Stuck in the Middle.

I just read, with some envy I might add, a report on a dinner of quite expensive wines. The wines themselves aren’t terribly important, though for full disclosure they did include some La- La wines from Guigal, those impressively yet overpriced Cote Rotie, a few first growth Bordeaux, a pair of Grand Cru wines from Joseph Drouhin, and the obligatory aged Champagne. 

Today it’s the envy, and not so much the wines that I would like to talk about. Presumably on the same night as my friend indulged to excess I has tasted through a flight of white Bordeaux under $15 and had chosen the absolutely terrific $11 bottle of 2012 Chateau la Perriere, a 100% Semillon bottling that clocks in at 12% alcohol, for my dinner. Dinner was Hawaiian style ribs, marinated in ginger, garlic, jalapeno, onion, pineapple juice and soy sauce, slow smoked with mesquite and served along with a classic Greek salad and some grilled eggplant rounds topped with Feta and oregano. 
Dinner was fabulous. It missed nothing, the wine was perfect and appropriate for the meal, quickly drained as we ate on the patio. I did not want another wine during dinner, and did not even think about any other wines while enjoying it. It was a joyous little bottle that I scored 87pts.


And then I read the notes my friend put together about his dinner and those pangs of envy crept in. Until I realized a few things. 


For starters, I don’t even really like the La-Las nor aged Champagne that much. A great bottle of Bordeaux is always a treat, and Drouhin does produce some absolutely seductive Burgundies, but it’s not like any of the wines shared by and with my friends that evening were wines I had some primordial need to taste. In fact I have tasted nearly all of them before, and here I might seem a bit douchy, for lack of a better word, but I have better wines than those enjoyed that night in my cellar.


And yet with my dinner I still would have, and did opt for, the lowly little white Bordeaux.


My friend doesn’t write about lowly little bottles of white Bordeaux. In fact he rarely writes about anything that costs less than about $35. When he does write, it is about wines that will get someone jealous, which begs the questions why he is writing about these dinners in the first place, but I am nothing if not equally guilty on that front so lets leave that discussion for another day.


Today I was focusing on envy, but more importantly the passing of that envy. I have found myself increasing stuck in the middle of the wine world. With one foot avidly endorsing $15 bottles of wine while the other pulls unrelentingly towards wines that are prohibitively expensive for so many.  I have to consider myself fortunate that I have found myself here. A very large part of what I do, this writing about and rating of wines, is done, not intentionally but in practice, to validate people’s closely held beliefs. There is something in the ego of man that makes him want to be good at things, and for some bizarre reason many of us think that being good at wine means being able to enjoy, and perhaps speak about in some intelligent way, wines that are expensive and rare.


It is a stupid, divisive, and elitist view that has always been the bane of the wine world and the fact that so few people can have such a profound effect on this business is troubling, but it is what it is.


The saddest part of all this is that all of these experts, self appointed and otherwise, rarely explore the wines that the world is in fact drinking. I’ve arbitrarily classified these wines as the under $15 crowd, and typically they begin at around $8. Less than that and we tend to be completely immersed in commodity wines that, while sometimes pleasant, are generally constructed for consistency so they lack some of the variation and evolution in the bottle that more artisanal wines provide.


Have I been fooled by these wines in the past? Most certainly I have, but as I think back on the top values I’ve enjoyed over the past year what I am most powerfully struck by is the sheer quality one can find, albeit after a tasting through a case or more of comparable wines, at this modest price point. A price point that many influential palates don’t bother with.


So what? Here’s so what. For starters, I can understand all the glory in a fabulous bottle of one of the greatest wines on earth. And, to use an example most closely linked with my experience, I can understand paying $300 for a great bottle of Barolo even though you can get a terrific bottle for $40. Now imagine for a moment if you could get that quality at $15. The calculus begins to break down a bit, doesn’t it?


Of course there is no $15 bottle of Barolo. But there are plenty of delicious $15 bottles of wine out there and sometimes, like when you are having spicy ribs and greek salad for dinner, looking into one of those makes more sense than cracking a $300 bottle. 


Of course all these decisions are personal, and frankly a $300 bottle to some people I know isn’t much different than a $15 bottle would be to other friends. Remember, I was writing about envy when I started this column, and I am returning to it now. Envy is both a difficult and troubling emotion to deal with, but when it comes to wine, it should be less problematic that at other times.


You see, there is only so much pleasure and joy a glass of wine can bring us. Some of that is derived from price, rarity and exclusivity, but that is all bullshit. Most of the pleasure in wine should come from the simple way it makes us feel. How it pairs with our food, refreshes the palate, stimulates conversation, and feels going down our gullets. I often get too intellectually involved with my wine, though regularly tasting value priced wine is absolving me of that sin. 


Being stuck in the middle is making it easier for me to pass up all those expensive wines, for they do little more than the best of the value bunch. And in fact, when I do try to enjoy a great wine or several, I share them with friends.  I have found that they are all too often thrust into some vinous competition even among friends, forced to prove their worth, and inherently the owners worth as well, at these big indulgent dinners that are no longer terribly fun, the joy of novelty and discovery now being mostly of my past, nor are they the best way to honor and enjoy the greatest of wines.


So what is my point then? 


There is no need for envy, at least on my part. And while you may have not tasted the great wines you read about, rest assured they are generally not as great and grand as they have been made out to be. They are, at the end of the day, just bottles of wines. Made hyper expensive by the fragile needs of men more than their inherent grandness.


Nonetheless they should be sampled if possible. It is worth knowing these wines so that you can be even more satisfied with the greatest value wines, knowledge being the greatest weapon to combat envy.  


Make the effort to try these wines when you can and when it might be rewarded. Try the greatest wines you can, they will often amaze, but if you can do it blind, when the amazement might come more rarely. And if you can’t, don’t fret I am finding my joy and discovery these days in the great values, not the great classics. There is more terrific wine out there to be unearthed, and it will more fun finding $15 wines that wine amateurs will enthusiastically slurp down with a dinner of ribs in the backyard than saving and spending one’s money and expectations only to be disappointed on both fronts. 


And here, finally, is the real point of all this 


I’m going to save a couple of lucky folks both effort and distress. 


I have always been a huge proponent of wine philanthropy. Born while I was in retail, when it became obvious that a whole generation of wine professionals were growing up without access to the classics, my philosophy of sharing great wines with those who might otherwise not have been able to do so continues to be an important part of how I approach wine.


I suggest we plan a Stuck in the Middle Night for this fall. A date to be determined. The premise is simple. Find like minded folks and share wines with them. If you have something special to share, say a great bottle of Bordeaux, simply ask your friends to join you, and perhaps suggest to them that they bring their favorite value priced bottle of Bordeaux. I think in the end we will all be surprised by the joy we will find in each of these bottles. So what do you think? 


Will you participate in Stuck in the Middle Night 2014?


It will be a wonderful evening that we will all come away from richer in many ways. Some will have the satisfaction of sharing great wines, others the joy in experiencing those wines, but all on some fundamental level should realize that no matter what shows up at the table, they will simply be bottles of wine.


Source: Snooth – Articles


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