“The world of wine,” says George Taber in “A Toast to Bargain Wines
,” “resembles that of high fashion. The haute couture stars’ creations that critics and magazines love this season are a long way from what women are wearing to work or dinner.”
What a great comparison. The wines that cost $100 a bottle and up (and sometimes under) that get gushed over by wine critics are a long way from what most of us drink on Friday night with pizza or even a Saturday night with guests at a dinner party. The majority of wine drinkers in our country drink bottles that cost less than $20. Those are rarely the bottles that get gushed over by traditional wine critics.
But wine criticism is changing. In his book, Taber devotes a chapter to “Gatekeepers Old and New,” and credits the Internet for “producing a new army of gatekeepers who are guiding consumers to the wines they may love or at least buy.” These new gatekeepers include former Wine Library TV host Gary Vaynerchuk
, Jeff Siegel of The Wine Curmudgeon
blog, and Robin Goldstein of The Wine Trials
who promotes wines that cost less than $15 but are better than $50+ bottles. These voices combine information about the wines that people are actually drinking with new technology, and they are changing the way Americans think about and drink wine.
Still, wine remains a mystery to many because they’ve been indoctrinated not to trust their own taste buds when it comes to wine. If they like sweet wines or wines with a kangaroo on the bottle, for example, mainstream wine criticism has left them with the idea that they’re wine illiterate. “A Toast to Bargain Wines” helps to explain that’s not true. People know what they like and should be confident about their own preferences.
Taber starts the book with anecdotes about wine critics and judges who have been surprised by their own choices at times. The book starts off with some embarrassing moments in wine history — when those who believe they know great wines found themselves either unknowingly enjoying inexpensive wines or were outright duped. There’s also a lot of documented information in the first pages of the book about blind taste tests where inexpensive bottles of wine have beaten expensive bottles of wine (like a $9.99 bottle of Washington State sparkling wine beating a $150 bottle of Dom Perignon two-thirds of the time in several face-offs).
All of this information puts the reader at ease with her own wine choices by confirming that critics and experts often choose the same types of wines regular drinkers choose — even if they don't often admit it.
There’s also some history about how many of the bargain wines that are popular in America came to be that way. There’s some fascinating information about the early American wine families — the Gallos, the Mondavis, the Franzias — in the days after Prohibition. Their stories intertwine during the early days and go their separate ways as later generations of wine makers continue family traditions. It’s interesting to read how it all weaves together, especially when Trader Joe’s “Two Buck Chuck” is one of the end results about how it all plays out.
A few of Taber's favorites are favorites in my house, too. d'Arenberg Stump Jump Shiraz
($9) is one of our everyday reds, and you'll often find Fetzer's Sauvignon Blanc
($8) on my wine rack in the summer. I've been taking the book with me to the liquor store, and I've tried a few of his suggestions in the past couple of weeks. Of the three I've tried, one of them has been a keeper. Chateau Ste. Michelle is one of of the 10 best Washington/Oregan brands he mentions, and I'm quite pleased with the Sauvignon Blanc
($10). I'm also pleased with the Chateau Ste. Michelle's sustainability practices
I'm going to keep trying wines from the book, and I'll let you know about any of them that I think are worth mentioning. In the meantime, you can follow along with one of my fellow South Jersey bloggers, Jennifer on the Wine a little, Save a lot
blog, as she explores the world of bargain wines and drinks her way through Taber's recommended wines.
Just a couple of days ago, a friend of mine on Facebook wrote that she was enjoying a glass of New Jersey blueberry wine. Someone commented, “Friends don't let Friends drink Blueberry Wine.” That is exactly the type of sentiment “A Toast to Bargain Wines” is trying to discredit. If you like blueberry wine, then drink blueberry wine. You’re never wrong about what you like.