No more whining about cheap wines.
March 17, 2017 5:06 PM   Subscribe

Ignore the Snobs, Drink the Cheap, Delicious Wine. "...This technological revolution has democratized decent wine. Thanks to pumps and powders, drinkers who can’t splurge no longer have to settle for plonk. The gap between fine wine and commercial wine is shrinking as producers use chemical shortcuts not only to avoid blatant flaws, but also to mimic high-end bottles. They can replicate the effects of oak for a fraction of the price of real barrels, correct for inferior climates and keep quality high in crummy vintages."

"“It is one of the ironies of the wine market today,” the wine critic Jancis Robinson writes, “that just as the price differential between cheapest and most expensive bottles is greater than ever before, the difference in quality between these two extremes is probably narrower than it has ever been.”"

"Wine too full of astringent, mouth-puckering tannins? Add Ovo-Pure (powdered egg whites), isinglass (fish bladder granulate) or gelatin. Not tannic enough? Replace $1,000 oak barrels with stainless steel and a bag of oak chips (toasted for flavor), tank planks (oak staves), oak dust (what it sounds like) or a few drops of liquid oak tannin (pick between “mocha” and “vanilla”). Cut acidity with calcium carbonate. Crank it up with tartaric acid. When it’s all over, wines still missing that something special can get a dose of Mega Purple, a grape-juice concentrate that has been called a “magic potion” for its ability to deepen color and fruit flavors."

And at any rate, those snobs have a lot of explaining to do.
posted by storybored (105 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
As someone who works in both the wholesale and retail side of wine, let me reassure you: if you like what you're drinking then you're drinking the right wine.
posted by komara at 5:14 PM on March 17 [132 favorites]


Or to repeat the mantra one of my co-workers once told me: "You can't drink the price tag and you can't drink the label."
posted by komara at 5:15 PM on March 17 [32 favorites]


Ok, so when will they put together a wine with the health benefits of pinot noir, the flavor of Sauternes, and the price tag of Charles Shaw? I've got a thing this weekend.
posted by darksasami at 5:21 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


The beer market is, not entirely surprisingly, somewhat similar right now. There is no reason that InBev or Miller can't make the New England IPAs that keep breweries like Alchemist and Tree House on the top of everybody's list. But they don't, because first, the economy of scale isn't quite there, and second, because what drives a huge portion of the beer market isn't quality, but rather rarity, which I suspect is the same with the wine market. You can make a good-tasting cheap wine, but you can't make snobs buy it.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:24 PM on March 17 [4 favorites]


From the article:
"More than 60 additives can legally be added to wine, and aside from the preservative sulfur dioxide, winemakers aren’t required to disclose any of them."

Anyone know why this is the case?
posted by Shebear at 5:31 PM on March 17 [5 favorites]


If y'all find this stuff interesting, you might enjoy Sour Grapes, a fantastic documentary about a high-end wine con man. Link goes to Netflix (US)!

Also, a few months ago we discovered Whole Foods' house label Three Wishes, and at less than $3 it's more drinkable than some of the fancier bottles we occasionally get gifted or splurge on. The Cabernet Sauvignon is now our standby red. It's literally the only reason I step inside Whole Foods at all these days.
posted by phatkitten at 5:37 PM on March 17 [10 favorites]


"Mega Purple"? That must be the stuff they put in Fish Eye Merlot that I have to scrub off my tongue.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 5:51 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


Hum. I grew up in Wine Country (Sonoma / Napa) and I'm not sure I've ever actually encountered a wine snob.. is this more a thing where great wines under $10 aren't so plentiful that random corner stores don't have a wall of them, or is this more some imagined snobbery based on stereotypes of rich people? I mean, yeah, some people are buying $100 wines, because they exist, but it doesn't exactly drive the industry..
posted by cj_ at 6:01 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


Ah yes, the Whole Foods' Three Wishes, I know thee well. At my WH they are constantly moving it to different places in the store (never with the rest of the wine), and I am always a wee bit embarrassed to have to ask someone where it now has been sequestered. Three dollars, yes, that's me. And, yes, it is often better than the fancier bottles I sometimes get guilted into buying in an attempt appear more upwardly mobile than I really am.
posted by nanook at 6:02 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]


I've always considered red wine to have two fundamental quality levels: drinkable, and drunk.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:02 PM on March 17 [15 favorites]


Mega Purple never really hit the big time as a superhero.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:04 PM on March 17 [12 favorites]


Has anyone done a comparison between Three Wishes and Charles Shaw (a.k.a. Three Buck Chuck)?
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:05 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]


She's not saying that there isn't a difference between the cheaper wines and the fancy ones. She's saying that "wine snobs" have different preferences than most consumers do, and that that is OK with her, in case anyone was invested in that.

I'm not a wine drinker much at all, and it never occurred to me that my friends who know more about wine would be judging me in any moral sense, and it's OK if they judge me as a wine goober or whatever, because that is true. I've heard tell about horribly pretentious wine snobs who look down on people for drinking the wrong thing, but as far as I know, I don't know any. I just know people who are into wine, and I don't think they're delusional or pretentious.
posted by ernielundquist at 6:06 PM on March 17 [11 favorites]


This is why breaking with the omniscient winemaker’s tastes is so savvy: Research shows that experts and consumers disagree on what makes for a delicious bottle. A study published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, for example, gave amateur and trained tasters 27 wines to rate, and determined that the “liking patterns” of consumers are in some instances exactly “opposite to experts’ quality perceptions.”

As mentioned above the same could be said of the beer and coffee industry. But I'm not sure what the point is supposed to be. Most people find good (insert scare quotes around that if you want) literature, music, and art offensive, too. So what?

