A local winemaker uses his winery's Web site to broadcast the following beliefs: that sarcasm is the purest form of communication, that Zinfandel should always be red, and that wine always tastes better in a chipped coffee mug. That last assertion would surely raise the hackles of a wine writer for a certain Bay Area daily, who insists that any drinking vessel with a rolled rim (and yes, alas, chipped coffee mugs qualify) diminishes the tasting experience because it prevents direct contact between wine and tongue.
Who's right? Well, both and neither. That's the thing about belief it implies subjectivity, so happily there is no right or wrong. We just think you've got to believe in something and since we believe in great red wines that cost less than $10, we asked three East Bay wine merchants who earn raves from Wineaux and wine snobs alike to steer us toward their best low-priced offerings. The winners were a Cabernet from Chile, a Grenache blend from France, and a Tempranillo from Spain. Crowd-pleasers all, they inspired talk of faith among our assembled tasters, who included an Awestruck Agnostic, a Conscious Nonbeliever, and of course our Taoist Winemaker.
The under-$10 pick of the folks at North Berkeley Wine (tied, they note, with a Chilean Syrah we'll review in an upcoming column) was the 2005 Chono Cabernet from Chile's central valley ($9.50). It instantly won over the Awestruck Agnostic, and his Conscious Nonbeliever of a cohabitant concurred although they liked it for totally different reasons. CN cited its mulchy, fruity aroma and berry taste, and a hint of vanilla in the aftertaste. "Lip-smacking in a good way." she concluded. AA, on the other hand, called the taste "nonfruity but very flavorful." And, although others might find it off-putting, he liked the Chono's sulfuric rotten-egg smell, which stuck with him through the aftertaste.
The 2004 Monjardin Tintico Tempranillo ($9), from a winery in the foothills of the Pyrenees, was the pick of Vintage Berkeley's wine staff, and it was our Taoist Winemaker's favorite he praised its rich aroma of red cherry, dark fruit, smoke, and floral perfume, and its light, clean taste. I liked this one too, finding it a meaty, hearty mouthful of a wine reminiscent of fruit-filled date bread.
My favorite, however, was the Vin de Table du Vaucluse blend made especially for and sold by Kermit Lynch ($9.95). I loved its yeasty violet aroma, classic red-wine flavor, and smoky cigar-bar aftertaste. "Nicely rustic," said our Taoist Winemaker, praising its good balance. Conscious Nonbeliever found this one a little "blah and empty," but also inoffensive. "Requires a very deep inhale, but then you start to get the excitement," was the view of the Awestruck Agnostic. Now there's a notion we can all believe in.