Tackling the Wine Debt Ceiling

July 27, 2011

The wine store was closing in ten minutes. My wife and I stood in the aisle staring at a bottle of Barbera.

“We should get it,” I said.

“Kris, we are way over budget,” she replied. We recently decided to give her a greater input on our household spending.

“So let’s just raise our wine budget,” I said. “We’ve always done that. Then we can buy more wine.”

“No. We can’t keep doing that,” she replied. “It’s time we stop being irresponsible.”

“Well if we don’t we won’t have wine for our dinners and parties,” I said. “Everything will suck and it will be your fault.”

“Hey, I’m doing us a favor,” she shot back. “It’s your fault we’re in this situation in the first place with your out-of-control wine spending. If we get this under control we’ll be able to afford more and better wine in the future.”

“Okay, how about this,” I said. “We move some money from the vacation budget to cover this bottle and then slowly repay that over the next five months with money from our food and gas account.”

“No,” she replied flatly.

“STORE CLOSES IN FIVE MINUTES,” Yelled the guy at the counter.

“Okay, then let’s just move some of the money we use for the dog’s obedience classes to cover the Barbera, and repay it with money we borrow from our 401K.”

“Kris! No!”

“You mean you’re not even going to compromise?” I asked. “Our marriage has always worked on compromise.”

“If you remember I told you I would get our budget under control. What kind of message would that send if I went back on my promise?” I had the impression she would rather see our wine cellar totally decimated than give one inch.


“Okay, we’ll just get a cheaper Barbera,” I said.


“Honey, I’m not leaving this store without some kind of Barbera,” I said sternly.

She crossed her arms and dug in her heels. “We’re not spending one more dollar on wine till we pay down that budget,” she said.


This week’s recommendation:

Cantine Valpane 2009, Monferrato Rosso Pietro ($13.99): If this week finds you tired of all things American, try this fantastic Barbera from Italy. Here, the wine makers simply did their job and found the perfect compromise between ripe, red fruits and a delicious earthiness. Try it with roast chicken.

So, Where Are You From?

July 12, 2011

I had my first experience with an East Block automobile when hitch-hiking in Germany. I believe the car may have come from the Ukraine but there was no way to tell because everything originally attached to the exterior, nameplates included, had fallen off. Two of the three door hinges were broken and it made me wonder what the engineering of the more complex areas, the steering or brakes, for example, were like. Because of the missing door handle, I closed the door by pulling on the window and quickly jerking my hand inside before it slammed. After two or three attempts the mechanism took, held for a few seconds, long enough for me to trust it and lean on it, and then opened again.

As we pulled out into the road, door still rattling, the bald tires broke free from the pavement and the car slid half sideways out into the dark, rainy night. To get around the strict German tail-pipe emission standards, it appeared the car’s manufacturers cleverly routed the worst of the exhaust out the vents in the cabin. Everything in the car’s interior smelled of burnt oil. To make matters worse, from time to time as an empty beer can rolled past the driver’s foot he tried to kick it toward a hole in the floor causing the car to swerve either toward oncoming traffic or an anorexic looking guardrail.

The car’s lights weren’t bright enough to reach the glass covers in front of them and the windshield wiper on the passenger side worked while the driver’s side did not. The driver didn’t seem to notice.

When I finally made it to my destination I turned to watch the ride leave. With a few assorted rattles and a sharp grinding noise, the car limped away behind a thick cloud of blue smoke and as it disappeared into the night I heard the faint sound of a beer can bouncing on the street.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. The East Bloc is not a region known for their elite car engineering. I mean, you don’t look to Siberia for their superb summer  patio furniture or to Somalia for their cutting edge ski wear. That’s why I was so impressed with this week’s recommendation. It comes from Minnesota, a region not typically associated with wine.

Crofut 2009, Prairie Blanc ($13.99): Made from the cold-tolerant Prairie Star and Seyval Blanc grapes, this wine shows a complexity that gives me optimism for the region’s wine future. Try it with another Minnesota classic: Walleye.

Nobody Outsnobs the Master

July 5, 2011

We noticed each other in the first minutes of the tasting and immediately both knew it was on. I held my sample by the glass stem and with my little finger held slightly out, swirled the wine while simultaneously pretending to concentrate on the tasting notes. It was the text-book double-task swirl maneuver of nonchalance—not recommended for beginners. I wanted to finish this guy off fast. The other tasters noticed and murmured their approval.

Casually he countered by placing his glass on the bar and while holding its base, quickly ran it in small circles to perform a tidy counter-clockwise, table-top swirl, silently telling me he would not go down so easily. He even stopped half way through, lifting the glass to check the wine’s color against the white table cloth before replacing it and continuing the well executed maneuver. Well played, Sir. Well played.

So it seems we’re evenly matched in the skills discipline. It will come down to knowledge. Like me, I sensed he knew only enough to be dangerous so a strong showing here would end this quickly and place me firmly on top the snob mountain where I keep my throne. I prepared my strategy, briefly reviewing in my head some answers to a wine trivia game my wife gave me for Christmas. Then just as I was about to drop the term “Veraison” on him, he executed a breech of etiquette by playing his hand first, a move normally reserved for the home-court snob.

“Hmmm. This one has acescence,” he said after tasting his sample. The crowd squirmed, sensing the challenge. The ball was in my court now. I didn’t even know what “acescence” meant but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about snobbery, it’s that no snob wants to get caught drawing a complete blank. I had to incorporate the one thing that’s saved me time and again–BS. I pulled a word out of thin air and confidently lobbed it back toward his end of the table.

“Oh, I disagree. Wines from this region often develop phlatoids that contrast any acescence.”

Like Scrabble, calling me on the word would risk being wrong and going down in flames. No, safer to play along. He held the glass up, looked at it thoughtfully,tasted again, and replied, “Yes, yes I’m tasting phlatoids now too.”

Game over. Nobody outsnobs the master.

This week’s recommendation:

Sokol Blosser, Evolution ($15.00): You don’t have to be a wine snob—or even a fake one—to appreciate the deliciousness of this wine. It sports tropical fruits, a clean finish and because it’s made with nine different grapes it’s easy to make stuff up about all of them. A perfect wine with grilled meats and salads.

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