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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 1, 2006

RAISE A GLASS
Find a wine that doesn't taste cheap

By JoAnn Chisholm Dueno

There are several "cheap" wines on the market that quite frankly never should have been bottled, much less made it to the shelves. Often, you will see a fabulous TV advertisement or hear one on the radio and the very fact that they are advertising so cleverly may prompt you to go out there and buy that wine. Of course, your dinner party or barbecue will go down in the history books as the best party ever thrown because you chose the "right wine." You know: the pink wine with the pretty pictures on the label.

Those wineries have great marketing people, and they know how to tug at your heartstrings and make you feel warm and fuzzy when you see the ad, but do they make good wine? I would venture to say not likely. See, they put all their production capital into the marketing department and fail to create a wine that is worth drinking. Most likely, the finished (if you want to call it that) product is loaded with what wine people call RS residual sugar and lacks any true complexity of flavor or the balance of characteristics that makes a wine great.

Unfortunately, this is too often what the public likes and seeks.

People often mistake fruit for sweetness, for example. I can't count how many times I have heard someone say to me, "Eeewww, I don't like rieslings, they are too sweet." Try to explain to someone that what they are tasting is that incredible fruit from the grapes, not necessarily "sweetness." Rieslings are full of fruit flavors, but often are quite dry and clean on the finish (presuming it is a well-made wine).

That brings me back to the "cheap" wine. White zinfandel was the absolute best marketing idea for wineries that didn't know what to do with all that excess grape juice.

Unfortunately, the invention stuck, and for decades white zinfandel was and still is a necessity on the average wine list emphasizing the word average. I applaud the restaurant owner or manager who refuses to put that white zinfandel on their list, and in exchange will offer a nice, balanced, fruit-forward riesling or pinot blanc or pinot gris for those who want a lighter, food-friendly wine. In my book, pinot grigio is right up there with white zinfandel but more fun to say.

On the other extreme, little boutique wineries are popping up all over California and the Pacific Northwest; places that so passionately put their hearts and souls into their wine and winemaking techniques that they darn near go broke getting the stuff to the market.

These are the men and women who most likely worked for a big winery in the beginning of their careers and became famous in their own right. Or they may be dot-comers who always wanted to own a winery and just knew they were going to produce the absolute best wine out there.

The biggest obstacle for these fine artists is money, or lack of it. They most likely don't have their own equipment, barrels, pumps, bottling resources, label machines and so on. They can't afford assistants. Nor do they have the money from the big white zinfandel producer to fund their projects any longer.

By the time they are finished, the wine in the bottle cost them so much that guess who is going to pay for it? You and I. There is a market out there for those wines, and certainly some of the winemakers are worthy of the recognition. But what about the guy in the middle of the road who just wants a great-tasting wine that will not cost him an arm and a leg?

More than likely, you need to look in the Italian or Spanish section of your local wine shops. You will find wines that taste far better than their cost would indicate, and that, for the most part, are organically grown. If you're wary, talk with your favorite wine retailer and ask him or her to suggest something other than the "usual."

Be open-minded, adventurous and willing to try something you don't know anything about. I venture to say you won't be disappointed.

JoAnn Chisholm Dueno is a wine consultant and owner of Wine Lady Hawaii. Learn more at www.wineladyhawaii.com. Raise a Glass, written by beverage experts, is here every other week.