In Wine Spectator’s recent “Top 100” issue (Dec. 31, ’09 – Jan.15 ’10), a report in the business section tells of the latest wine purchasing trend for the American wine consumer. According to the article, consumers are dealing with tough economic times by relying more on larger, more familiar domestic brands. The reasoning behind this, the article relays, is because consumers are less willing to experiment with smaller, lesser known import brands and potentially waste their money on something they may not enjoy.
Sadly, this makes (economic) sense: why take a gamble on an unknown producer and/or region that charges more for the same grape? Without taking out my wine/soap box on the matter, I can, at the very least, say this: value in wine isn’t strictly an issue of money. At the end of the day, we all need to have the necessary funds to pay bills, eat, put gas in our car, and with luck, have a few bucks left in our pocket. If your experience with wine, however, has been reduced strictly to dollars and cents, you might need to re-think, or hopefully just remember why you entered the world of wine in the first place.
Wine is one of the world’s greatest products in terms of its variety, particularly to the American consumer. Where else can you find a wine from virtually every corner of the world? If you’re not exploring these options due to a financial fear, I’m sorry to say, you’re making a BIG mistake; there are thousands of inexpensive wines from smaller producers that have a unique character and personality you’re not likely to find in many of the larger “safe bets” on the shelf. And if that bottle of cabernet from South Africa is four bucks more than your old stand-by from, say, Sonoma, isn’t that four bucks worth the opportunity to meet a new friend?
Allow me to step off my box for a second and relay another good find here in Hood River. One of the things I miss most about living in Portland is having so many wine options. In the mood for something off the beaten path from Sardinia? No problem. Got a hankering for cab franc from the Loire? Please- too easy. Maybe you’d like to try a pinot noir from New Zealand. Or better yet, save some money and go with one from Chile.
So it was with great joy that I wandered into The Wine Sellers, a small, family owned and operated shop that looks more like a B&B from the outside than an actual wine shop. I didn’t expect a lot of variety when I entered, thinking there would be the typical selection of NW wines, but nothing too different from the other, bigger stores in the area.
Not only is there an excellent variety of wines from all over the world, including sparkling and fortified, but they’re buying most of their wine from some of the more eclectic and interesting distributors in Oregon. As a perused the shelves, I noticed wines from the likes of Galaxy, Domaine Selections, Casa Bruno, Triage, Vin de Garde, Mitchell, and Lemma. These name might not mean anything to some of you, but trust me, you can travel the wine world, and travel it well with these guys. It should also be said that many of these distributors are fairly small (back on the soap box!) compared to the BIG suppliers, whose brands tend to dominate shelf spaces. And guess what a lot of those brands are? Safe bets…
I can only hope the small guys – whether they be wineries, wine shops, or distributors – don’t suffer too badly from consumers unwillingness to explore their options. Really, everybody loses in that game.
So I would encourage, even implore, hell, BEG the consumers who can’t seem to move their hand away from that bottle of Beringer chard to try this: take the time and find that cheap bottle of Macon-Villages. Challenge your wine steward to find you something different, good, and affordable- they’re all around. You just need to look past the looming shadows cast by the big boys.
With good cheer,