Cline Cellars suggests ‘Move over, dear’
October 23, 2007
We’ve all been there.A party of four or more at an upscale restaurant. You want to drink good wine but you don’t want to blow the rent money, and you certainly don’t want to order something that your dinner companions will consider too extravagant. The list arrives and it is chock-full of great stuff. Supple Burgundy, notable Bordeaux, California cult Cabernet.What to do?First, control yourself. Yes, if you are buying you have every right to man-up and go for the big wine, but it is not always necessary, nor even correct, to opt in that direction. Sometimes valor is found in discretion.
Second, consider the price you’ll be paying for the wines. Remember that restaurants generally mark up their wine lists by two or even three times what you’d pay for a bottle at the retail price. Rather than spending, say $150 for a bottle in a restaurant, maybe you should have your friends over to your house another time. Then you can buy two, even three bottles of a comparable wine for the same $150 you may have spent in the restaurant.Next, dig a little deeper into the list. Frequently, the wine-by-the-glass selections have been chosen by the chef and sommelier with care and an eye towards value. You can also generally buy these wines by the bottle as well, at less than break-the-bank prices.Half-bottles also deserve a look. Say two of you are having a white wine dish and the other two are going with the steaks. You can often solve the problem by purchasing both a red and a white in the smaller 375-milliliter size. And look for wines that have value to begin with. Grands Cru Burgundy will always be expensive, but if you check out Oregon and California pinot noirs you may find lower prices on wines that may have a different style, but are still expressive of the grape. And don’t forget to check out the selections from countries that are known for offering bang for the buck, like Australia, New Zealand and even Spain.None of this is to say that you can’t drink well. This past week I found myself in this very situation. A great restaurant with great friends. We were going to be splitting the bill and, though I wanted to order the wine, I wanted to keep the tab reasonable. The list, a Wine Spectator Award winner, had many notable and exceptional wines with three-figure prices.Digging a little deeper (and noting that my friends had both ordered Colorado rack of lamb with a pumpkin mole to die for), I found a Cline Cellars Ancient Vines Mourvedre 2003 on the list for $30. It retails for around $18.
“Huh, what’s that?” you ask.Mourvedre is a grape of Spanish ancestry that flourishes in France as a blending grape. It is one of the 13 grapes that are acceptable for use in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the big, ripe, red wine from southern France. (Quick – name the other 12!). Also known as “mataro,” the grape is grown in limited quantities in California and Australia. Tablas Creek Vineyards (a venture owned by the Perrin Family of Château de Beaucastel fame that makes outstanding Chateauneuf-du-Pape) bottles a mourvedre grown in Paso Robles, Calif. And in Australia’s Barossa Valley, Dean Hewitson claims his mourvedre, the Hewitson Old Garden, comes from the oldest mourvedre vineyard in the world, planted in 1853.While mataro is easier for the Western palate to pronounce, mourvedre is one of those wine words that can go either way. Cline says “remember ‘move over dear.'” I surely butcher it, but nonetheless say “moo-VEY-druh.” (Hey, if you know the grape you’re ahead of most folks.)While there is no official designation for “Ancient Vines,” the vines that Cline uses were planted more than 100 years ago, east of San Francisco in Contra Costa County, in what is now known as the Oakley Vineyard. Cline is an adventurous and, in my mind, excellent producer of Rhone-style wines from grapes like zinfandel, syrah and viognier.Given all that (we’re back at the restaurant now), I thought I’d give the Cline wine a go. Two bottles later and just $60 lighter, I think I made a pretty good choice. And more important, my companions also seemed pleased. It was earthy and substantial without being too pucker-y. Dark fruit, with a little chocolate note that was pretty darn good with the lamb and the mole.By looking a little deeper into the list, I had found a wine that was not only tasty but also interesting and affordable.
Aren’t I special. Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.