I have this memory from when I was a teenager. I had developed an insatiable appetite for Mandarin oranges. You know the kind, the ones that come in a can covered in sweet syrup. I would pop them open and devour one after the other. Then one day, after about four of these cans, I became quite ill, somewhat hallucinogenic in fact. At the end of this orange-induced trip, I readjusted and up until today I’ve never ingested another Mandarin orange.
The moral of the story is simple. Things of perceived brilliance can become tiresome if abused. To put this logic into vinous terms: As tasty as Domaine Romanee-Conti is, I wouldn’t advise pouring it on pancakes.
I’m pretty visible to the public, so I hear stories all the time. “I’ve got two cases of 1997 Domaine This, and three boxes of the 2000 Chateau That, and futures on the one that Parker gave 98 points to, the 2004 Meritage from the Over-Priced and Highly-Publicized Wine Cellars.”
This blather is all soup to me. A three-toed sloth can find a claw to peck out an order on the Internet for Lafite-Rothschild. All that’s needed are the ratings and some cash in the bank. When I hear people chortling about how many great bottles they’ve had in the past week, it occurs to me that perspective has been lost.
If one drinks great wine on a daily basis, they cease to be special. Even greatness can become commonplace when faced with redundancy. It’s a bit like being the night watchman at the Louvre.
Do I drink the great ones myself? Sure, every once in a while. But what I really crave, what I search for with the same enthusiasm as a swine searching for truffles in the Piedmont, are Small Wines.
Small Wines usually retail for under $20 and are rarely discussed in the press. They could be cabernet franc from the Loire Valley; petite sirah from California; garnacha from Spain; malbec from Argentina; blends from the Rhone Valley and Languedoc in France; chenin blanc from California; barbera from Italy. What self-respecting wine snob would ever be caught dead with this stuff in his glass?
I’m fully aware of the fact that by recommending these wines, I will be lessening MY chance of finding them still in stock when I want a bottle. But selflessly I’ll push aside said desires in order to alert the public to the real deal.
Some of these beauties may be hard to find. Rest assured, they will repay your efforts in spades if you can locate them. Here goes:
- Cabernet franc from the Loire Valley: Saumur-Champigny from Thierry Germain or Bourgueil from Chanteleuserie or Pierre-Jacques Druet.
- Petite sirah from California: The incredible Lava Cap petite syrah from El Dorado County near the Sierra Foothills; Guenoc North Coast, Trinitas Old Vines from Lodi and Concannon from Livermore.
- Grenache from Spain: Tres Picos Garnacha and Vina Alarba Old Vines.
- Carmenere from Chile: The Maquis Lien blend of carmenere, syrah, petit verdot and malbec or the straight carmenere from Alcance.
- Malbec from Argentina: Tikal Patriota, a bonarda/malbec blend from Mendoza and the straight malbec from Mapema.
- Rhone blend from the south of France: Prieure de Saint-Jean de Bebian from the Coteaux du Languedoc.
- Chenin blanc from California: CNW (Chard-No-Way) from Vinum Cellars in Clarksburg.
- Barbera from Italy: Producers from Piedmont, such as Clerico, Matteo Corregia and Giacomo Grimaldi are putting out some inky blasters.
A syndicated columnist for over five years and writer for the trade magazines Cheers (on the Editorial Advisory Board) and Sante on a regular basis, Ken Collura has been active in the national wine scene for many years. Prior to moving to Portland, he was head sommelier at the restaurant with the world’s largest wine list, Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, which carried over a half million bottles in stock. He is currently sommelier at Andina Peruvian restaurant in Portland