Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Naked Vine sprouts

The August 2006 issue of Gourmet magazine has a sidebar – “Best Wines for Grilling.” Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy that magazine. I leaf through it every month. I’m an amateur foodie – and I love new ideas. That said, when the cheapest recommended selection on a rack of pinots to accompany your freshly flame-caressed breaded pork chop is close to $30, something’s amiss.

I love good wine. And I’m willing to splurge from time to time – but my basement doesn’t look like the wine cellar at DaVeed’s. I generally want something I can enjoy but also actually afford on an average salary. Truth be told, that’s not difficult – but guidance helps. A friend of mine whom I’ll shamelessly plagiarize, once said, “The trick isn’t finding a good $50 bottle. The trick is finding a good $10 bottle.”

I agree wholeheartedly. Thus, The Naked Vine is born.

If you’re someone who doesn’t want to worry about “notes of cigar box and elderberry” when it’s 90 degrees and you’re trying to keep your grilled corn from burning, or if you aren’t in search of a wine with the complexity of a Martin Scorsese film as you’re kicking back at the end of another crushing day at the office, my hope is that you'll find something useful here.

According to the California-based Wine Institute, of the 165.1 million cases of wine sold in the United States in 2005, only 11.5% of that total was in what was considered the "ultra premium" category -- upwards of $14 a bottle. However, those wines dominate most of the wine reviews you'll read. Perusing the major epicurean magazines (Gourmet, Food &Wine, Wine Spectator, etc.) a reader is hard pressed to find more than two or three bottles discussed under that price.

My goal is to offer you a couple of suggestions for everyday consumption each week or so. Everything I select for us will be under $15. I’ll be looking for wines that are easy to drink, easy to get to know, and generally easy to find. I won’t be writing exhaustive tasting notes. My aim isn't to pick up Paul Giamatti’s now-legendary “flutter of edam cheese.” I just want to give you a broad idea of what to expect – so take my analysis with a grain of salt (or a cracker).

This, logically, brings us back around to those first paragraph chops. To start, here are a few pretty flexible wines that hold their own with just about anything you want to put on the grill. Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel are the most common varietals to drink with grilled meats. (note: "varietal" is WineSpeak for "type of grape used in wine") I’ll leave them behind for now. I’ll come back to them when the weather cools a bit.

Castle Rock 2005 Pinot Noir – Thanks to the already referenced “Sideways” – pinot noir prices have gone through the roof in the last couple of years (counterbalanced by the plunge in demand for merlot – which is a subject for another day...). Inexpensive, good pinots have virtually disappeared from the market. When one comes along, it’s smart to enjoy it while you can. Got seasoned chicken or a nice pork chop – or even marinated, grilled tofu? Try this one. Castle Rock reminds me of a slow walk in a cherry orchard, fragrant and silky. I get a little plum in a flavor that’s “thicker” than a lot of pinots – perfect for the backyard. Nice and mild. A $10-12 bottle.

J. Lohr 2003 Riverstone Chardonnay – another winner at right around $10-12, The Lohr chardonnay – crisp, sweet nose – some apple, perhaps. A little sweet when it first hits your tongue, but that sweetness settles out quickly into the buttery taste and citrus that this chard is known for. The long oaky finish would go exceptionally well with grilled fish, chicken, pork, or veggies. Like most chardonnays (and most whites, for that matter), it shouldn’t be ice cold. Unlike the beer in your cooler, it’s best to let this wine warm up a little bit. Cold compresses the flavor of wine – you get the full flavor if it’s around 50 degrees or so.

Altos 2005 Malbec – Got meat? Love steak, ribs, or other big juicy slabs that hearken back to Neanderthal man? Altos Malbec, a great addition to the wine market from Argentina, is the perfect wine for you. Argentineans love big meat dishes – a friend of mine who journeyed there recently had a chance to dine on a 20 oz. filet. Malbec was used as a blending wine by the French and Spanish – but rarely stood on its own until something magical happened when the vine was imported to the Andes. While not as big as a cabernet sauvignon or a zinfandel (not white zinfandel, mind you) – this wine comes at you big and fruity – pepper and ripe berries. This wine has a nice amount of tannin (which is that not-quite-bitter taste you get from red wines), which allows it to accompany anything that’s been drawn over the coals. Altos tastes a little chocolatey, a little peppery, and gives you a nice additional dose of that berry taste. I’ve seen Altos for around $8 a bottle, which I believe is an absolute steal. Truth be told, this has been my favorite “grillin’ wine” for the last two summers.

Until next time…prost.


JenJen said...

Prost, Mike! Great idea for a site. I'll be reading. :-)

JettieSatellite, The_Wizard of Covington said...

Speaking of Argentina...

That wine we had a couple of months back, Root, was the best twelve dollar cab I've ever tasted. Hell, it was the best thirty dollar cab I've ever tasted.

I haven't seen it at my usual wine haunt, Liquor Direct, but if anybody sees this nectar in its beautifully rendered bottle, let me know.


DrPuma said...

The recommendations you gave me at Liquor Direct were very good. I gave my brother, who has very expensive taste in wines, a bottle of the Casa de Sol (the one from Santa Cruz) which he already knew and liked. Here's one for you: Los Vascos. I can get it at Spec's in Houston for $9.

Unknown said...


Looks like I am your first DBR-refered reader. Looks like a very interesting blog. I wanted to add about the Altos Malbec and say that Malbecs have been my favorite red since 2000 when I had the opportunity to go to Argentina. They weren't that common here back then, and it ha been great to see them trickle in. My favorite (Luigi Bosca) has yet to show up, but it excites me to see so many Argentine malbecs here.

The key element in a malbec to me is the peppery/berry taste. My guess is that this comes from the region in Argentina, but I have heard of a good California malbec (the name escapes me) - have you heard anything about that?

The Naked Vine said...

There are a few malbecs in California -- it's a pretty small amount, though -- and the limited quantity makes it pretty pricey if they're going to do a full blown varietal. The best California Malbec I've had was from Selby, but I bought that when I was in Sonoma, and I don't know how widely distributed it is.

surviving revival said...

I had a glass of Altos Malbec last week with baked chicken. I had no idea that it was only $8 a bottle. You're right, it is a steal.

JettieSatellite, The_Wizard of Covington said...

My bad, folks...Root:1 Cabernet is chilean, and Liquor Direct has it in. mmmmm.

Anonymous said...

Dear The Nekkid Vine,

Thank you for the great suggestions. My people have already invested in some of them.
This leaves more food for me.

Molly Beagle