It's funny that conglomerates spent decades doing their best to ruin things like beer, wine, and coffee for everybody, and now the enthusiastic spirit that recovered the possibilities in these things is dismissed as snobbery. There's plenty of nonsense in the craft beer/wine/etc industry but I have a hard time getting excited about focus groups and additives as the way forward.
posted by otio at 6:12 PM on March 17 [35 favorites]


As a good friend of mine says: It's easy to drink expensive good wine; the trick is to drink cheap good wine.
posted by grimjeer at 6:13 PM on March 17 [9 favorites]


There are those who like their wine
Because it adds sophistication
To that hearty meal they're serving to their friends.
And there are those who like their wine
Because it helps in the creation
Of that party feel on which so much depends.
And there are those who'd like their wine
To come from eastward-facing chateaux
On the plateaux of Lorraine and all that bunk
But their motives are not mine
And I like lots and lots of wine
And I like it 'cos it makes me drunk.
posted by zamboni at 6:14 PM on March 17 [5 favorites]


Charles Shaw (a.k.a. Three Buck Chuck)?

Damn you, inflation!
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:20 PM on March 17 [21 favorites]


Omg: $3 decent wines? Good bless America (from a Canadian. Wine is never less than $9 in these parts).
posted by elke_wood at 6:22 PM on March 17 [4 favorites]


I can taste the fake bits, they are detectable if you know what you are looking for. The less old school made wine is available, the less detectable the difference will be to new wine drinkers without anything to compare old techniques vs new techniques to.

I'm probably a super taster. I can also smell on your breath what you had for lunch yesterday from 10 paces. It's probably better to not be me, and wine with additives is mostly fine. But I do know it as I drink it. New techniques are not that clever. Just saying'.
posted by jbenben at 6:37 PM on March 17 [7 favorites]


Miles Raymond: [while tasting wine] It tastes like the back of a fucking L.A. school bus. Now they probably didn't de-stem, hoping for some semblance of concentration, crushed it up with leaves and mice, and then wound up with this rancid tar and turpentine bullshit. Fuckin' Raid.


Jack: Tastes pretty good to me.
posted by 4ster at 6:43 PM on March 17 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure I've ever actually encountered a wine snob

Oh, believe me, they exist. They are the worst, precisely because they think fetishizing a commodity is a sign of refined taste. I think many of them aren't even rich; they're middle-class wannabes.
posted by praemunire at 6:54 PM on March 17 [9 favorites]


Remember Trakia? I think the Balkans war finished that off. Best cheap wine ever.
posted by thelonius at 6:55 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Where's the $3 version of sparkling wine? These days the lowest price I can find for prosecco or cava is around $9 or $10 per bottle, and I refuse to purchase Freixenet or Korbel for reasons. I'm just saying a $3 sparkling wine would save me lots of moolah. (And I hear its bad to run wine through your Sodastream)
posted by ejs at 7:03 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]


Why even bother with the grapes?

Surely it would be cheaper to use corn syrup with a grape-like balance of fructose and glucose, and add in the flavor at bottling.
posted by jamjam at 7:16 PM on March 17 [9 favorites]


Night Train.
posted by aramaic at 7:19 PM on March 17 [7 favorites]


This is not to say that Treasury’s mass-market offerings are interchangeable with First Growth Bordeaux. When I sipped the wines that Ms. Mikawa gave her panel to try, I was reminded of root beer with a splash of Hershey’s syrup and vodka. The wines were rich, syrupy and heavy.

In this sense, they aligned nicely with the tastes of many newbie wine drinkers, who tend to prefer sweet wines that are low in astringency, bitterness and complexity. That also made these bottles pretty much the antithesis of what the cognoscenti consider “good.”


ladies and gentlemen, the lede, buried
posted by lalochezia at 7:48 PM on March 17 [28 favorites]


Huh, they use but do not disclose isinglass? I would think that would make vegans upset (certainly beer made with isinglass, particularly Guinness*, has been widely considered non-vegan).

*Guinness has in the past few years changed up their clarification techniques and apparently doesn't use isinglass any more, or at least not on some of their product lines.
posted by jackbishop at 7:52 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]


I've met real wine snobs but they are few and far between. I still remember one conversation at a party where someone started explaining to me how I could learn to not enjoy bottles under $40 as if this was in any way a thing I'd desire. They presumably thought they saving me from embarrassment ("you can be like us") and I was so embarrassed for them . . . .

But more common is what I'd call wine geeks--people who get really excited about wines and will go on and on about it with any encouragement. Of course all geekdom has an exclusionary element . But that's not usually the most important part. They may be ignorant of the fact that a lot of the stuff they are talking about is totally inaccessible to many people, or a bit embarrassed by it, or perhaps secretly proud of it. If you ask them for a good $15 bottle 99% will be really happy to tell you all your options, same way asking someone for a good Dr. Who intro episode will get an enthusiastic and exhaustingly long response as opposed to shaming.

A whine (sorry) about the article: I'm so sick of lazy intros and headlines. This is an interesting article about food science, manufacturing and wine. Trust that people will like it and just tell me about those things. Don't lead making some BS claim about how "natural wine is the new kale." (Similar tricks include pretending it's about millennials, disruptive innovation, a "recent trend" or that it'll cure cancer or provide a health benefit or increase the chance we'll find alien life. Stop. If it's not interesting on it's own just don't write about it.)

posted by mark k at 7:53 PM on March 17 [16 favorites]


I used to work at fine wine auctions, the experts who ran them would constantly joke about how shit most the 300 dollar + bottles were. The whole escapade is decades long practice of elitism, I've had a 1959 Mouton Rothschild... it's great. But a catastrophic waste of 2000 dollars, nothing you can't find in a 20 dollar bottle.

Huh, they use but do not disclose isinglass?

Alcohol doesn't need to disclose ingredients.
posted by French Fry at 7:59 PM on March 17 [4 favorites]


I can taste the fake bits, they are detectable if you know what you are looking for.

You can also tell from some of the pixels, if you've tasted quite a few fakes in your time.
posted by gurple at 8:00 PM on March 17 [18 favorites]


"Huh, they use but do not disclose isinglass?"

