The complaint was predictable. I had written about Heart’s Delight, the premiere wine charity event in the Washington area
‚€“ one of the premiere events in the country, an event that over the
past decade has raised more than $8 million for the American Heart
Association and its fight against coronary disease and stroke. The
column combined elements of drama, or at least what passes for drama
among wine lovers: The world’s pre-eminent wine critic, his recent
pronouncements on the surprisingly high quality of the 2008 Bordeaux
vintage, the havoc the economy was playing with prices in Bordeaux, and
how the turmoil is hurting one of D.C‚€™s finest wine stores as it
struggles to sell its inventory of previous vintages.
This is the stuff wine lovers eat up, even if they can’t afford to
drink it up. But all the drama couldn’t satisfy a chatter on the Food
section’s Free Range online live discussion. ‚€œArlington, Va‚€
complained about the prices of the wines presented at the charity
auction, which ranged in price from $30 to $180. ‚€œI understand, just
like the car column has to review Rolls and Mercedes once in a while to
keep things interesting, but when will your wine column review a
selection of under $15 wines commonly available at Giant, Safeway or
Trader Joe’s? Isn’t The Post’s budget for buying wine for you to sample
getting a little thin these days?‚€ the chatter asked.
Food editor Joe Yonan was prepared to come to my defense, noting that
I routinely recommend wines costing under $15 and that he expected the
complaint because, unfortunately, ‚€œpeople don’t seem to be able to
remember wine recommendations from one week to the next.‚€ He didn’t
ask me to respond, perhaps fearing I might get a little too testy.
So I decided to look at my previous columns for some perspective. In
the five weeks before that May 20 column, I recommended a total of 37
wines. If you had bought one bottle of each of those at the retail price
listed, you would have spent $611, or an average of $16.50 a bottle.
Those included a $50 pinot noir from New Zealand and a $36 California
fume blanc, but also 31 wines at $20 or less and eight at $10 or less.
I devoted a column in December to wines under $15, and another in March to the effects of the recession on our drinking habits.
I have consistently included inexpensive, overperforming wines in my
recommendations. I am fully aware that the average price paid for a
standard-size bottle of wine in America is about $5. However, I am also
aware that most wine at that price is boring at best and horrible at
worst. That’s why I recently started a monthly ‚€œRecession Busters‚€
feature in which all wines recommended will be over-performers that cost
around $10 or less.
A newspaper wine column should not be just about wines from Giant,
Safeway or Trader Joe’s. It should be about wines that offer value at
any price ‚€“ by which I mean wines that taste more expensive than they
Those wines, frankly, will mostly be found in specialty wine stores,
such as those listed in my articles. These retailers seek out
value-performing wines. We are lucky to shop in a highly competitive
market that has importers and distributors searching out great-value
wines at all price ranges. Some of these wines are produced in the
hundreds of cases, or thousands, but usually not in the hundreds of
thousands. So they won’t be available everywhere. Stores and
distributors may run out of them, because they are not made by the
boatload. Those are the wines I feature in my column.
Sometimes we might find one of them at a supermarket, and I have
mentioned those in my store listings. But the wine column should find
wines that overperform, not wines that speak to the least common
denominator. I will continue to write for the entire spectrum of wine
lovers: the collectors who might support a charity auction, as well as
average readers worried about the recession who want to find a tasty
wine for Wednesday dinner. (For the record, I belong to the latter
And to ‚€œArlington,‚€ I would just say this: I can’t persuade you
to spend more for your wine, but I hope you will read my columns
carefully and try some of the $10 and $15 gems I recommend. You might be
surprised. And on those Wednesdays when my recommendations don’t fall
into your price range, please remember that wine is a bigger subject,
even in these tough times. Take another sip of your budget find from
last week’s column, and remember that I’ll have more for you in future
This discussion was originally posted May 27 on The Washington
Post‚€™s Food section blog, ‚€œAll We Can Eat.‚€ It prompted several
comments, most of which came to my defense. One commenter argued,
however, that I should be ‚€œshown the door‚€ because I haven‚€™t
covered local wines. Moi?