The Merlot adds softness and balance to the bigger flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon to create the famous French wine.

Merlot boomed in the 1990s when U.S. wine drinking started to explode. Consumers wanted to get into varietals (specific grape types) and try the great wines produced for centuries in the Old World. Merlot is often dark in color, smooth, and very soft tannins.

Merlot was a natural to help wine drinking really take off in our country.
What’s interesting now, is Merlot seems to be getting past the mean-spirited reference of Sideways and belittling remarks of wine snobs. Sales have started taking off again.

Merlot is a good starting point for most people who want to explore better wine. Many people get their introduction to better wine with a glass of Cabernet and I think that’s a mistake. I’d suggest a Cab is just too much for new wine drinkers. Cabernet has those big tannins (the bitterness in the back of your mouth) that scare away many people.

Merlot serves a purpose as a good introductory wine. It will hold up to steak or pasta, unless its strongly seasoned or flavored. And decent Merlot can be found from groceries to any wine shop. Again, just stick with the bigger names you have seen or know.

See my other blog for frequent updates on wine I’m drinking, locations where I buy wine, and other related news.

Howard’s Picks:
Sebastiani Merlot – Sebastiani is one of the oldest producers in California’s Sonoma Valley. The family has worked in the area for decades. I paid $15 for this better-than-average Merlot. Deep cherry and dark fruit flavors. Available at several Indiana wine shops.
Bogle Merlot – You can buy Bogle at most supermarkets. It’s a well made Merlot for a price usually under $10.

Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living.” - Robert Mondavi, Autobiography, "Harvests of Joy"

Col. 2 - Tasty Alternatives to the Usual Chardonnay

Many people enjoy white wines in warmer weather, but others like what they like! I always tell people don’t drink what you’re ‘supposed to drink,” drink what you enjoy. There are many great white wines to choose from in the value range.

While Chardonnay remains the biggest selling varietal in the United States, it’s not a wine that is great for sipping on the porch. I believe Chardonnay is better with food or appetizers. But this time of year it’s great to be outside on a Sunday afternoon with friends enjoying the cooler temperatures and sharing a glass of wine.

Let’s start with some wines that are really easy to find. Most supermarkets will have a Riesling. The great German wine is produced by wineries around the world, including right here in Indiana. I’ve tasted many of the Indiana-produced Rieslings and most of them are a good alternative to the heavier Chardonnays.

Ste. Michelle Riesling and Dr. Loosen Riesling can be found in many groceries and I would recommend either. The Washington state Ste. Michelle whites are widely distributed with two different bottlings in the value wine range. One is around the $18-$20 while the other is usually under $10.

Dr. Loosen is a German winery that has been owned by the same family for more than 200 years. Their inexpensive labels are better than many others at twice the price. A good Riesling will not have the heavier characteristics of a Chardonnay. It’s often light in color with a hint of apricot or melon flavor. When you take the first sip of a Riesling you’ll think citrus. Some Riesling will be more acidic than others, making them better to pair with food. Others will be as smooth as a chilled soda.

Riesling will have a different finish and after taste than the Chardonnay or big whites you may have tried. Riesling is seldom aged in oak barrels. Instead, the great Rieslings of Germany, France, and those made in the United States are aged in stainless steel. The difference is a much more pleasant finish with a lighter aftertaste.

Other great lighter white wines include Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris. Several different Grigios can be found in markets or any wine outlet at very reasonable prices. If you get into a wine shop, Italy and Spain make some great white wines at rock bottom prices.

For those of you who looking for a summer or fall wine with a little more body and structure, try a rose’. The rose’ market has exploded the last few years. Most people look at pink wine and think White Zinfindel. Have you seen the bumper sticker: “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink White Zinfindel” – if not, heed its message any way.

I discovered rose’ wines about four years ago and always have several in the wine rack from early spring to late fall. Rose’ can be manufactured from a wide selection of grapes. I like Grenache-based rose. But you’ll also find Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet and even Malbec based Rose’.

Don’t worry about the grape names mentioned above. If you’re a casual wine drinker you’ve probably heard of Pinot Noir – or remember it from the movie Sideways. You may have heard of Sangiovese, which is the great Italian grape. Grenache is a little less known to casual wine fans but big in some Spanish and French wines.