Well, the isinglass is a fining agent so - and this is an serious oversimplification - it basically falls through the wine, taking undesirable particles or qualities with it, and comes to rest on the bottom of the barrel or tank. The wine is drained off. The isinglass doesn't stay in the wine so much as it just passes through it.
posted by komara at 8:03 PM on March 17 [5 favorites]


came for the wine mockery, stayed for the egregious philological pedantry
posted by poffin boffin at 8:06 PM on March 17 [67 favorites]


As a newbie wine drinker, I definitely prefer sweet wines that are low in astringency, bitterness and complexity. I pretty much drink moscato if I'm having wine at all. For that matter, I don't like astringency and bitterness in anything--I don't like tart foods like sauerkraut or pickles, I don't like dark roast coffee, I don't like grapefruit. If all that makes me wrong, then I don't want to be right.

That being said, though, I did attend a wine-and-food-pairing event once as a lark, as a total newbie who'd never had more than a sip or two of wine before. And by the end of the night, even my untutored mouth noticed how a wine paired with a particular food could create a really interesting *third* flavor in your mouth, that seemed unrelated to the flavor of either the food or the wine on the surface. I totally get why people become wine snobs. But, in the end, the investment in time and money to develop a palate requires more enthusiasm than I can summon. I want to want to, but my $12 moscato is delicious and I'm happy with it.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:12 PM on March 17 [9 favorites]


I want to want to, but my $12 moscato is delicious and I'm happy with it.

The nice thing is that you can be happy with that now, and in a few years you can be happy with totally different things, and you can enjoy both phases equally.

I used to love me some Belgian beers, like nothing else. Everything I drank was Belgian, practically. That phase blew over -- but still left me with lots of appreciation for the Belgians -- and then I was into IPAs, and then extreeeem IPAs, and then imperial stouts, and then (maybe to give my liver a break) session IPAs. And none of those things was wrong.
posted by gurple at 8:18 PM on March 17 [13 favorites]


Everything I drank was Belgian, practically. That phase blew over -- but still left me with lots of appreciation for the Belgians -- and then I was into IPAs, and then extreeeem IPAs, and then imperial stouts, and then (maybe to give my liver a break) session IPAs.

I've found my tolerance for high alcohol beers has gone down as I've gotten older. I had a good stout last night at 7.8% abv and had heartburn for a couple hours after, which is par for the course with over 7% abv for me. Luckily there's been a recent bloom in really good session IPAs and pale ales lately, with good flavor and only 4 to 5% abv.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:23 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Where's the $3 version of sparkling wine?

Let me introduce you to my good friend Andre.
posted by Ruki at 8:35 PM on March 17 [5 favorites]


It's so fascinating that apparently sweet wines are more popular with average drinkers. I had no idea - I rarely drink alcohol of any kind, mostly because the combination of burning alcohol flavor and sweetness tastes almost nauseating to me. (Almost all liquor is unbearable.) So when I do drink wine, I like really dry, astringent ones. I have no palate - any old cheap dry red will do - so it's not as if I eschew sweeter wines because I'm all sophisticated or anything.

(Oddly, I like to cook with alcohol - sherry whipped cream is great, black beans with a touch of rum are also great, a dash of white wine in almost any sauce is terrific. But I never want to drink any of it.)
posted by Frowner at 8:39 PM on March 17 [6 favorites]


Who's got the list to the best 10 dollar bottles? I've found one I really like, 19 Crimes from Australia, but don't often feel like taking a flier on other cheap stuff. Do what you're good at, Internet.
posted by codacorolla at 8:42 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


Andre....they say it's California Champagne on the website. How can this be? In many countries, it is illegal to officially label any product Champagne unless it both comes from the Champagne region and is produced under the rules of the appellation.
posted by shockingbluamp at 8:47 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Andre....they say it's California Champagne on the website. How can this be?

In the same way a Coney Island white fish is a fish.

And I'm not a wine snob. At all. I just...

Andre. No. You can taste what it will feel like the next morning. Friends don't let friends get those kinds of hangovers after a certain age. I assume some of you people out there have super livers that can handle the sugar + bubbles + magic ingredient combination, but with great power comes great responsibility. Specifically, the responsibility not to let anyone over the age of 22 drink Andre.
posted by schadenfrau at 8:53 PM on March 17 [7 favorites]


I'm not sure I've ever actually encountered a wine snob

Oh, believe me, they exist. They are the worst, precisely because they think fetishizing a commodity is a sign of refined taste.


They exist, I encounter them regularly, and they annoy me to no end.

I've been volunteering in a small SE MI winery for 11 years. Mostly, I'm a cellar rat, but I will also work the counter when I'm feeling chatty. The people who come in and quote the bits from Sideways about Merlot always get a flat stare from me. Ha ha, yes, you're quite droll. Now would you like to learn something, or do you think your brand of bog standard assholery is impressive?

Our philosophy is that you should drink what you like. If what you like doesn't meet with someone else's approval? Fuck 'em. Wine is a simple pleasure, don't put on airs about spoilt grape juice.
posted by MissySedai at 9:08 PM on March 17 [10 favorites]


Where's the $3 version of sparkling wine?

At Aldi. OK, it's around $5, but still. Also check out Verdi, which is a perfectly drinkable sparkler at $6. Barefoot Bubbly is also fine for Mimosas.

I have a fondness for L.Mawby, out of Traverse City, for special occasions. A bit more at $12 to $15, depending on variety, but tastes like it should cost a lot more than sub-$20.
posted by MissySedai at 9:15 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]


I have, maybe once or twice a year for the past 15 years, had the chance to drink some really spectacular wine. It was great, it was interesting, I had a nice day doing it. Like, I have been moved, a few times, and I have felt fine about my restaurant markup alongside some pretty great food. I have been to some really interesting California wineries (all SoCal, even) and had my palate challenged and been introduced to wines that I want to be best friends with (Barbera, call me!)

But Chez Frosting-Never, our house wine is Franzia Dark Red Blend. We've lived under some very strained budgets, it tastes plenty good, and I don't have any shame about it.

Honestly, some of the best reds I've had in the past few years have been sub-$10 red blends. Apothic's regular red and dark red blend, Big House Red in bottle or box, this Franzia. I mostly buy California reds on the grounds that transportation costs must be lower, and even the low-but-not-lowest ends are really interesting stuff.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:20 PM on March 17 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: You can taste what it will feel like the next morning.
posted by toxic at 9:22 PM on March 17 [11 favorites]


Andre....they say it's California Champagne on the website. How can this be? In many countries, it is illegal to officially label any product Champagne unless it both comes from the Champagne region and is produced under the rules of the appellation.

