Shut the Front Door: A Vinsane, Pay-it-Forward, Drinks 4X the Price Wine Recommendation

The problem with sleuthing out good wine under $10 is the recommendations usually come with provisos like, “This is pretty good for the price,” or “This isn’t bad for the style of wine.”  Rare is the time that a wine recommendation for vino under $10 is just, “This is a fantastic wine.”

Who can blame the wine recommender for their caveats and written sleights of hand when they’re left to tout the middling amongst the insipid; the redemptive within the felonious?  It’s like the back-handed compliment from the parents of an axe murderer who note plaintively from the front stoop, “He has a good heart.”

Adding insult to this injury, it seems like nearly all domestic wines under $10 are manipulated to appeal to a demographic.  Far too often, they are oak chipped to a formula, softened, vortexed and plumped back up into a wine beverage complete with a label that screams, “Benignly vague and blandly appealing.  I am inoffensive to a large group of people.”

And, forget about pairing under $10 bottles of vino with food.  Do so only if your idea of wine pairing centers on condiments with artificial coloring and HFCS, so duotone are the wine flavor profiles.

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When it comes to what should be reliable international value wines, forget about it – most of them aren’t even has-beens, they never were.  France and Italy – I’m talking to you.  For a sawbuck, these are sad, middling, barely potable wines evocative of an athlete whose entire identity is wrapped up in jockdom, but for whom life’s fate never provided him acclaim beyond the local playground. The fact that these wines often taste like a sweaty gym sock may, in fact, be no small coincidence.

Harrumph. 

What I want is what most wine consumers want: A non-spoofulated wine with quality that stands on its own—a good wine at $9.99 that is a good wine, period.  No half-hearted caveats associated with it.  If the wine pairs with dinner, instead of being a digestif, all the better.  Tie me up, spank me and call me Shirley if this mystical and elusive under $10 wine also has any of the following characteristics: Organic, old vines, unfiltered, native yeast, judicious oak, and complexity whilst being food-friendly.

I’m pretty sure I won’t have to have any dalliances in the wine S&M dungeon save for one emerging country.

Recently, I started to see glimpses of where quality, inexpensive wines might be coming from in the future when I tasted through a sampling of wines from the Navarra region of Spain. One $5 bottle of wine was so screamingly good it defied the law of reason. 

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And, then, I received a recommendation for Masia de Bielsa’s 2009 Garnacha, a Spanish wine from the Campo de Borja area in the Aragon region of Spain, southeast of Navarre and La Rioja.  Adam Japko, a wino friend and author of Wine-Zag, and I did some horse-trading on bottles and he threw in a bottle of wine in a wine shipment to me and noted, “Curious what you think of this…”

What do I think?  I think I owe you favors to last a month of Sundays for turning me onto a beauty.

Of course, wine recommendations don’t happen in a vacuum and the Masia de Bielsa 2009 Garnacha is no different even if it follows a certain circuitous Internet-borne dynamic that seems unusual even in this day and age of “brand vs. land, there are no secret wine values anymore…” online battle.

Jose Pastor is a wunderkind (30 years old) wine importer with a fast growing reputation amongst wine insiders for his portfolio of Spanish wines that are typically natural in style – producers who farm organically when possible, emphasize terroir, use ambient yeasts, filter sparingly and use minimal oak.  In other words, his wines, and especially his inexpensive wine selections, are the anti-brand.  Or, should I say, “They’re the antidote to brand wines.”  The good stuff. 

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Jose’s wines won’t have an end-cap in stores with promotional materials, nor will they follow you on Twitter or ply you with faux-flattery for a “Like” on Facebook. Ditto that for Pastor playing the points scoring game.  He doesn’t do it. The wines and wineries in his portfolio simply represent something good and honest and rely on smart trade buyers who know good juice when they taste it and are interested in paying that forward to consumer’s one bottle at a time.

This formula isn’t a recipe for getting rich, but it is a recipe for long-term, slow-burning growth based on a purity of vision.

When Richard Schnitzlein, a longtime wine buyer in the greater Boston area, took over the wine section at Ferns Country store in Carlisle, MA in early 2011, he started to remake the selection of wines on offer and that meant much more diversity, spreading the selection from two distributors to 14 over a seven month period.

A part of that remaking was to engage Genuine Wine Selections, a wine distributor in Massachusetts, who carries the Jose Pastor portfolio.

When Genuine Wine Selections partner Dennis Quinn showed up at Ferns in the spring with samples to taste, the ’09 Bielsa was a part of the mix.

Enamored, Schnitzlein started stocking the wine.  “Initially (the Bielsa) was a hand sell, but (it) soon became a wine that people were asking for,” he noted.

Japko was turned onto the Bielsa from Schnitzlein and mentioned the Bielsa on his site in June.  A September Ferns promotion dropped the price on the Bielsa from $11.99 to 9.95 and that yielded 15 cases of the Bielsa moving through the door for Ferns including a stock-up from Japko.

Within a week of receiving my bottle from Japko, I had taken to the Internet to find this wine and I bought a ½ case online from Marketview Liquor in New York state who sells it for $7.99 a bottle.

I’ve gifted a bottle to a friend at work, and, well, I’m writing extensively about this vino, too – my own pay-it-forward juju for having been tipped off to this wine.

The moral of this story?  Finding a gem of a wine for $10 or under isn’t a hopeless process, but you do have to sift a lot of muck to find the gold nugget.  In my opinion, you’re more likely to find a gem by keeping your ears open for word of mouth recommendations from wine-inclined friends or a local wine shop then to take to the wine aisles of your supermarket wine section playing brand roulette.  Here, the internet and Wine-searcher.com is your friend, as well.  In addition, Spain is a country that is producing some excellent wines across all price tiers, and my very recent and very anecdotal track record at the lower-end has been very good.  And, finally, it pays to know people.  It pays to know what Jose Pastor is all about, and it pays to know the Richard Schnitzlein’s and Adam Japko’s of the world who freely share where to find the good stuff, even if finding the good stuff requires an Importer in California, a wine buyer in Massachusetts, a generous friend and internet ecommerce.

2009 Bielsa Vinas Viejas Garnacha

Huge, pure nose with mulberry juice, black cherry, orange peel, earth and a meaty savory quality that gives way to an expressive palate with plum, black cherry, spice and fresh squeezed orange juice.  The finish lingers with plum, pepper and earthiness.  This is a varietally correct, gorgeous, natural, unfiltered wine that screams for food and would be a bargain at 4X the price.  Highly recommended.  At under $10 a bottle, you’d be foolhardy not to find this wine.