Monday, December 05, 2016

Ten Years On

Psst…stick with me and I’ll tell you a big wine secret. But before I do, I’m going to take a little me-time.

The Sweet Partner in Crime and I bonded early in our relationship over the “Windows on the World Complete Wine Course” – a book by Kevin Zraly which included information about wines of all countries and, most importantly, appropriate foods to pair with those wines. We cooked and drank up a storm.
The Naked Vine Team then...

Then we took a trip together to Sonoma County and wine truly became part of our lifestyle. The die was cast on our oenological obsession for the next decade. Zins and Pinots, Cabs and Chardonnays, Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc – we worked our way through regions and grapes willy-nilly, loving the learning of it all.

Then came the infamous happy hour at a local place called the Beer Sellar. An old friend dropped the line that became my mantra. I quote my buddy Scott: “It’s easy to find a good fifty-dollar bottle of wine. The trick is to find a good ten-dollar bottle of wine.”

The Naked Vine sprouted from the Stone IPA-drenched corners of my mind. I built the blog and posted my first column not long after, back in the days when the Internet wasn’t accessible from most phones, much less your refrigerator or thermostat. The idea of being a “blogger” still had a certain geek stigma. In tasting rooms, wineries didn’t really know what to make of someone who wrote “where only a few people could read it.”

Times changed. I pumped out my content, did a little self-promotion, and was lucky enough to have my then-online-only column picked up by several print outlets, which I felt finally gave me some legitimacy.

Everything didn’t go smoothly at first. I was still learning about wine (and I still am, honestly!) as I was cranking out columns, so I made some early mistakes. I wrote a column once where I mixed up Burgundy and Bordeaux, stating the latter was made from pinot noir. (It’s not.) I name checked Rioja multiple times as a Spanish grape. (It’s not.) And I can’t tell you how many times I misspelled Riesling. (Still do.)

The SPinC and I ate picked up steam and our palates improved enough to be dangerous. I got asked to sample some wines before they went into wide release from time to time, which is cool.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet some truly intriguing people. From pourers at tasting rooms to winemakers and grape growers, there aren’t many industries where you’ll meet as broad a spectrum of humanity. They’ve all got fascinating stories. Almost none of them intended to go into the wine industry. In previous lives, they were engineers, chefs, bankers, artists – all of whom got seduced along the way by The Grape.

We’ve watched wine trends come and go – watching chardonnay go from big and buttery to thin and unoaked and back again. High alcohol Zinfandel gave way to lighter-styled, earthy pinots. Merlot has finally started to come back out from under its Sideways-placed rock. And the breadth of “Old World” wine has expanded beyond Italy, France, and Germany to any number of other countries in the EU and Eurasia. If you like options, there’s never been a better time to be a wine drinker.

That brings us to today. So, you ready for the secret? You wanna know the One Big Thing I’ve learned over the last decade?

Finding a decent $10 bottle of wine isn’t tricky anymore.

When I’ve written in this space about countries expanding and modernizing their respective wine industries, the regular refrain is, “Improvements in technology have increased the quality and output of [insert country]’s wine.” This technological improvement allowed South America, Australia, and other countries to export very decent juice at low cost.

As decent, low cost wine from the global marketplace began filling store US shelves, large domestic winemakers realized that they couldn’t continue mass producing cheap-ass, low quality plonk when a discerning drinker could slap seven or eight bucks down on the counter for a decent bottle of Malbec from Argentina or Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Overall quality kept rising.

These days, stores are filled with decent, inexpensive wines. Mind you, these aren’t the greatest wines on the planet. Fifteen to twenty dollars is the general price point where there’s a real jump in a wine’s caliber, and these less expensive wines aren’t usually all that distinguishable from one another except in label design. For ten smackers, though, you’re not likely to crack a bottle and say, “That’s completely awful.”

The Naked Vine Team now.
Take heart, wine cheapskates. Until climate change pushes wine production north to England and Scandinavia, you’re going to find plenty of flat-out drinkable, non-wallet-busting juice. Buy with confidence.

With all that in mind, I’m proud to say that this little corner of the wine world is still going strong. There’s always something new – new production techniques, new grapes, new blends – coming down the pike. The Naked Vine will be here to help you navigate as long as my liver holds out.

I’d like to offer my hearty thanks to the hundreds (thousands, some days) of people who make their way to the Vine each day for some oenological nugget or other. It’s still my pleasure to be drinkin’ with you. 

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