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Cheap Wine

Friends -- I don't really like cheap wine.  I just generally don't. There are exceptions, of course (and hey, I'm here to help). But when I tell people I don't like much cheap-o swill-o, especially in this oh-so-crappy economy, most people say, "Well, it's snobby to say a cheap wine can't be good. I've bought expensive wines and I can't tell the difference."  Okay, fair enough -- but here's the thing -- there is no limit to how high a winery prices a wine, but there is a limit to how low.  It's a simple cost equation - if your wine costs you $10 a bottle to produce, sure you can sell it for $10, $20, $50 or $1200 a bottle -- but you can't really sell it for $2.  So sure, there are some terrible wines at high prices, as there is no high limit to how much one can price a bad wine.  And for f__'s sake, I've had too many high priced, shitty wines.

(BTW, do you like how I'll say "shitty" but not "f___"?  Yeah, I've got standards, people.)

Industrial, large-scale wines (like Two Buck Chuck, and frankly, like most standard Ravenswood zins, and like most supermarket wine in general) can be priced very-to-moderately-low exactly because it is extremely cheap for them to produce.  Listen, that surely does not mean it is necessarily bad.  I mean, infinite monkeys typing infinite letters on infinite typewriters (remember those?) will eventually produce masterpieces. And hey, you throw enough random, poorly sorted, pesticide treated, generally untended grapes in a tank with some proven industrial yeast strain, feed it some yeast food, add some enzymes and tartaric acid, have machines and use carefully prescribed but factory guided processes to take it through fermentation and punchdown, throw it in huge steel barrels with some oak chips, maybe put it through a reverse-osmosis machine, and them do it that same way exact way year after year --- and you have at least a small chance of producing a drinkable wine.  And over the long run, you'll probably even produce one or two good wines: it's simply a numbers game. And wow, that process is cheap.  You can sell it for two bucks at Trader Joe's, and still make money: it's volume, friends.  

On the other hand... let's say you sort your lovingly attended grapes by hand, grapes from vines you farmed organically, or even biodynamically, grapes you harvested from vines from which you dropped a hell of a lot of fruit in order to produce more hearty, ripe, and flavorful berries, and then you engage with your wine, day to day, you wake up every four or six hours during punch-down because you do it by hand, you monitor constantly, you spend countless hours assessing exactly what would help that particular vintage express itself in the best possible way... in other words, let's say you put in time and love, and indeed, your soul... Well, sadly, that's no guarantee in winemaking.  Even if it costs you a lot of money, and takes just an incredible amount of physical and emotional energy, there is simply no guarantee.

But, my friends, skilled winemakers dealing with beautiful, well tended and harvested fruit, have a much better chance at producing a memorable wine. Whether the wine is good, or not-so-good, either way -- it's expensive to make hand-crafted, lovingly tended, expertly handled wine, no matter how beautifully the wine gods let it shine in the end. The best producers out there don't sit on their asses; no, they work it, and work it hard. And for that, my friends, you simply cannot pay a measly $2.

When people tell me thay can't tell the difference between a $10 bottle and a $50 dollar bottle, I say, listen, give me $60, I'll go out and pick the best $10 bottle I can find, and the best $50 bottle I can find, of the same varietal even, and if you honestly can't tell the difference you can have money back and keep the wine. But if I'm right, I'll keep the rest of both bottles, amen and good night.  And seriously, it's no contest - I'll take this bet everyday, and twice on Sundays.

All that said, I'm constantly looking for bargain bottles, and yes, there is a lot of decent wine out there in the $10 to $20 range. But there's not a whole lot of greatness in that range.  And let's face it, we wine-freaks are always looking for greatness.  

But, ahem, feel free to send me anything you think stands the test.  I'll give it mad props it in our Cheap Wine Monday's column.  


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