Confessions of a wine Locust, a.k.a. Want to find a good value Cabernet? Try Merlot.
I am a member of a group of wine consumers that are the locusts of value wines. We descend on a wine that we perceive as a real value, and then, once the wine becomes more popular and hence more expensive, we move on to the next target and veraciously consume that until there is value no more. It’s not that we want this to happen…it just happens.
It’s that darn supply and demand thing. So if one wants to find value wines, it pays to seek out these wines early in their price evolution. That means opening one’s mind to new varietals, regions, producers. But I promise you that if you do that, you will be rewarded with great wines that deliver great value.
I have spent most of my life as a wine consumer, rather than a wine bar/restaurant owner (I was Cuvée Consumer long before I was Cuvée Ray). I therefore have spent a good deal of my wine-consuming life descending like the wine locust I am on restaurants and wine shops and I am pleased to pass on a few tips I have learned over the years (btw, these tips work well at Cuvée Ray…they should…I had them in mind when creating the wine list!!).
First and foremost: OPEN YOUR MIND! There is a world of great wine out there at every price point that is just waiting to be found, tasted, enjoyed before they are “discovered” by the masses which unfortunately results in higher prices.
Let’s look at one wine that many of us know and love, and love as a great example of how to find value (in all honesty, we are at the tail end of the value part for this wine but it can still work).
First, I realize that sometimes only a Napa Valley Cabernet will do. And sometimes when I am out with special carnivorous friends who I know would appreciate a one-of-a-kind wine experience, only a top tier Napa Cab will do. But there are other times…many other times… when one’s first instinct is Napa Cab, as it is a familiar friend and we carry with us Miles’ (of Sideways’ fame) infamous warning that he is not drinking “any F@#*ing Merlot) when in fact, that f@#*ing Merlot will be a great choice. Merlot is a close relative of Cabernet, just usually a bit softer and less aggressive. But given the panoply of winemaker and geographical induced differences in styles, many a wine drinker would be hard pressed sometimes to tell the difference between a Cab and a Merlot.
And why do Merlots tend to be better values than Cabernet? Well, in part, that good old supply and demand that underlies this whole value thing, and you can also thank Miles for that (as a consequence of that infamous line, Merlot sales dropped 20%). And the price of wine has everything to do with the cost of grapes, and because of the great demand for Napa Cab, the price of Cabernet grapes is very high and that high price is passed on to the wineries who pass it on to the distributors, who pass it on to restaurants and wine shops. So if you are looking for that Cab dark berry experience but can live with more mellow tannin, give Merlot a try (it also goes with many more different foods than a big Cabernet, so if you want a wine that will go with various dishes being ordered by your table, Merlot is a great choice!)
So, the key to finding value is trying to find great wines that are in less demand, perhaps from less publicized, less famous wine regions. Again, it’s that supply and demand thing. Here are some quick examples:
Love Champagne but hate the price, try Cava from Spain
Love Sauvignon Blanc but don’t like the price creep, try Torrontes from Argentina (different grape than Sauvignon blanc but most Sauvignon Blanc drinkers I know, love Torrontes)
Love Chateauneuf du Pape but don’t want to take out a bank loan to buy it, try Gigondas
Love expensive white Burgundy, but don’t want to raid your retirement savings, try Russian River or Central Coast Chardonnay
Love Napa Cabernets, as mentioned earlier try Merlot…but want more big fruit…try Zinfandel…want more structure, try a Washington State Cabernet.
A list like this can go on forever, as one explores wines from vineyards just outside of a famous in-demand wine region, wine producers who Robert Parker has not yet bestowed 90 points upon, different varietals that are in the same ballpark taste and experience wise to what you like. But this means having to memorize all these obscure regions, producers and varietals, right? That’s why God invented your friendly wine merchant or server. Tell them what you are looking for. Ask them for the wines that the wine locusts have not yet descended upon. Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions. Start a wine conversation with your wine merchant or server! Trust me, they love talking about wine and that’s what they are there for. Explore and you will be rewarded with value wines you will love.
Mention the phrase “Wine Locust” to let your server know that you have read this week’s Cuvée Ray: Uncorked and get 10% off this week’s Cuvée Ray: Uncorked Flight of the Week!