Green Beans and Monkey Farts

DonRockwell.com is
a fun Web site for wine and food lovers in the Washington, D.C., area.
Recently, someone initiated a thread asking for wine advice with some
interesting conditions: He only likes red wines, his budget is limited
to about $10 a bottle, and he’s trying to impress his future wife even
as they learn about wine together. The beauty of such a chat forum is
that he was getting advice from some of Washington’s top wine
professionals, including Mark Slater, sommelier at Michel Richard Citronelle, and Dean Gold, owner of Dino restaurant in Cleveland Park, which is an Italian-wine lover’s dream. Click here to read the entire thread. But here is my two cents’ worth, as posted:

Wow – getting free wine advice from Mark Slater – most
people pay $150 a head for the same! Of course, some extraneous food
comes with it …
There’s plenty of good advice here, actually, but I’d like to expand on
one: store tastings. In DC, most stores open a few wines each Saturday
for customers to sample. Some are purely marketing (look out for the
glam wine girls at Magruders, usually pushing Red Bicyclette …) Some, however, are actually instructional. Bells
on M St b/w 18 and 19 opens 10 bottles each Saturday at 12:15, the
tasting goes to 2 pm. Their selection is somewhat idiosyncratic, but the
emphasis is on CHEAP and good. The tastings often include wines they
don’t have yet, but they want to get some customer reaction. Anyone is
welcome, and the group stands around and trashes the wines as they
themselves get trashed. Well, not really, no one’s drinking that much,
but you get the idea.

Their only rule is that you have to taste in order – as Bob Luskin,
one of the owners, says, “If I suffer, you suffer.” So you will have to
taste a white or two to get to the reds, but as you do so, and listen
and discuss the wines with everyone else there, you will learn more
about what you like and dislike in each sample. You will hear a lot of,
“That’s a good $10 wine – too bad it costs $20!”
Arrowine [mentioned by previous posters] is indeed
another good store. Look for their tastings that feature a particular
importer. Get to know the importer’s name and style of wine. (“Read the
back label” is one of my mottoes for learning about imported wines – if
you like one Robert Kacher Rhone, you may like another.)

As you focus on inexpensive wines, don’t ignore stores that feature costly ones. The Vineyard in McLean, or Wide World of Wines
on Wisconsin in Glover Heights, are both known for higher-end, quality
wines, but they also have some bargains. Remember, if the $10 bottle
impressed the guy who mostly sells $50 wines, it is probably pretty
good.

Find some wine writings you like. This site is a good source
for information, especially on what’s good and available in this market
and where to find it. At the risk of, ahem, shameless self-promotion, I
try to highlight high-value, affordable wines in my writing on my Web
site, dmwineline.com.
Not systematic writing, just fun and idiosyncratic, and hopefully
helpful.
And as you learn about wines, and which ones you like or don’t, you may
find yourself paying more attention to the world around you – at least
in an olfactory sense. My other motto for learning about wine is “Smell
everything, taste with discretion.” You’ll hear people talking about
“barnyard” or “rosehips” or “cat’s pee” in their wines. You won’t be
able to pick up the hint of violets in a good Rhone grenache if you
don’t enjoy your surroundings. And when you and your future wife have
children, and your kid sticks her nose in your glass and says, “This
smells like green beans and monkey farts,” well, you’d better know at
least half of what she’s talking about.
Some practical advice for $10 reds:
Bonny Doon’s Big House Red
Argentina (Alamos, Trumpeter – Malbec, Cab, Merlot and Pinot)
Chile (Cousino-Macul, Santa Rita 120, 2 Brothers – Cab, Merlot, Syrah)
Cheers!

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