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Dollars and Scents

November 1, 2009

Pencil shavings are going to cost you extra.  It’s true.  Wines that cost under $10 a bottle are not going to give you the heady whiffs of pencil shavings that you would find in a $50 Bordeaux.

That is the kind of scent that requires a wine to spend time in fancy barrels, made from fancy trees, and those barrels are expensive.

But that does not mean that you cannot get good wine for under $10.  Yes, there are more turds than treasures to sift through at that price, but if you know what to look for, you can stack the odds in your favor of getting something good.

Recently when I was asking about things that intimidate you about wine, Mr. Sunshine honestly came forth and offered up that he was intimidated by the price.  And certainly that is fair, especially if one compares it with water, tea, or gin and tonics.  Although depending upon your choice of gin, I might argue otherwise.

Did I ever tell you that I love numbers?
Well, I do.  And I have crunched a few, so please bear with me for a moment.

Wine comes in 750 ml bottles.  You learned the metric system in school, right?  So, naturally you know that is the equivalent of 25.4 ounces.  A long time ago, 4 ounces was considered a reasonable glass of wine.  Like all things, servings have gotten larger, and 5 ounces is really considered a glass, although certain restaurants, especially those with large portion sizes, are very generous with their pours.  That is consistency in marketing.

Let’s agree for now that a glass of wine is 5 ounces.  That means a 25.4 ounce bottle will yield five glasses of wine.  With this as the denominator a:
$20 bottle will net a $4.00 cost per glass
$12 bottle will net a $2.40 cost per glass
$6 bottle will net a $1.60 cost per glass

Gin also comes in 750 ml bottles.  A jigger of booze is 1 ½ ounces.  There are not quite 17 pours in a bottle of booze, so for this we will use 16 as the denominator.  That means without accounting for mixers, a drink from a:
$35 bottle will net a $2.19 cocktail
$20 bottle will net a $1.25 cocktail
$12 bottle will net a $0.75 cocktail

If you are going high end on your gin and tonics, and using something super primo, like Tanqueray Ten, that shot of booze is going to set you back around two bucks.  That’s about the price of a glass of wine from a $10 bottle.

Even if you are buying a $16 bottle of gin, just the hooch in a cocktail alone is close to the price of a glass from a $6 bottle of wine.  And then of course you have to add the cost of the tonic and lime, which aren’t free, you know.

But now you are saying, “Hold on there Daniel B.  Where are we going to find drinkable $6 bottles of wine?  Especially around Albany, where there is no Trader Joe’s.”

You’ve got to keep your eyes open, but I have been very impressed with some of the values available at BJs.  And you do not need to be a member to shop in their wine and spirits cage.  If you are willing to take a greater risk, there are occasionally close-out wines at ridiculously low prices at All-Star Wine & Spirits in Latham.  But some of those are things that are sold long past their peak.  If you are a wine geek like me, you buy them anyway, to see what that tastes like.  But that is more for the sake of science than enjoyment.

Right now, I’m drinking the last glass of a wine that I bought at Whole Foods for less than $10.  Whole Foods isn’t exactly the best place to go bargain wine hunting, but let’s just say I have a newfound appreciation for the store after living for a few years in a city without one.

And sure, this wine isn’t going to blow anyone’s socks off.  It’s not a showstopper, or an award winner.  Parker isn’t going to give it 90+ points and suggest that it will be best sometime between 2019 and 2024.

But it’s a perfectly pleasing wine.  I was especially excited to find an unfiltered wine at this lower price point.  And it has not just varietal character (that is to say it is clear this wine is Grenache and not Merlot), but regional character as well (it tastes more earthy, like French wines often do, than fruity, which is a hallmark of wines from California).

Finally, I’m not advocating that people start replacing water with wine.  Nor do I think it is necessary to drink wine every night to gain an appreciation of the beverage.  But if you are going to the trouble of getting some nice ingredients together and taking the time to prepare them in a thoughtful way, I think the entire experience can be complemented with a bottle of wine.

It doesn’t have to be the talk of the evening.  It doesn’t even need to be a focal point.  Maybe you will find a new favorite.  Perhaps you will discover after taking a bite of mushrooms that the wine just bursts out of its shell.  Then you’ll make a note, and next time serve it with a mushroom risotto.

See, and now you already have one good wine pairing in your arsenal.  Remember it.  Write it down if needed.  More will come.  As long as you are open to the experience, and as long as you keep on pulling corks.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Don permalink
    November 13, 2009 1:49 pm

    My question, Daniel, is what is an appropriate markeup in a restaurant for a bottle of wine?
    I found a $14 bottle of wine in a store, and the next night found it in a restaurant (same vintage, no question) for $52. Canadian dollars, but you see the ratio. Came back to Albany, found a case of the same vintage for $135 (incl tax).
    Does the quality of the restaurant have any piece of this discussion? Or is it the pretentiousness?

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