Friday, August 10, 2012


I like good wine. I don’t like spending money. A Toast to Bargain Wines had me at the title.

George M. Taber likes good wine and knows quite a lot about it. The author of several books about wine including Judgment of Paris and To Cork or Not To Cork, he also knows how to write about wine in a companionable, informative way. His message: there’s a lot of good wine out there for less than $10 a bottle. His attitude (quoting Thomas George Shaw, who wrote in 1863): “In wine-tasting and wine-talk there is an enormous amount of humbug.”

An investigative journalist with a wry sense of humor, Taber debunks wine tastings, wine critics, wine fads, and wine medals (which are worth a lot to wine sellers, but not so much to consumers). Here’s one of my favorite stories. It's about Robin Goldstein, “a leading advocate of inexpensive wines” and founder of Fearless Critic Media:
In 2008, [Goldstein] paid a $250 fee to enter a fictitious Italian restaurant in the Wine Spectator’s Awards of Excellence program for eateries with outstanding wine lists…. He named his fictitious Milan restaurant Osteria l’Intrepido, which translates loosely as Fearless Restaurant. The wine list he submitted with his application included a reserve list consisting largely of wines the publication had previously panned, giving them scores as low as an insulting 58 points. Goldstein says that once the magazine collected his $250, he did not receive any communication from Wine Spectator, until someone from New York City called and left a message on an answering machine asking if he wanted to take out an advertisement in a forthcoming issue that would report on Osteria l’Intrepido’s winning an Award of Excellence.
But Bargain Wines goes way beyond debunking. In three fascinating chapters, Taber profiles the people behind California’s Two Buck Chuck, Australia’s [yellow tail] winery, and China’s first steps into the worldwide wine market. [Did you know that the family who brought us the wallaby label hails from Sicily?]

The first half of this book is the reason I checked it out of my public library: it’s a quick and pleasant read. The second half is the reason I then bought my own copy. Taber provides a 128-page guide to bargain wines that, I suspect, is going to come in very handy.

First he lists readily obtainable bargain wines by varietal, suggesting ten for $10 or less and two “splurge” wines for under $25. I immediately looked up one of my favorites, Sauvignon Blanc. Yes, Monkey Bay made the list, along with a number of others I haven’t tried yet.

Then he lists bargain brands by country or region. OK, let’s check Washington/Oregon. Chateau Ste. Michelle! Columbia Crest! Pacific Rim! and seven others! Plenty of opportunity for further research there.

Finally, he gives us his ten favorite box wines. Yup, you read that right. In fact, he has a whole chapter on box wines (“Thinking Outside the Bottle”) that may revolutionize your dinner hour.

In case you're starting to feel overwhelmed by the dazzling variety of bargain wines (or if you're feeling slightly fearful that the taste mavens won't approve your choices), he even provides a handy quiz. Are you sweet, hypersensitive, sensitive, or tolerant? The answer, it turns out, is in your genes. And--good news!--there's a subsection of bargain wines to match your phenotype.

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