Easy: the US isn't one of those countries.

(Though actually, that's only sort of true: as of 2006, no new sparkling wine made in the US can be labeled 'champagne' but any products that had already been approved to use the word champagne prior to then are grandfathered in, and even then they can't just say 'champagne', they have to say [name of the location where they were made] champagne: hence, California Champagne).
posted by Itaxpica at 9:24 PM on March 17 [7 favorites]


Lyn, if you have an Aldi nearby, check out their Winking Owl line. $3.50 a bottle, single varietals, tasty as hell.
posted by MissySedai at 9:26 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]


Remember Trakia? I think the Balkans war finished that off. Best cheap wine ever.

The answer may not appeal to most of us in America: it's called Socialism.


That was so good.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 9:33 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]


Our new house favorite is Borsao Garnacha Tinto. It starts cutting into the grocery budget at just under $12, but it seems to be getting harder and harder to find $10 and under drinkable wines in the LCBO.
posted by Kabanos at 9:35 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Where's the $3 version of sparkling wine?

three-buck-chuck poured into a soda bottle and force-carbonated with your home CO2 tank
posted by Greg Nog at 9:44 PM on March 17 [6 favorites]


I'm no wine expert (or lexicographer) but that article is presently badly, kind of throwing a bunch of stuff together without properly focusing on the main topic.

I have at least three major concerns over doctored wine: 1. What are the extra ingredients and what are their health implications? 2. Winemakers will simply use them to cover up poor winemaking. 3. I don't trust mass market taste in just about anything (not saying that "elite" tastes are necessarily correct either, just that I trust professionals more than amateurs).

Also, thought it was a discussion about grapes and then it seems to become a classic on beans. Just kidding.
posted by blue shadows at 9:46 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


Maybe consumer preferences in wine are cyclical?

I mean, what constitutes "good" wine is obviously entirely subjective, and what is defined as "good" varies widely. It appears to vary not only from place to place, but also over time, with no clear trajectory.

Until relatively recently, sweeter wines were considered preferable in many parts of the world, including most of what are now the post-Soviet or Soviet-influenced states. E.g. the first time I went to Hungary, most of the wine that was served with meals was bordering into what Americans would have considered "dessert" wine; the actual dessert wine (Eszencia, I think) seemed to me like something that would be good poured over pancakes. But more recently, it seems that level of sweetness has fallen out of favor, and drier flavors made from early harvest grapes, rather than the traditional late harvest, are in. I am very skeptical, to the point of outright rejecting the idea, that the drier wines are really "better" in any objective sense; certainly the craft involved in traditional Tokaji is no less than that involved in Bordeaux, nor the flavors less complex.

It is a bit ironic, then, that at the same time that parts of the world traditionally known for sweet wines are transitioning to producing drier wines in order to meet the global demand for them, at least some parts of the world (at least the US) seem to have found a renewed interest in sweet wine. I'm not entirely sure why this is, although perhaps in part it's because that sweet wines have lost that suspiciously Soviet odor that they had during the Cold War? Or maybe it's just generational, and wine buyers today are interested in something that their parents wouldn't have had on the table? I can think of a lot of theories, and there are probably a lot more that aren't occurring to me.

Perhaps the wine connoisseurs are a trailing indicator, not a leading one, because they are by definition people who are substantially invested in the wine market as it currently exists. For each hypothetical wine snob here in the US lamenting the ruination of dry California wine in order to make it appeal to sweeter palates, I suspect there are (or were, at some point in the recent past) snobs all across Central / Eastern Europe lamenting the scandalously early harvest and resulting thin, bitter wines that are now being produced there from grapes that would have once been used for sweet wines.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:53 PM on March 17 [6 favorites]


Where's the $3 version of sparkling wine?

Depending on how you want to define that, any cheap red you have can sparkle as Kalimotxo.
posted by codacorolla at 9:55 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


"Where's the $3 version of sparkling wine?"

Best I can recommend is Casa Dora (cava) which you can find in the NYC area for around $7.99 and here in New Orleans for $8.75ish.

"Also check out Verdi, which is a perfectly drinkable sparkler at $6."

Your wording there is (possibly inadvertently) correct. Verdi is a sparkler. What it is not is wine. Verdi is a malt beverage that gets stocked and camouflaged as sparkling wine.
posted by komara at 10:00 PM on March 17 [4 favorites]


Your enjoyment of wine is uncorrelated with its cost unless you take extreme pleasure in symbols of status. Surely this is news to no one?
posted by b1tr0t at 10:18 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Next time you go to Trader Joe's, buy yourself one of their "Block 67" boxes of wine ($12 for 4 bottles worth, available in Cab, Shiraz, and a couple whites too), and don't forget to memail me your thanks while you're sipping on a delicious glass that cost basically nothing.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 10:35 PM on March 17 [8 favorites]


If y'all find this stuff interesting, you might enjoy Sour Grapes, a fantastic documentary about a high-end wine con man. Link goes to Netflix (US)!

I also highly recommend it, but it may not the story one might think at first. The wine snobs here are Hollywood posers who wear sunglasses indoors because they're high on so many other things, and then they have wine parties at 10G a bottle per person. Anyway, a fellow interloper at the auctions takes advantage of their newcomer status. It's a winemaker from France that sleuths it all out to find out why his bottles are selling for 100 times he thinks they are worth, and one of the Koch brothers who got conned for millions. Who knew that a pricey bottle with its label intact, sitting empty in a restaurant dumpster, is also a high end instrument for a kitchen operation fraud. Also, the other wine the fraudsters are using to supplant the real thing are all in the fifty plus dollar range. The difference between good and bad is still industrial mass production, which are full of sulfites when compared to a boutique winery. The best value right now is any ten dollar bottle from South Africa on sale, which has cheaper costs and the best region for growing wine on the flip side of the globe, and which is also famous for its protea and other botanical attractions.
posted by Brian B. at 10:44 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


I know nothing about wines. I just hit 26 years sober a few days ago, and was too young to drink when that started.

