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What I've Been Drinking Lately: The Devil Made Me Do It!
By John Anderson
Dec 7, 2021
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A very wise friend of mine always counsels me to buy more wine than I think I can afford.  “Look,” he will say knowingly, “eventually you are going to have to replace what you have.  So now, would you rather pay full price for a bottle or even three or four bottles?  Or would you prefer to get a 10%, 15% or even 20% discount by the case?”  But what—I reply—if my Significant Other were to notice those newly piled-up cases and complain about my continued improvidence?  “Just say the Devil made you do it!  He’s a very smart fellow, that Devil!”  

My friend The Doctor (and the Devil, apparently as well) lives in the Bay State and thus profits from that state’s retailers often offering a generous 20% discount on mixed cases.   And with no state tax on wine, beer or liquor, that makes for the Devil’s Very Own Deal, IMHO.  

There are, however, other good reasons to buy by the case—or at least by the six-pack (which in many places will get you a 10% discount).  I was reminded of this over the past week or so as I began retasting some Bargain Basement favorites, the kind of wines that I keep around as House Wines for everyday drinking.  

What I discovered (well, I knew as much, but it’s always good to be reminded of these things) was that even your $15 bottle of wine—if it’s well made by a good producer—evolves over time.  Put another, simpler way:  Wine changes in bottle.  And you don’t have to open a 1982 Château Mouton-Rothschild to discover the magical transformation of wine having been cellared for a reasonable amount of time.  Of course, if anyone would care to share a bottle of their precious 1982 Château Mouton-Rothschild at age 40, I am always up for that kind of exercise as well!

No, the wines I tasted, not for the first time (nor last), came from my cellar after having been bought by the case, most of them at a 15% solid case discount (but with painful New York State and County taxes attached—just shy of 10%).  

I dedicated myself to wines I’d bought by the case, at least six months prior to opening.  And I learned a lot from the exercise.
Bottles of 2016 white and 2011 red Lacroix-Martillac—purchased in the Bay State when by the case at a 20% discount and no taxes—had indeed evolved—and, to my taste, profited by the extra time in bottle.  When I first tasted these wines—a year and a half ago, at Cape Cod—the red was already well on its way to maturity, but not quite there yet and still with a certain merlot character to it, while the white showed more Sauvignon Blanc than Sémillon.  It was fresh and appealing but not quite as elegant as perhaps I’d hoped.  Well, time does work wonders!  Tasted this past week, the red was recognizably Cabernet Sauvignon, though also still quite firm in character; while the white had taken on a mellower, ever more minerally character that emphasized the Sémillon in the white blend.   What, to me, was most interesting was how the soil and the grapes showed themselves.  The 40% Sémillon had begun to triumph over the 60% Sauvignon Blanc.  In a word, it showed its hand, its…class.  And the 55% or so Cabernet Sauvignon, equally triumphed over the merlot in the red blend.  History, terroir, tradition in the bottle!  As befits the second wines of a Graves Grand Cru Classé (rouge et blanc)—the marvelous old Kressmann property, Château LaTour-Martillac—these were both classy and polished wines.  Absolutely terrific value for $20-$25 a bottle.  And no taxes!  I would have loved to have put lamb chops on the grill for the red—but it was a blustery kind of late fall day and night had come all too soon—so dreams of medium-rare (more rare than medium, please!) lamb chops gave way to a crisp roast chicken out of the oven.  The white was so delicious on its own that I let it be the apéritif for consecutive nights, though I think it would in truth have been splendid with diver scallops from Provincetown or with a dozen or more oysters from Wellfleet.  

“Lune d’Argent” from Clos des Lunes is the product of a fascinating project overseen by the Bernard family, owners of the great Domaine de Chevalier, also in the Pessac-Léognan region of the Graves.  The grapes (again featuring the glory of Sémillon, 70% of the blend) come from one of the Premier Cru Sauternes sites, but are only allowed the Bordeaux Blanc A.C. since dry rather than traditional sweet Sauternes.  The resultant wine, it should be added, vastly exceeds one’s expectations of this “lowly” A.C.  I bought a case at about $15 a bottle (plus tax).  The 2017 has evolved beautifully, having really begun to open, on the nose in particular.  The wine was always dry, but it’s become more minerally on the palate, and now also features a beguiling whiff of acacia honey on the nose.  Tremendous value for what it is.  

The bargain basement Alsace blend from Kuentz-Bas is a longtime Château Anderson favorite.  The exact blend changes from year to year, but, in general, is based on the underrated Sylvaner grape.  The 2018 came in at 65% Sylvaner, 15% Muscat, 10% Pinot Gris, and 10% Gewürztraminer (and 13.5% stated alcohol).  I have bought and tasted many vintages of this wine (imported by Kermit Lynch) and never been in the least dissatisfied.  The price is keen ($12 - $15 a bottle on case sale), and the wine is lip-smackingly delicious, an absolutely wonderful apéritif in spring, summer and fall, and an exceptionally versatile food wine in winter.   Grilled chicken immediately comes to mind, but any kind of Alsatian cooking—beginning with quiche—would make for a perfect pairing.  The wine itself has firmed-up a bit over time and now is in its prime, a tribute to the master blender’s art.

Finally, there’s a “lowly” Beaujolais-Villages from Maison Tête, which I purchased in both the 2019 and 2020 vintages.  About $14 - $15 a bottle when bought by the solid case.  Well, let me tell you something:  There’s nothing in the least “lowly” about this wine, imported by Skurnik.  The grapes come from Michel and Sylvain Tête’s own Domaine du Clos du Fief located in Juliénas—and the location of the vineyard (“La Roche”) shows.  Tasted blind, I don’t think I’d ever take it for a Beaujolais-Villages.  It has Beaujolais cru written all over it, with all the capacity to age that that suggests.  Time in bottle brought out the character of the ripe fruit (dark cherries, plums, a touch of spice) and a texture which only improved and grew finer over time.  I’m down to my last bottle of the ’19 and am starting on the ‘20s, which might even be better.  We’ll see! I am excited about this “mere” Beaujolais-Villages wine!

Now imagine if these actually were some of the top wines from Bordeaux—Cru Classé Pessac-Léognan, for example—or Alsace Grand Cru Riesling.  Then truly there would be a magical transformation wrought by time in the cellar.  But even so, here in these “humble” wines, we get more than just an inkling of the glory that age alone can accomplish.  

And at such a good price!

So, yes, the Devil made me do it!  How lucky to have such a wine-loving devil for a friend!


Read more wine columns:    John Anderson