Cult wines have a well-deserved reputation and a loyal following, but there is a whole universe of other wines that can be enjoyed as much and can also hold their own with the best. It is these wines that the award-winning author of The Judgement of Paris, George M Taber celebrates in his new book, A Toast to Bargain Wines. It’s value-for-money wines that we want to hear about. Not ‘cheap’ wines but quality at a price that won’t break the Bank.
Comparing the world of wine to high fashion, Taber writes, “The haute couture stars’ creations that critics and magazines love this season are a long way from what women are wearing to work or dinner.” How true. How often do we splurge on really expensive wines, after all?
Taber advises us to trust our own palate while learning to make informed decisions. The book opens with anecdotes about wine critics and judges who have often surprised themselves by embarrassingly rating lesser known and inexpensive wines higher than the acknowledged stars, like a $9.99 bottle of Washington State sparkling wine over a $150 bottle of Dom Perignon in more than one blind tasting! Taber gives a fascinating account of the early days of wine production in America. The fortunes of its pioneers intertwine in unexpected ways resulting sometimes in success stories like that of “Two Buck Chuck”.
Bargain winemakers are listed according to country in the book along with lists of Taber’s favourite $10 wines and some between $15 to $25. If your personal preference is for, say, a sweet wine that is not regarded as “good” by mainstream wine critics,Taber does not disapprove. When the President of the Wine Society of Delhi wanted to arrange a visit to the Luca factory, some members turned up their noses. This is not real wine, they said. It doesn’t come from vitis vinifera grapes. This is just the kind of thinking, “A Toast to Bargain Wines” is trying to discredit. If you like lychee wine, drink lychee wine, until your taste moves towards something else. It’s better to drink some wine than no wine.
Another interesting book on a similar subject is “Unquenchable, A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines” by Natalie MacLean. This is an entertaining romp through the wine world with plentiful advice on searching out wine bargains. A self-described descendant of hard-drinking, penny-pinching Scots, MacLean travels the world searching for good wine at good prices, meeting all sorts of wine people along the way, although she sometimes gets carried away with her own enthusiasm in presenting her thesis and tends to generalise.
Take for example her opening chapter, “A Nose for a Bargain,” where she states, “Wines from regions such as Tuscany, Bordeaux, and Napa Valley have become too expensive for most of us.” This may be true of the very top wines but surely there are plenty of other wines that are both affordable and good. All in all, however, the book is a good, enjoyable read packed with information and well worth adding to your wine book collection. Her other book, the bestseller, Red, White and Drunk All Over, was also reviewed as a “From the Editor’s Bookshelf” choice in a past issue of Sommelier India.