That said, for those who have encountered actual wine snobs in the wild, you may enjoy this.

[edit] forgot to give props to the always brilliant Dave Kellet of Sheldon fame for that...
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 10:50 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Yet when it comes to sub-$40 wines — the sweet spot for American drinkers, who spend an average of $9.89 per bottle

I am the Average American when it comes to wine, which I know nothing about. I just know I like drinking it. And because I am poor/cheap, my criteria is as follows: Is it red? Check. Is it around $10? Check. Does it have a cork in it? No? Two out of three ain't bad.
posted by zardoz at 11:53 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Does it have a cork in it? No? Two out of three ain't bad.

I reckon that a cork, in a >$10 bottle of wine, is usually a worrying indicator, and pretty much neutral in more expensive wine. Screwcaps and synthetic corks (the latter being pretty pointless in my view, when screwcaps are fine and don't need a corkscrew, although I suspect they are probably better than caps at keeping wine beyond the first few years) do the job of preserving wine for a few years much better than a natural cork which might well turn out to be a diseased piece of shit when you pull it out. Realising the last bottle of wine in the house is tainted is not a relaxing part of the weekend.
posted by howfar at 12:19 AM on March 18 [11 favorites]


I live in Australia, so a decent bottle of wine for about $15 is pretty standard. This is, to compare, about 1 and a half times a Big Mac, and cheaper than a movie ticket at a major chain.

I have picked up from Brooklyn Nine-Nine the use of 'seven dollar' as an adjective to describe wine.
posted by Merus at 12:51 AM on March 18


I know the author does a nod to 'this happened in the past too', but I think she's overselling the idea that this is some sort of new idea.

At very least there's the case of Ludwig Gall in the 1840s - a survey in Germany showed that acidity and price were related w.r.t. wine, and he perfeced a deacidificaiton technique that could help cheap wine become expensive wine. This utterly infuriated the people who had sunk money into expensive, reliably-producing decent vinyards, and massively boosted the otherwise unpopular Mosel valley wines.

Consequences: rise of the 'natural wine' movement. (sideline: German vs. French alcohol competition). Long academic read on this if you have a subscription here
posted by AFII at 1:13 AM on March 18 [6 favorites]


Oh, and re. the isenglass, most v*gans already know that if it isn't marked vegetarian/vegan, you can't assume it is meat-free. Also, a lot of v*gans (e.g. me) have decided that this is not the hill we're going to die on and drink it anyway.
posted by AFII at 1:19 AM on March 18 [4 favorites]


[Several deleted. Digging in on a huge derail in service of a particularly idiocentric reading of the word "democratize" in this usage, then suggesting that other people just aren't intellectual enough to follow your desconstruction is not a good way to participate.]
posted by taz at 1:28 AM on March 18 [7 favorites]


Snobbery is one thing; concern with quality is another. It is the Anglo-Saxon way to regard food as an industrial product, but we know from long experience that the idea that everything can be fixed with additives is just false.
posted by Segundus at 1:31 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


I have a hunch my thinking about this might align with where polynodus is coming from (though it'd be great to hear more on that, as per howfar), but with less terminological erudition/rigour.

As a former grower-producer and inveterate wine lover/geek, observing the wine world from a European perspective, the shift from wine as an everyday staple to its being coopted by marketing&commerce to become a globalized luxury/fetish item has always irked me. There's a lot of history to study and revisit, but it's long become a habit in the enosphere to run with whatever sells, with the strongest new marketing angle defining a succession of eras (or cycles, as Kadin2048 suspects) - be that the old-world AOC, terroir or Châteaux narrative, or the new-world varietal-beats-heritage bent, or the more recent ethical (biological/biodynamic/"natural") or hyperlocal/archeological (heirloom/autochthonous/amphorae) storifications of what sets one wine apart from/above the others.

So a tendentious piece in which century-old wine-making techniques such as clarification, wood-ageing/flavouring, fortifying and de- or re-acidifying are bandied as a "technological revolution", rub me wrong too. The cheapening of options to choose from is interesting, but I also wonder about what kind of empowering that demonstrates - which is perhaps what polymodus' bristling at the term democratizing was getting at? As a counterexample: one intitiative attempted (with a certain amount of attention and success) by the critical wine forum here in Italy was for producers to print the price at source on their labels, so as to belie/control the mark-up that the distribution chain charges and conceals, aided and abetted by all the marketing narratives they can bring to bear on the consumer. Another instance was an affiliation of producers in Puglia recently organising to create a distribution system of local wine-stores where customers could come for high-quality, direct to market refills - and age-old system practised in many regions in Italy prior to the advent of that other historical marketing ploy: bottled (and labelled) wine.

In a nutshell: the radical truth in komara's quip is an excellent rallying cry to do away with a lot of wine-world bullshit, and NYT opinion-piece upsells are not the shining path to sustainable, "woke" wine-loving.
posted by progosk at 1:36 AM on March 18 [8 favorites]


The best wines I've had were inexpensive table ones I got from the Monoprix chain supermarket. I've forgotten the names but I know them when I see them.

> Observing the wine world from a European perspective, the shift from wine as an everyday staple to its being coopted by marketing&commerce to become a globalized luxury/fetish item has always irked me. (progosk)

Yeah, 2nded. And each time I have to look for some "good" wine for some "occasion" it irks me.
posted by runcifex at 1:44 AM on March 18


I’m not a big fan of Charles Shaw, but it is possible to find some interesting cheap wines with other labels at Trader Joes. First of all ask for help, though it’s best to avoid doing this on a busy Saturday for obvious reasons. They usually have a few employees in each store who are very knowledgeable about their wines. So if you know what you like, for instance, you might ask for a suggestion on a good Cabernet between four and ten bucks. For me, that’s the pricing sweet spot.

