I have a confession, I love free wine. I really, really do! And the truth is, is that I get free wine from time to time, to taste, to review or to share with people who want my opinion. I say this because too often in the attempt to sound unbiased and impartial, wine writers, retailers and general industry types bemoan the wines they get sent. Often a comment is heard, “I get so much wine sent to me that I just don’t have the time to try it all” or “if only they sent me the good stuff”. I understand, but I don’t agree. In response to the first comment, there is always time to try or have someone you know try a sample wine. This excuse makes me wonder about the level of dedication of the person receiving the sample. All I’m asking for is a quick taste. If the wine doesn’t hit you, you can promptly dump the remainder into the vinegar jug, but at least take the time to recognize its value. The second comment, however, sends my blood boiling. Yes, I get a lot of bad wine sent to me and sometimes I have to decide what I want to say about it, if anything at all, but even the worse bottle teaches me something. This is not to say that I rate or regard the wines sent to me more highly or give them preference, in fact, I’ve chosen not to rate many wines sent to me just because they were so bad, but I do feel that it is my responsibility to taste all of them and to talk about the ones that strike me as interesting.
The reason for my rant is that while I’ve been in the States, I’ve been tasting a lot of wines. As a result of both having a cellar here that is in dire need of thinning and because various friends have wanted me over for dinner or out for a drink, I’ve had the pleasure of drinking some fantastic wine. Last night, I sipped a 1998 Artadi Rioja from my cellar, while good friends opened The Prisoner and a Leonetti Merlot. Yum! Free wine! The Rioja as expected was restrained in the beginning, albeit fully mature, but opened up later in the night showing a wonderful example of a well made Rioja layered with spices, nuanced fruit and general elegance. The Prisoner, a big bold Zin from California, was in a whole other class with rich deep fruit that to my surprised did not show jamminess, but rather a refreshingly complex character that kept me intrigued and wanting more. Although the Leonetti was the second wine we tasted, it’s purity of fruit and focused character was something I honestly didn’t expect from a Washington Merlot and actually was the perfect follow-up wine. It is round, complete and overall, a stunning wine.
Just previous to this experience, I spent a few hours at my old wine shop in Minnetonka pouring various Spanish wines to old customers, while catching up on gossip and family growth spurts. It was a great time, offering me the chance to do a little wine selling – something I really miss. It was also fun to see people’s reactions when I told them what I was doing now. I enjoyed hearing what they thought of Spanish wine, generally voicing a naiveté about Spain’s climb in the wine world. In fact, this has been a huge surprise overall as I’ve toured around the Midwest. Iberian wine is still not seen automatically as “quality” wine. I’ve heard from numerous people that they were just “starting to get into Spanish wines” and that the price to quality ratio was incredibly high. But yet people still, excluding all my geeky friends who are reading this, don’t seem to have Spain or Portugal as their first thought when they think of “wine”. Sad really, but looking at the store shelves, they tend to be lacking in overall selection. Yes, there are good wines, but I still hear, even from my “geeky” friends, the same names I was hearing two years ago before I moved to Spain. I suspect that this is largely due to the location, the Midwest, but I still feel frustrated considering what I’ve been doing for the past two years.
Coming back to the topic at hand, free wine, I will say this, the retailers I’ve talked to want to get their Iberian wines in the marketplace, but unfortunately, they need to be ten dollar fruit bombs. I am hoping this will change as people start to try more upper-shelf wines. Iberian wines are top-notch and worth the extra few bucks.
This coming week, I plan to visit some wine retail shops, reporting back on my findings. As a prelude to my week long research, I can tell you that the prices are moving slowly upward with the dollar becoming weaker. Fortunately, I have a remedy for that, visit Spain or Portugal, or better yet, both! There is plenty to see and do, and if you send us a note, we’ll even send you some personal recommendations for places to go and try some of the best Iberian wines and food.