One of my reasons to research these inexpensive wines in the face of economic adversity is my lifelong cynicism about the retail industry in general and the commercial view of “value”. For example, long ago when I was about 10, I remember leafing through a Sears catalog, looking for things to circle so my folks would know what to get me for Christmas. This was back when the Sears catalog was bigger than a phone book. (Also when phone books were smaller, and people actually used them.)
Of course, I didn’t want to miss anything so I looked through the whole catalog. Appliances. Power tools. Lingerie and swimwear. Heh. Big store, big catalog. It kept me occupied for a few hours. What I remember though is that since it was the Christmas shopping season, they had the quintessential shopping guide, and whatnot.
One specific section of this gift guide was clearly labeled “Gifts Under $30!!!” And every single thing in that section was $29.99. Now, even at the age of 10 I was saying “What are you kidding me?” Way to throw us a bone, Sears. I mean, really. That shows just how much they care. Or, what they really care about. A few more rip-offs later and my journey to the dark side of cynicism would be complete. Darth Mike.
Segue into today, or around today-ish, and it got me thinking about the wine industry, as well. Wait, first let’s get into Europe. Someone send me to Europe?
Okay, now we’re in Europe. Or in Franco-Italio wine country. Everyone who I’ve known or met who has traveled to Europe come back with the same old story. The wine was spectacular, but it wasn’t the stuff you buy on the shelf in the states in bottles. It was wine you would buy in 2-liter jugs, or refillable bottles, or a canteen to take to work, or it’s piped directly into peoples’ homes, with a tap for hot, cold, and wine, and it’s spectacular and way better than the stuff we get in The States, blahdeblah, etc.
Not so coincidentally, I notice that there is a wealth of wine from those areas arriving to our shores with affordable price tags, and it’s decent juice. The aforementioned people who went to Europe would often say that the cheap stuff that arrives here in bottles isn’t as good as the plastic-jug country wine over there, but there’s something to be said about scenery while drinking the stuff. Plus, on the other side of that argument, it probably doesn’t do a wine any good to be jostled about on a boat in the Atlantic for 6 weeks, sometimes in 100-degree shipping containers.
So what’s our problem? While shopping for the under $10 wines for the case project, I tried to find representatives from our American shores to even out the roster. Australia was easy. Chile, Argentina, no problem. Italy, piece o’ cake. But when it came to our home country, it was near to impossible to find something within the budget that is still independently made. Sure, you could drop $3 on ol’ Charlie Shaw, K-J, or anything else that’s made in million-gallon batches. Or in Washington you can find the budget blends that get branded and bought by merchandising giants, where the cost rises by a buck-a-year and the quality drops with a resounding “Plonk!” sound.
And in Oregon? Fuhgeddaboutit! A place where any retired attorney can buy a plot of land, squeeze out a few bottles and then charge $75 a pop by the second vintage. A place where a $17 Pinot Noir is as cheap as it gets. You won’t see any Oregon wines in this project.
So here we are with the sole American wine I could find for the project: The Foppiano Lot 96.
I’ll start out by saying that I’ve always liked the Foppiano wines. They’re one of the few and premiere producers of Petite Sirah, and that will always be a positive note in my book. I gather that the wine is named “Lot 96” after the founding date of the winery (1896) rather than how many tanks there are in the winery, or a rotating number for each release, or whatever.
The first thing I noticed about the wine is the glaring absence of a vintage date. Now, don’t get me wrong. There are probably a lot of decent wines that aren’t from a specific vintage. But my knee-jerk response to this is usually along the lines of “there’s something about the wine that makes it so the winery can’t declare a vintage on there”. I mean, I think wineries can automatically charge more for a bottle if it’s a vintage wine.
So why couldn’t they declare it a vintage wine? The most obvious reason is blending wines from different vintages. I believe there are other conditions, like inter-state grape trading, or perhaps how the wines are made. The cynic in me just automatically believes that someone is trying to get away with something, but softened by the idea that maybe, just maybe, someone wants to put out something inexpensive. For the people!
After checking the Foppiano website and spec-sheet for the Lot 96, and after wading through a bunch of schlock that reads like corporate-monkey mission statements, I saw the general makeup of the wine is a kitchen sink blend of Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Carignane, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. Whew. Did we miss anything? Any room for some Lemberger, or something?
The end result? Good! It was about as dark as what I would expect from a Petite Sirah producer, and a nice purpley-ruby color. The nose was somewhat sweet and spicy, with brambly and blackberry notes. The palate was like a blackberry jam, hinting at some basil and vanilla-like notes, but not the hit-you-over-the-head-with-oak-staves kinda thing. Reminiscent of some Australian wines of a similar caliber, if tasted blind I’d have said it was some Barossa plonk. So it passed the test, and at $9.95, it fits the bill. Even for a cynic.