They also get opportunity buys, which might be odd lots from a quality vineyard that might or might not carry the original vineyard’s label. This can be a bit more hit and miss, and these can sell out in a weekend.
posted by SteveInMaine at 2:29 AM on March 18


What I would save from the article is that it's worth exploring what's been the defining force behind the idea of "quality" in wine. The idea of a "sensory insights lab" is conveniently aligned to the current hotness of anything that can sell itself as data-driven, but that shouldn't discredit the attempt to question who's calling the shots in the wine market. Unquestionably there's something perverse and self-serving in the modern wine-world's automatic discrediting of "what people actually like", denying that to be a parameter of any importance/value at all.

Iconoclasts Luca Maroni's attempt to overcome the strictures of the established (yet somehow always oh-so-intangible...) rulebook of wine-tasting and -grading (by attempting to set an open and objective method for identifying good-tasting wines) was critiqued from two angles: 1. it seemed to deny any significance at all to the history of any wine, 2. to shift the focus to whether a wine was good/enjoyable/pleasurable, if adopted as a wine-making paradigm, would lead to the Coca-Colafication of wine production, and surely the death of wine as such (or at the very least, as we have ever known it). His premise, though, was often overlooked: the problem he was addressing wasn't so much an aesthetic one, it was that wine drinking and making in Italy was (and still is) in seemingly inexorable decline (consumption has shrunk to a third, production to about half what it was thirty years ago), while prices are in steady climb - and to continue with the current set-up will lead to a collapse of wine-making and -enjoying altogether (at least in Italy).
posted by progosk at 3:08 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


(Much the same is happening in France, btw. Oh and, for more oenophile nerdery: here's a direct link to a translation of Maroni's theoretical underpinnings.)
posted by progosk at 3:16 AM on March 18 [4 favorites]


The idea of a "sensory insights lab" is conveniently aligned to the current hotness of anything that can sell itself as data-driven

It's the same trend for algorithm-driven information in general. When consumers are mined for preferences and given back suggestions, this creates an information bubble: there's more empirical research that shows this as a concern. From a gastronomy point of view, flavor profiles are a kind of information and so the same dynamic can happen. But the groups developing and applying this kind of technology don't talk about this aspect, just like how this article celebrates this approach and frames it in a particular way, etc.
posted by polymodus at 3:17 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


> "Huh, they use but do not disclose isinglass? I would think that would make vegans upset ..."

Yes, it does. It's super annoying.

There is, however, wine specifically marketed to vegans and vegetarians which doesn't use it.
posted by kyrademon at 3:36 AM on March 18


When checking out $3-5 wines, be sure to look at wines with alternative closures and especially boxes. At those prices, the money spent on cork and glass is better used elsewhere.
posted by ryanrs at 3:41 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Andre....they say it's California Champagne on the website. How can this be? In many countries, it is illegal to officially label any product Champagne unless it both comes from the Champagne region and is produced under the rules of the appellation.

There is a California Champagne by Paul Masson...
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:45 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


Your enjoyment of wine is uncorrelated with its cost unless you take extreme pleasure in symbols of status. Surely this is news to no one?

The ability to detect subtleties of aroma and flavors that others can't after years of study and practice is a real thing, and yes, some people are willing to pay for the experience. I'm not saying some people don't buy expensive wine purely as a status symbol, but it's just not true to say that's the reason everyone does it.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 4:46 AM on March 18 [11 favorites]


Really what needs stopping is the contemptible rhetoric of trying to minimize things you disagree with as "whining".
posted by thelonius at 6:06 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


*buys bottle of Cisco, relaxes on park bench*
posted by jonmc at 6:08 AM on March 18


Sweet wines are popular with Americans mainly because of soft drinks/soda and high fructose corn syrup which is in almost everything thing we eat. I look at the ingredients of everything. I started drinking wine many years ago and started with sweet May wines from Germany. That was until a humble red Rioja from Spain changed my whole way of drinking wine with food and on its own. It's what the geeks call a wine epiphany. One's palate changes over time. Taste and smell are a very subjective experience. A good friend in wine business for over 35 years told me that he believes that no wine is worth $30. Just my $20.
posted by DJZouke at 6:23 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


As someone who lives in a place where the provincial government controls all alcohol sales and imposes price floors, I'm baffled by the idea that a $3 bottle of wine actually exists.
posted by thecjm at 6:32 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Your wording there is (possibly inadvertently) correct. Verdi is a sparkler.

Definitely deliberate. At that price point, people are generally looking for something fizzy and tasty, and aren't too concerned with wine vs. sparkler.

For what it is, it's pretty delightful. I keep it around for lazy Sundays, and often add it to Sangria.
posted by MissySedai at 6:59 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


jamjam: "Surely it would be cheaper to use corn syrup with a grape-like balance of fructose and glucose, and add in the flavor at bottling."

But that would be grape flavoured whiskey not wine.
posted by Mitheral at 7:05 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


When I find someone I respect writing about an edgy, nervous wine that dithered in the glass, I cringe. When I hear someone I don't respect talking about an austere, unforgiving wine, I turn a bit austere and unforgiving myself. When I come across stuff like that and remember about the figs and bananas, I want to snigger uneasily. You can call a wine red, and dry, and strong, and pleasant. After that, watch out....

Kingsley Amis
Everyday Drinking

posted by MengerSponge at 7:11 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


[Trader Joes] usually have a few employees in each store who are very knowledgeable about their wines.

In between dot com jobs I did food demonstration at Trader Joe's and this is totally true. I was not a wine expert (truthfully I'm still not a wine expert) but the job came right when I was starting to develop a palate. The rule was that if a customer had a question about something, we should open it and try it with them. Even when there weren't questions we'd sometimes just pick a few bottles we didn't know ourselves and do a tasting, so I learned a lot fast (one thing I learned was that the supposed wine expert on staff liked expensive famous labels but had less of a critical palate than I did). The surprise find of Fall 2006 was an Italian blend called Nerello del Bastardo, but when I bought a bottle of it a couple years later it had lost its magic (probably as a result of demand at Trader Joe's).