Good rose’ is lighter than red wine and dry to very dry. Carve up some cheese, grab some crackers, and twist the cap or pop the cork and enjoy a sophisticated summer/fall drink. Your friends will be really impressed!

A word of warning: Rose’ sales have really taken off worldwide. That means there are lots of wineries making a Rose’. There are some bad ones – ask for a recommendation!
This week we add Howard’s Picks to the column. I’ll offer up a specific wine or two each week. These are wines I’ve bought in Indiana.
I’ll usually note exactly where I bought them in my wine blog I update 2-3-4 times a week: Grape Sense - A Glass Half Full.

Howard’s Picks:
Cruz de Piedra, a Grenache based rose’, is one of the best I’ve found. I’ve seen it in numerous Indiana wine shops. You won’t find it in any grocery. It’s fresh and crisp with a hint of strawberry. The alcohol is a little higher than most whites at 13.5 percent. You’ll find it in most shops under $13.

A Day without Wine is like a Day without Sunshine.” – Louis Pasteur

Wine that Makes Sense; Price that Makes Sense

Notice the expanding wine section at your neighborhood grocery? Or, have you seen the specialty wine shops popping up in more urban areas?

United States wine sales have grown at a dramatic rate in recent years, more on that in a moment. The sales are spurred in part by young people and non-traditional wine drinkers. Whether it’s the allure of a so-called sophisticated adult beverage, red wine’s widely-reported health benefits, or just curiosity, wine is finding its way into more homes than ever before.

Today is the first of what will become an every-other-week column about wine. The whole topic of wine scares some people – too much to choose from, not knowing which wine to buy for dinner, and the snobbery of wine experts.

First, I am no sommelier or connoisseur. I’m not an expert at all. But I have spent considerable time the last several years learning a lot about wine. I’ve found over those years a lot of friends turning to me with wine questions which furthers my interest in learning more and more about wine. I’ve traveled to Sonoma and Napa Valley in California. I spent a few days this summer in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

My qualifications – I like a nice bottle of wine in the price range of $10-$20. I read, shop, and spend a lot of time looking for good wines in that range. And, interestingly enough, value wine is the niche market growing the wine industry.
Total wine sales in the U.S. went up four percent in 2007. The number has continued to climb significantly over the past 15 years. The U.S. wine market is in the midst of one of the biggest business booms in history, increasing 66 percent in volume from 1993-2007. (U.S. Wine Institute and the U.S. Department of Commerce)

So, what will we do in the column? I hope to offer a little wine education to those who may drink some wine and would like to take a step up with their wine consumption without paying the big bucks. Second, I will write about types of wine and specific wines.

There are many great wines in the $10-$15 range that are substantially better wine than you can buy in the grocery. Before local grocers complain about the new column, there are some drinkable mass production wines. Bogle, Smoking Loon and some Yellow Tail immediately come to mind as palatable wines. What I’ve found with those wines are some varietals are decent bottles but others are not-so-nice.

So how does a couple of bucks make a difference? Think of it this way: Choose one of those supermarket wines with a familiar name. Odds are they are making thousands and thousands of cases of that Chardonnay you just picked up for dinner. If you go to a wine shop and get assistance picking a Chardonnay for just a couple dollars more, I’m betting (and writing this column to suggest) you’re going to find a substantially better wine.

That bottle from the shop probably came from a much smaller producer. So if you buy a bottle that is one in 500,000 or a bottle that is one in 5,000, which do you think got the most attention? Which wine was handcrafted? We’re going to call them value wines and bang-for-your-buck wines.

And that’s what this column is all about. I also visit Indiana wineries on occasion and will write about those as fun places for a one-tank-trip. I’ll write a lot about South American wines, which right now are some of the best wine available in the value-price range.

And please write me with questions, comments, or wine suggestions at: I’ll try to answer either through the column or personally as promptly as possible.

Future topics will include wine terminology, finding a wine shop, learning what you really like, and perhaps an occasional stroll into higher end wine. But the focus will always remain value wine you can easily find for a very reasonable price.

“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” – Benjamin Franklin

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