Fine wines for hard times 

It’s ironic, given the recent massive bailout of Wall Street in the guise of making nice to Main Street, that some of the best advice on inexpensive wines should come from The Wall Street Journal. “Tastings,” by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, recently examined Italian primitivos (often cited as kin to Zinfandel), and the second-favorite on their Dow Jones Primitivo Index was a Flaio 2006 Salento. It was $10.99. Forget the fickle barometers of bonds and not-so-securities; the Wine Index is a much more reliable bellwether of economic conditions.

VV tries to do its part as well, and not long ago, at a trade tasting of the wines of Georges du Beouf, “The King of Beaujolais,” several of his value-conscious wines stood out. The Flower Series labels are well known and generally readily available, so you should have some luck finding the nicely structured 2007 Chiroubles (aromas of violets and hints of herb), the 2007 Morgon with its deeper prune and black fruit, and the lusty 2007 Julienas with notes of bacon and tobacco. I suspect the Morgon Jean Descombres 2007 and the Juliénas Château des Capitans 2007 will set us back more bucks, but the added investment is worth considering. Better than putting your money into that other market.

Now, it’s true that there were some titans-of-industry-type wines at an event hosted by Bin 555 — I’m thinking here of the stunning 2004 Col Solare from Washington State, a collaboration between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Italy’s Antinori. (+/- $65). It’s marketed to retailers in six-pack allotments, but for the Joe Six Pack crowd with a wine jones, Antinori also produces Castello della Sala Bramito del Cervo Chardonnay from Umbria. Its ’06, boasting smoky minerality along with citrus qualities that recall a white Burgundy, should retail for around $14. The part-stainless, part-oak treatment gives it a food-friendly character, making eating and drinking to forget possible even under reduced circumstances.

You can both have your cake and drink it too with the new line of Layer Cake wines from the makers of the cult collectible called Hundred Acre. (These wines, an Australian shiraz and two CA cabernet sauvignons, are so exclusive they’re pedaled in 3-packs — presumably to Joséf, not Joe. Sorry, Sarah.) In contrast, the Layer Cakes, all screw-capped, should retail at around $15-$16 at such outlets as high-end HEBs, Central Market, Cost Plus and Whole Foods.

The 2006 Primitivo IGT Puglia (that Italian zin-kin again) is good, chewy stuff with tobacco, tar, and big-ripe but bone-dry fruit. It’s handpicked and hand-sorted, and if you stick with it long enough, tony truffles may emerge along with less lofty black cherry. I also found much to praise in the 2006 Côtes du Rhone, Rhône Valley syrah. It was less upfront on the nose, but blueberries emerged on the palate, followed by an earthy meatiness leavened with peppery spice. It’s hard not to agree with its makers that this wine evokes “French chefs sitting at tableside enjoying a glass with friends … ” In times of stress, wine and friends are even more important than ever.

If I was only somewhat less impressed by the 2007 Malbec Mendoza from Argentina, it was because the tasting didn’t allow enough time for this dark and brooding wine to come fully alive in the glass; its beautiful black fruit alternated with espresso and bitter chocolate, and the finish seemed to go on for days, (metaphorically, as I only had minutes.) You could let this one sit while you waited for the market to rise. Yes, that long.



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