Different ways to look at wines

I've been getting requests to write about wines that could be described as "good, cheap wine," "best wine for the buck" and "something to put into my cellar." Each represents a different way to look at a wine:

Good, cheap, wine. "Good" is a relative term, but I consider it a step up from simply "drinkable." "Cheap" also is a relative term when talking about a consumable.

The starting point for "passable-good" wine is about $8 a bottle, I've found. At Southern Oregon University, I have groups of students in my wine appreciation class bring in the cheapest bottle of wine they can find for blind tastings of about four bottles in a two-hour evening.

They generally bring in wines costing about $5, and almost all are marginal or not at all drinkable. Charged with evaluating the wines as semi-professionals, the students are amazed at how "bad" these wines can be.

At about the $8 mark, things begin to improve dramatically in nose, palate weight and intensity as well as overall taste sensations. There is a stunning increase in wine quality at $15 a bottle, and this is where the best values reside.

  • Best wine for the buck. OK, whose buck are we talking about? There are well-made wines for just under $10 at every level of winemaking. I ask people what they're willing to spend, then find that little hidden gem that can make a difference on the palate. Yes, it's easy to satisfy even the most critical palate if you're willing to go crazy and spend $40, but the trick is to grab those $15 wines where the dollar can be really leveraged well.
  • Something to put in the cellar. This is a tough one. There are many questions that need to be asked. Just how long would you like to cellar this wine? Some people think that five years is "cellar time." Others look at 10 years or more as a real cellar investment.

What kind of wine do you wish to cellar? Sometimes the wine is not appropriate or age-worthy for cellar time or the vintage is not up to the task.

What price range works for you? An example of wines with cellar-age potential are the selectively tight-knitted and superb 2008 Oregon pinot noirs such as Cristom or Shea Cellars.

It all comes down to personal wine preference, cost, availability of age-worthy wines and the ability (this is the tough one) to keep one's hands off of the goods until the proper time. I know so many folks with good intentions who have "sampled" wines in their cellars and lo and behold, the vino is gone. I know this sounds funny, but it is very true.

A last-minute reminder: Jefferson Public Radio's annual wine tasting will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8, at the Ashland Springs Hotel, 212 E. Main St. The venue has been beautifully set up for the tasting of delicious regional wines and hors d'oeuvres. There will be live music and a "not so silent" auction hosted by Geoffrey Riley. The cost is $45 for JPR members and $50 for nonmembers and includes a souvenir wine glass. Tickets can be purchased online at www.jpr.org or by calling 877-646-4TIX. They also are available at the Ashland Food Co-op and Medford Food Co-op. There still may be special overnight rates at the hotel for those wishing to attend.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at razz49@aol.com.

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