Value Vino – Great wines for under $15 

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Great Boutique Wines You Can Buy Online
By Catherine Fallis, Robert M. Cohen
Silverback Books
$12.50, 248 pages
According to Gourmet magazine, one in every four bottles of wine sold in the U.S. is produced by E.& J. Gallo Winery. Even accounting for the slipperiness of statistics (Does a jug count as a single bottle?), this is a startling number. And while it’s true that there are some very good wines being bottled under Gallo’s multiple labels, this news should be a call to arms.

One obvious line of resistance is to seek out wines that are not bottled by E.& J. Gallo — which requires you to scrutinize the fine print, because the information is sometimes well-concealed. Another is to keep on buying the obscure wines, domestic and foreign, this column is fond of recommending. The obvious limitation of this approach is that the more obscure the wine, the less likely it is to be available in San Antonio — but there are ways around this up-with-the-underdog dilemma.

The first is to give in to the exhortations of wine-club mailings. “I travel the world in the search of unknown wines at incredible prices … and send them straight to you for only $XX per month plus `undivulged` shipping costs. Satisfaction `and a free wine tote` guaranteed … but only if you respond within 10 days!!” Although I fall for cookbook promotions on a routine basis, I’m not a fan of subscriptions. But wait, there’s more!

The “more” in this case is the opportunity to order wine by fax, mail, or internet and have it shipped to you at your own pace. The legislature recently legalized this method, allowing each of us to “import” into the Sovereign State of Texas three gallons every 30 days. A new guidebook will help you do just that with some degree of confidence in the product. Great Boutique Wines You Can Buy Online was written by Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis (author of the Grape Goddess Guides to Good Living), and Robert M. Cohen, well-known wine writer and, incidentally, lawyer. Their goal is to put the fruits of America’s small-production wineries in reach of anyone with a computer and a credit card. Here’s their claim: “Whether organic, biodynamic, unusual varietals, or just plain great deals, the wines listed here are some of the best in the country. Most are from small, family-owned wineries with production around 5,000 cases.”

The slender tome is not just a Google list of mom-’n’-pop producers; the authors have tasted wines from each winery listed, and recommend one from each — the assumption presumably being that if you like one of a winemaker’s babies, you might like another as well. Fallis and Cohen are not without bias, admitting a preference for leaner, food-friendly wines over King Kong cabs, but they offer serious tasting guidelines so you can develop your own personal bias.

One of my current preferences is for Washington State syrahs, in short supply in SA, so I first looked to see if the guide offered a geographical breakdown; it does not, though ferreting the Washington wines out of the syrah category proved easy enough). Wines are organized as they might be on a restaurant list: whites first, lighter to fuller, then rosés and reds in the same order. (Reds dominate, by the way — another bias or just the nature of small-lot production?)

In the Unusual Whites/Blends category, for example, you will find wines from all over the country — CA to KY and NY to TX — and grapes that run the gamut from chardonnel to rousanne. And though I suspect comments such as “Excellent with homemade chicken pot pie” are shaded a little obviously to point of production, there is something to be said for acknowledging terroir in all its manifestations.

On another front, California dominates small-scale sangiovese production, though there’s a maverick in New Mexico. But again, it’s in the Unusual Reds/Blends category that the diversity of wine production in America is most apparent: You won’t find wines made from the native norton grape (sometimes called “cabernet of the Ozarks”) on just any supermarket shelf. This is the challenge and the opportunity presented by Great Boutique Wines. As the authors say, “Wine, like life, is an adventure. Take the plunge!” 


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