Aside from being able to taste a whole lot of mostly reasonably priced wine without having to pay for it, I also learned that wines that trumpeted their 90+ scores from Wine Spectator or whatever often tasted more alike than they'd have cared to admit, since the standard then (and maybe even now) was for jammy, big red "fruit bombs," often with high alcohol content. Everybody who cared about high scores worked with a consultant to get that profile and that sort of wine got a lot less interesting to me fast.

And that, I think, is what worries me most about the ability to use additives to correct wine. At the bottom end where they're moving wine by the case to new wine drinkers, I don't have a problem with it (and frankly, a lot of that wine could do with a bit of correction). Even above that level, if I know you're doing nontraditional things to the wine and you aren't dishonest about it, I might want to experience what you can do. I appreciate mastery whether it's of a traditional or scientific sort. I just want you to be honest about which one you're doing.
posted by fedward at 7:18 AM on March 18 [4 favorites]


For many years my method of choosing wine was as follows: Find a wine with a cool-looking label. Buy the one next to it.
posted by lagomorphius at 8:40 AM on March 18 [4 favorites]


That's a fun way to choose wine if you're not able to taste it first. It also works pretty well!
posted by MissySedai at 9:10 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I'll be honest. People sometimes serve me expensive wine (not cheap wine, as they wouldn't be caught dead drinking that) and in appreciation I'll smile and nod and say how great it is, but it does nothing for me. Takes an act of will to remember to drink it when my water glass is sitting right there calling to me. I feel badly about it because I want to be able to enjoy this limited amount of liquid that they've shared with me, but I've never felt the sensation of genuinely enjoying it. I stopped buying it years ago because there are a million other things I'd prefer to do with my time/money/liver capacity.
posted by mantecol at 9:13 AM on March 18


The best wine tip I've ever gotten was from my former boss, who had a hobby/side business importing wines. Once you find a bottle of wine you like -- at any price point -- turn it around and look for the importer's label. Then seek out wines from that importer, because they evidently have a similar palate to yours.
posted by basalganglia at 9:22 AM on March 18 [9 favorites]


had my palate challenged and been introduced to wines that I want to be best friends with (Barbera, call me!)

Love Barbera! It's my go-to. I once had to buy a case of wine for a reception event, and went into a local supermarket with a good wine reputation to get it. When I asked the wine expert for something that would be of wide appeal, he suggested some Spanish or Argentine red (I honestly can't remember) but only had six bottles. So I suggested a Barbera since I love it, and we found something with six bottles in my price range. At the event, the Barbera was very quickly finished off, but no one liked the other wine. I recently found a Barbera (Villadoria Barbera D'Alba Tardoc) on a trip to DC that I loved, but can't get it in Michigan which makes me sad. :(

On the white side, I love Portuguese Vinho Verde. It's a "young" wine - crisp, refreshing, with just a little bit of bubbly to it that makes it great to drink in the summer.
posted by Preserver at 9:41 AM on March 18 [4 favorites]


I know someone in the business, and she has a very deep knowledge and appreciation of wine having marketed and sold booze of all sorts for a large part of her life. (The question of what bottle to bring to her place for dinner parties is one I can never resolve...)

She's full of good advice - never buy an expensive bottle of wine at a restaurant, as they almost invariably don't keep it properly - and knows exactly which wines are worth their price up and down the scale. I recommend making friends with someone like this.

She is also in awe of someone she used to work with at a Scottish distillery, whom she describes as having been born with an almost supernatural sense of taste and smell, and the ability to perform almost spectrographic analysis on whisky and wine to the point she can tell which winery the barrels came from the whisky was matured in. I cannot imagine what it must be like to have such a sense, and am insanely jealous.
posted by Devonian at 9:42 AM on March 18


> You can call a wine red, and dry, and strong, and pleasant. After that, watch out....
Kingsley Amis
Everyday Drinking


Amis also praised ketchup in a bloody mary.
posted by postcommunism at 10:17 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


It goes through waves of hokiness, but if you like reds and soft sparkle, try Lambrusco. I was first re-introduced to it (beyond a 70's joke) as an accompaniment to really strong food flavors, like blue-cheesy, charcuterie, dark chocolate or mole, or with steak.

It's a good hot-afternoon wine too, as it's only 8% and is very chillable and even iceable. I use the really cheap stuff, the Riunite and lower level, in sangria, especially daytime sangria that doesn't need to be cocktail-strength.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:29 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


Chez Bastard we drink whatever is on sale two-for-one at the grocery store, that comes in at under ten bucks for the two. If we are getting fancy, say bringing bottles to a friend's dinner party, we'll get whatever is one-shelf-up from those that doesn't have a cartoon animal on the label. For less-fancy friends we go with the cartoon animal.
posted by Cookiebastard at 10:47 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


In Canada, the Chilean Tocornal Cono Sur blends are $14 for a liter-and-a-half bottle = two regular bottles (before taxes) and well worth drinking. I am not alone in thinking so because Chile sells a lot of that stuff here.
posted by CCBC at 2:36 PM on March 18


Yellow Tail is my table-wine go to, all the local supermarkets and drug stores carry it, and it's pretty good! The shiraz is good, the cab-shiraz is good, and cabernet is adequate, the chardonnay is decent. It's usually $5.49 regular, $4.99 sale at my supermarket (10% off the sale price if you buy six). (Those are the varieties I prefer to drink but I know I can grab any Yellow Tail variety and it'll be fine and people who like that sort will like it.)

I have no Trader Joe's or Whole Foods so I am stuck with the supermarket or the fancy wine store! I never see anything under $4.99, not sure if it's state liquor taxes or just that's as cheap as the local market goes.

I am interested to read about how the "big, fruity red" has become a go-to for lower-end wines. I like dry-er (drier? I don't know!) wines; the big, fruity reds are fine, but I did notice in the last few years that every time I tried a new-to-me under $12 red, it was very, very fruity ... whereas in the past it seemed like there was more variety. On the one hand it's pretty rare for me to run across something undrinkably bad anymore; otoh, they're all sort of big and fruity and similar. (Which, again, is fine, but I don't want JUST big fruity wines, sometimes I want other things.)

