Whether in Dallas, Texas, Portland, Oregon or Missoula, Montana, one thing that I truly appreciate about a good wine bar is how easy it is to learn about wine on the cheap. Good wine bars, like local Red Bird Wine Bar, Cork in Dallas, and MetroVino in Portland, make it a point to offer things that many of us would or could never taste in a lifetime without a champagne budget.
So the question becomes: Why ever drink bad wine?
It’s true that few of us can plunk down $60 for a bottle of exquisite wine every week. But we may be able to order a $9 to $15 glass of wine from a well-tended bottle. Make that your rule and you’ll quickly begin to understand wine’s palate – and enjoy it much more.
A year ago I had my first $30 glass at Cork in Dallas. It felt decadent, but helped me understand that a $90 (retail) bottle of Rudd Wine Oakville estate 2004 Bordeaux blend may be out of my reach, but in a single glass it enabled me to experience “nirvana-in-a-glass.” Sips later at Oregon wineries, such as Willakenzie, Winderlea and Bergstrom, gave a big leg up in appreciating the beauty and delicate nature of the Pinot Noir varietal – a wine I had never liked because it lacked boldness. Today, those tastes enabled as “less is more” sensibility that changed the way I view wine.
Here’s the point of that: Next time you’re out, try limited by-the-glass selections that may not be a “sure thing,” and you’ll quickly broaden your understanding of wine as you make a few stunning discoveries along the way.
Thanks to Red Bird Wine Bar‘s astute wine list – both by the glass and bottle – and weekly specials that provide a round-the-world trip in a single stop – I found one of the most interesting varietals and wines of my life: Lacrima di Morro.
An ancient teardrop shaped grape (Lacrima means “tear”), this varietal nearly went the way of the dinosaur. Its true origins are still unknown but it received its DOC status (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) in 1985 in the Marche region, and is now slowly being included in wines from that region. Many of today’s top winemakers are not even familiar with Lacrima, so tasting is all the most intriguing.
Marotti Campi LaCrima di Morro D’Alba “Origiolo” presents new and seasoned tasters with superbly easy-to-detect elements often found in European wines: Herbs, flowers, and pencil lead. Yes, I said pencil lead. After it’s opened and breathing for 20 minutes or so, a clear note of pencil lead lingers on the tongue.
Inanimate, and seemingly inedible, elements such as chalk, leather, lead and other notes are actually quite interesting and very prevalent in European and world wines. Though this bottle also presents traditional elements, such as blueberry, pepper, and oak, unique elements such as those listed above, and juniper berry, make it hard to forget. With so many “fruit bomb” wines out there, it is refreshing to taste vino that offers something different – even if you can’t at first quite put your finger on it.
Terrific by itself with a cheese plate, or served with elk and other game meat, and dishes laden with roasted tomatoes and spice – all found in Italian cooking – it’s a special pairing.
It can be ordered in by the Good Food Store, and runs about $19.95 per bottle, or can be had at Red Bird Wine Bar – sometimes still sampled by glass, based on availability. For the price point, it’s a sophisticated wine with as much uniqueness of flavor as you’ll ever find.
Marotti Campi’s “Rubico” blend is a few dollars less per bottle. A lighter, floral wine – with hints of rose petal, lavender, lilac, black plum and spice notes (see if you can pick them out) – it is also a lovely effort, and can be found at Caffe Dolce on Brooks.