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Having Your Cake-and Eating It!
By John Anderson
Sep 28, 2022
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I was having lunch the other day with a lifelong friend of mine who happens to be a retired Foreign Service officer.  We got to talking about all the usual things:  Books, baseball and the movies, politics…and wine.  He told me that when he was posted in Brussels, he took a wine course tutored by a well-known Belgian wine merchant.  “The Belgians really are very knowledgeable about wine,” he told me.  “They love their wines—French wines in particular.”  At a tasting of high-end, classed growth Bordeaux, his wine counselor advised him:  “These are the wines you want you to be offered by someone who can afford them! … and these are the wines you can afford to buy for yourself!”

My friend’s advice to his now-adult son: “Skip the $10-15 wines and pay the extra $10.  You won’t get as much wine, but the wine you do get will be much better!”

On the drive back to the house, I got to thinking about this mostly very good advice.  The Belgian wine merchant was certainly correct!  But there is also much to be said about finding—and then buying—cases of good $15-$20 per bottle everyday wines.  They do exist, you know!

There’s also a lot to be said in favor of buying the odd bottle of this and that, rather than by-the-case purchases.  You can, over time, learn a great deal about a great many different wines that way.  And, for most of my adult life, I have profited in just this manner.  

That said, almost from the beginning of my life in wine, I have bought by the case when I could, occasionally when I was in my twenties, frequently once I reached…maturity!  I got to “know” those wines intimately, and I learned an immense amount about wine that way.  They became my “house” wines—my everyday drinking wines.  

Of course, they were $5-$6 a bottle house wines, but they were often superb: A Louis Latour Mâcon-Lugny “Les Genièvres” here, a Dr. Fischer Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett there—both of which I could—and do —recommend to this day.  

The days of the $5-$6 a bottle house wines are long gone.  But by searching about and by reading and tasting carefully, you can still pick-up really good red and white house wines for $15 or so a bottle—once the usual 10-15% case discount has been applied to the purchase price.  That is why it pays to read the wine store emails in your box, the ones that promise bargains.  Many of these, needless to say, aren’t bargains; but sometimes….  

Personally, I look for offers from major retailers with good, solid, longstanding reputations for experience and honesty, such as Astor Wines in Manhattan; never more so than when the offer is something like 15-20% off on all red or white Burgundies, all their wines from Alsace, or “Alternatives to Champagne.”  That sort of thing.  And then I pounce!

Yes, you can still get Crémant d’Alsace and Crémant de Bourgogne for under $20 a bottle—maybe, occasionally, as low as $15 a bottle when on sale—the obvious example being the consistently delicious Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé from Lucien Albrecht, which is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes and is crisp and refreshing, with the “snap” of good Pinot carrying the day.   And you can certainly get Alsace blends at that price (sometimes even lower, say $13 a bottle on sale).  Here, the first names that come to mind are my two old stand-bys, Domaine Kuentz-Bas, for their Alsace “Tradition,” and Hugel, for their “Gentil,” both of which deliver consistent value, year after year.  

That said, the magic words to look for really are:  “On Sale.”  Typically, a broad across-the-board kind of sale on the wines of a specific region or nation.  

I was thinking about this the other day when one of my favorite retailers put its entire stock of French still red wines on sale for 20% off—one day only.  This wasn’t even a sale by the case.  You could walk into the store and buy one bottle or dozens of bottles, and the discount would still apply.  

I bought as widely and as generously as I could afford to at the time, focusing as I often do these days on Beaujolais, and, especially, the crus of Beaujolais:  Saint Amour, Fleurie, Juliénas and Côte-de-Brouilly, among them.  I’ve already discussed the wines of the latter village in this column, but I hope to address the rest of the villages, one by one, over the next year or so.  This is where the greatest value still lies in Burgundy reds.  The wines I purchased—on sale—ranged from $15 to just over $20; and they were all wines from well-known, indeed top, small growers in the crus and all from the 2019 and, mostly, 2020 vintages: Fleurie “Les Vieux Granits” from the Château du Châtelard; Juliénas “Tradition” from Michel and Sylvain Tête’s Domaine du Clos du Fief; and the same family’s single vineyard “Les Capitans” in Saint-Amour; the Domaine des Billards, also in Saint-Amour; and Nicolle Chanrion’s wonderful Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes from the Côte-de-Brouilly.  

When a similar 15-20% sale next comes on line for still white French wines, I expect to hone in on small grower Chablis and the wines of Alsace, good bourgeois Graves whites, and small grower Bourgogne Blanc.  Among the wines on my hit list are the basic 2020 Chablis from Isabelle and Denis Pommier (about $22 when on sale); and two excellent 2020 Bourgogne Blancs, those of the outstanding growers Alain Chavy (in Puligny) and Pernot-Bellicard (in Meursault), both around $20-$25.   Good white Graves in the $15-$18 range is hard to find, but, when on sale, Kermit Lynch’s offering from Château Graville-Lacoste fits the bill—and is hard to beat.  

In the meantime, I’ll content myself to buy by the case, which will almost always get you a 10% discount, and search for the elusive—hopefully not too elusive—$15 or so a bottle white house wine.  My current choice:  The 2020 Bourgogne Chardonnay “Kimmeridgien” from Jean-Marc Brocard (about $16 a bottle).  It’s domaine-bottled by Brocard, who is one of the leading growers in Chablis, and is said, by various retailers, to be declassified Chablis.  I believe it.  Indeed, I’d put it up against a number of small grower Chablis that I recently bought for about $25 the bottle.  

The Brocard “Kimmeridgien” is light, flinty, un-oaked and persistent on the palate.  Needless to say, it’s also the product of a really great white vintage in Burgundy—the best, in my opinion, since 2010.  (Generally speaking, I’d avoid the 2018 white Burgundies, and, especially, the Chablis.  It was a hot vintage, and all too many of the whites lack acidity and grip.  A recent bottle of a well-known négoce’s ’18 Chablis Premier Cru was fat, flabby and borderline vapid.  I didn’t regret buying it—it came heavily discounted as part of a package deal—but I also didn’t get any sort of thrill from it.)  I would a helluva lot rather have sipped on the Brocard!  And I think will—this very night!


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