Screaming good deals – Reds for the summer grill! (Cotes du Rhone and California Merlot)

The weather is getting warmer, and peoples’ palates are starting to consider summer whites and rose’, but hey, you still need some reds for those perfect summer evenings with THE GRILL!   So here are two widely available reds that should fill the role nicely, impress your friends, while not breaking the bank

Bouachon Cotes du Rhone Les Rabasieres 2012 – this wine will find its way to my summer wine stash, probably a case or more!   There is much to recommend this humble Cotes du Rhone.   Just the look of the sturdy bottle with the attractive label gives it ‘curb appeal’.  With its floral nose and muscular body, the fruit reaches deeper than expected for such an inexpensive wine.  Is it as round and complex as a good Chateauneuf du Pape?  As rustic as the best Gigondas? No, but that is ok, because hints of both Chateauneuf and Gigondas exist in this wine. The trademark rustic Rhone-grip balanced with such depth of fruit flavor give this red wine all the indicators that it is a quality Southern Rhone wine.  In some respects it might have too much character for some people – and that’s fine – more for the rest of us! When setting up the grill this summer, think about how this Bouachon Cotes du Rhone’s deep, ripe, red raspberry fruit flavors with the powerful grip and finish make it the perfect match to grilled protein (steak!) or hard and blue cheeses – not a bashful wine, don’t be bashful buying it!  (PLCB Code: 33672 Bouachon Cotes du Rhone Les Rabasieres 2012 $9.99 widely available)

Wente Family Estate Merlot Sandstone Livermore 2012 – Merlot is underrated – there, I said it!   California is always dominated by the big Cabernets with big prices, but hovering just below the Cabernet buzz is the hardworking (and much more respected in places like Bordeaux) Merlot Grape.   And when it comes to buying red wine for big events and casual parties, I often look for bargains like this one.   This Wente Family Estate Merlot has double knocks against it in the wine world – it is from Livermore, an up and coming region for sure, but not from Napa or Sonoma, AND it is Merlot, not Cabernet… These ‘knocks’ against render the Wendte Merlot undervalued in my opinion!   On top of that, 2012 was a hugely successful vintage across California, so why not give it a try?   This wine shows a number of California Merlot trademark characteristics: lush body, unobtrusive tannin, blueberry and black cherry flavors, sweet mid-palate and camphor-like flavors followed by vanilla spice in the finish.   Are you having a party with people who might be turned off by the French-ness of a Cotes du Rhone?  Buy this Merlot and watch the crowd get happy with its trademark, comfortable, California style.  This Wendte over delivers for the price!  (PLCB Code 33727 Wente Family Estate Merlot Sandstone Livermore 2012 $9.99 widely available)

Wine on Tap – Good or Bad?

The answer: GOOD! (Although will likely be better in the future… pros and cons below)

Recently I was invited by a bar owner to taste wines from a wine tap system she recently installed as she was rehabbing her bar/restaurant.  She explained that the tap system was ideal for her because her business inhabits an older building with limited bar space, so fewer bottles cluttering the bar space (and fewer empties rattle around before disposal) seemed a great idea.   Of course there is also the best possible reason: profits.   Although prices vary, the wine kegs she buys (which contain approximately 27 standard bottles of wine), provide significant savings compared to purchasing single bottles, or even cases of wine in standard glass bottles.   Finally, there is the green argument slowly making its way through the wine industry.   Understandably, the added heft and packaging costs of several cases of wine causes the packaging and shipment portion of total cost to be much higher, while the lighter, metal keg with handles holding 27 bottles of wine is easier to move, less expensive to ship, and clearly less environmentally impactful.   Even if a customer doesn’t typically consider all those points, most any consumer will appreciate lower prices, and the bar owner will enjoy increased margins!    So what’s not to like?   Well, I was skeptical about the quality of the wine, even though the logical side of my brain knew that a sealed keg was likely a MORE stable way to transport wine than a bottle enclosed with a cork (even in modern times we expect roughly 5% of bottles to be tainted in some way, often by the cork), but the romantic and emotional side of my brain loves the “pop and circumstance” of opening and handling a bottle.   To be fair, a typical bar likely has very few people who would actually like to see the bottle from which their wine came, so the bottle idea is a non-issue.   Even so, what about quality?

In an effort to get to the bottom of this, a tasting was planned.   My idea was to locate same year and vintage wines in bottle, bring them to the bar and try them side by side with the tap wines.   So that my opinions weren’t the only ones in the room, I invited a good friend and fellow wine lover and author of the highly useful wine newsletter “an eye for wine” www.aneyeforwine.com

I located wines in bottle from same maker and same vintage as several of the bar’s keg wines.   We filled our table with glasses of bottle and tap wines to determineif we could discern one from another – and we could – slightly – but only initially…   The only difference between bottle and tap wines that we could discern was that the bottle wines seemed to open up much faster.   The nose was especially more open on the bottle wines and that may have enhanced the flavors on the initial sips.   However this was not a clear victory for the bottles, because after a few minutes of breathing in the glass, the tap wines opened and became (to my palate at least) completely identical!  Why this happens could have to do with the absolute lack of air in the keg arrangement or possibly the amount of wine to surface area etc. – there is no way for us to know…   but we found this ‘closed’ aspect on the tap wines to be present in each of the wines we compared.   Given this, we concluded (somewhat surprisingly) that while we recommend significant swirling, there is no reason to avoid a wine that was transported in a keg and served from a tap!

Here are some pros and cons from my perspective:

Pros:

  • Less spoilage
  • Fewer bottles to store and dispose
  • Higher margins for operator – and potentially lower retail prices for consumer
  • 27 bottles each keg means lots of servings before having to change out
  • More selection coming in the future

Cons

  • 27 bottles each keg means lots of servings before having to change out – so a slow seller will take a long time to get out of the system
  • Snob factor – some people feel better about a bottle and a cork etc
  • Equipment investment – bar owner has to commit capital up front and embrace the wine on tap concept
  • Limited selection currently – the bar owner said only about 50 different wines available – so it might not work for every restaurant