"Who's got the list to the best 10 dollar bottles? I've found one I really like, 19 Crimes from Australia"

Good to know! I was looking at that one today, wondering if it was any good! I'm into Dark Horse Chardonnay right no, which is $9.99 locally. They use super low-quality corks, tho, they break like whoa. I want them to switch to synthetic corks at the very least.

I joined "wine club" in law school because all my friends were joining as a group, and it was fun and there was a lot of wine, but ALSO LOTS OF DOUCHEBAG WINE SNOBS. Most of whom literally just started drinking wine at wine club but suddenly were authoritative winesplainers. (My most aggravating memory from wine club was they were short on pourers and the president asked me to pour, and I said, "I can if you need me to, but I have a bit of a tremor in my hand, I can't do a very exact pour and I'll probably pour too much, especially if I have to do 20 in a row" and he was like "that's fine, no big" and then twenty minutes later he was like "YOU NEED TO POUR LESS, YOU'RE POURING TOO MUCH!" FFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUU dude.)

It interesting how subjective it is, though. I once had a glass of a well-aged Pinot Noir that some very wine-educated friends were NUTS for (Cornell restaurant grad, winery owner, etc.), and literally all I could taste in it was gasoline. I could smell the flavors they were so excited about, but all I could taste was gasoline. I would have been SUPER PISSED if I'd paid $50+ for a bottle that tasted like gas to me, but to everyone else (who were not pretentious pretenders!) it was delicious and complex. Of course other wines are similarly polarizing, based on variety or bottle or whatever, and that's really interesting!

(Netflix for wines is obviously what we all need, that takes the bottles we like and suggests bottles other people with similar tastes also liked.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:13 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


I'm going to write that app and make a billion dollars. I will give you a footnote.
posted by Justinian at 3:39 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


I did a winery tour over the fall, and all of the stuff that the sommelier really hyped up for us just tasted like vinegar, and all of the budget bottles he poured were the ones where I could actually taste the flavor profile he described. Maybe I have a bad / untrained palette.
posted by codacorolla at 3:51 PM on March 18


I've met real wine snobs but they are few and far between.

I haven't come across that many wine snobs, but I've met a number of beer and whisky snobs. The latter are fun, because I just ask for whatever they're having "but add some ice and Coke".
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 4:16 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


So… super relevant DIY experiment, but the Modernist Cuisine folks have concluded that the best way to decant/aerate wine, including expensive wine, is to run it through a blender for 30 s. It's been called hyperdecanting, and you can do it at home with a regular blender. How-to video.

I tested it with my mom, and we both had definite opinions of whether and how much difference. The short article goes into into the ideal unbiased experimental methodology, like, for a party.
posted by polymodus at 4:43 PM on March 18


People in America being all over Yellow Tail is interesting to me. Australia is fairly spoilt for choice wine-wise (and it doesn't hurt that beer and spirits see significant tax compared to wine) and Yellow Tail is probably in the middle for wines at that price point. But they seem to have an excellent export deal.
posted by solarion at 10:44 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I remember Yellow Tail being much more expensive when Aussie wines first started making inroads in the US. Now it's so ubiquitous and inexpensive I can literally buy it at the gas station convenience store. I'm trying to think what US-made wines are as widely-available (at least where I am) ... Franzia (which is boxed); Barefoot, maybe? (Which is a Gallo, I think.) Maybe US wineries segment the market more than Yellow Tail does.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:48 PM on March 18


Netflix for wine - I signed for an intro pack from NakedWines and they do just that. I tried to get into it and put a comment on one we liked, but then the winemaker replied and it freaked me out!

Of course, I don't think they currently integrate off-label ratings, but maybe they should.
posted by fizban at 1:18 AM on March 19


Vivino does crowd-sourced wine ratings (and both label-photo and wine-list-ocr-based wine-look-up) very nicely. (Delectable seems to be the other valid option.)
posted by progosk at 3:27 AM on March 19


On fruit bombs, I'm not sure if this is the same essay I read a few years ago about the effect Robert Parker's palate has had on wine, but it certainly makes the same points:
I don’t begrudge Parker his success, but I have a huge problem with winemakers trying to make wines to please his palate. Parker likes wines that many of us view as overly ripe and overly oaked. When grapes are picked very ripe (i.e. with high sugar levels) the resulting wines are either higher in alcohol (if fermented to dryness), or left with a degree of residual sugar. There are several advantages to very ripe wines: they are more aromatic, so the first impression is almost always favorable; they give an attractive, if simple, sweet fruit impression; and the tannins are softer, so the young wines are accessible as soon as they’re released. There are also disadvantages: they are heavy, simple, alcoholic and generic.
Basically the sort of wine that Robert Parker liked would get a 90 score and would sell better (based on the score, which would be advertised in the store, often by way of a card provided by the winemaker). Wine that was less alcoholic and less sugary didn't get the same bump. Couple those score tags with the Sideways effect and people were buying a lot of wine that tended toward bombast instead of terroir. But those wines, it turns out, are really boring.
posted by fedward at 9:54 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Australian bottle shops are absolutely flooded with cleanskin wine that goes for five, six bucks a bottle, and is as good as anything in the special fancy section. It's mostly whites, however, which my constitution can't handle as well as it used to. I've taken a real fancy lately to red blends like Wildling and Young Brute that go for twelve or so bucks a bottle, and they're just great.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:18 PM on March 20


And yeah, Yellow Tail is perfectly fine. It's rarely the first or even fifth choice, but it's cheap enough and drinks easily enough to be a good lap wine for the drive home from the bottle-o.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:45 PM on March 20


An interesting social/medical tidbit I came across today: Association between clinically recorded alcohol consumption and initial presentation of 12 cardiovascular diseases: population based cohort study using linked health records. It's a more recent paper and unlike the older news articles, they explicitly address/control somewhat for smoking and socioeconomic deprivation.
posted by polymodus at 11:56 PM on March 24


« Older How much wood would a woodcock cock if a woodcock...   |   Yo La Tengo WFMU All-Request Marathon TODAY Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments