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Daniel Neman: It costs a lot to be a wineaux [St. Louis Post-Dispatch :: BC-WBS-NEMAN-COLUMN:SL]

There are two types of people in the food world: Those who are really, seriously into wine, and those who are not.

I am not, which is probably why I was so intrigued by a new book by Margaret Rand, "101 Wines to Try Before You Die."

With the thought of my inevitable death thus thrown so cavalierly in my face, I thought I could really use a glass of wine. Fortunately, I had a book in front of me to suggest ones to try.

Not surprisingly, I had never tried any of the recommended wines. To be perfectly honest, I had only heard of a couple of them, and wines that I have heard of are not likely to be wines I would be able to try. Chateau Margaux is reputed to be one of the very finest wines in the world, for instance, but unless someone else is paying it is likely to remain only a distant fantasy.

The flesh would be willing, but the wallet is weak.

The book rates its wines in terms of price on a scale of one to five stars. One star means it costs less than $40 (or at least it does in England, where the book was written and published), and five stars means it costs more than $270.

I ran through the U.S. prices of every bottle in the book online, typically using wine-searcher.com, which finds distributors around the world who carry a wine and determines the average price of each one. When possible, I searched specifically for the vintage shown in the picture of the wine used in the book.

Admittedly, it was an imperfect system. A wine that was only available in, say, Tokyo, and cost $70 there would presumably cost significantly more for me to snag a bottle.

Still, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many wines on the list cost less than $40. Twenty-nine of them do, which sounded great until I remembered that I have spent more than $40 retail on a bottle of wine only one time in my life.

It was excellent. It had a full-bodied redness with notes of wine.

I still talk about the time I spent $17 on a glass of pinot noir; actually, it was so sublime I spent $34 on two glasses. This was at least 15 years ago, when $17 for a single glass of wine was considered outlandish. It was kind of high for an entire bottle at a store.

And in my world, it still is. When I buy a bottle of wine, which I don't do that often, I rarely shell out 17 bucks for it. My palate is just not educated enough, and I want to keep it that way. Appreciating wine can be a very expensive hobby.

That bottle of 2010 Chateau Margaux, for instance, will set you back about $1,150. That's businessman money, not employee money, and that's not even the top price for a wine in the book. A bottle of Le Chambertin, Domaine Armand Rousseau sells for $2,350.

And a bottle of 2013 La Romanee, Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair - this is a single bottle we are talking about, a mere 750 ml - costs an average of $3,902. Plus tax.

This is a wine I'm supposed to try before I die? It's more than my car is worth.

That is when I wondered how much it would cost to actually try each of these 101 wines I'm supposed to try before I die.

I did the math. The total is about $26,500. That's just for liquid that you drink.

I understand that great wine can be transcendent, I really do. That $17 glass of pinot noir I had (or rather, those $17 glasses) was almost like a religious experience. I had never before - or since - had wine that so spectacularly enhanced the flavor of the food I was eating. It was magical.

So I decided to sample one, just one, of the 101 wines I need to try before I drop down dead.

But saying I'm going to do that turns out to be actually harder than doing it. I searched online for all 29 of the specified wines that cost less than $40, and not one is available in the area (though the Tempier Bandol Rose, which sells for $39.99, is expected to be at Total Wine & More in June).

What I did find for $18 at the Wine & Cheese Place was a bottle of Tio Pepe Palomino Fino sherry, which is not the same thing as the book's specified Tio Pepe En Rama Fino sherry. But in what the book calls a "pauper substitute," it says that, if you don't know Fino sherry, any Tio Pepe is a good place to start.

I'm trying it now - out of a plastic cup, incidentally. It's quite dry for sherry, yet still a bit fruity and nicely crisp. It has a full-bodied whiteness, with notes of wine. It is light and delicate when served chilled, but frankly, I think I like amontillado sherry better.

That's one down, one hundred to go.

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