Wine is confusing even for smart people. The shelves of your local wine shop and the wine list of your favorite restaurant are filled with names that are difficult to pronounce in languages that you may or may not speak. To make matters worse, few of us receive much wine education before reaching the legal age when we can purchase it. By the time we turn 21 solving quadratic equations or reciting Shakespeare is easier than figuring out which wine to order for dinner. On my first date with my future wife our server handed me a wine list that may as well been filled with hieroglyphics. Staring at this list of unfamiliar and unpronounceable words, my eyes gravitated to the one thing I did understand, the price. Seeing that the second cheapest Merlot was still too expensive, I ordered a pitcher of sangria.
Playing it safe when it comes to wine happens way too often. The threat of feeling like you will be judged if you make a poor choice or mispronounce a wine’s name keeps people from discovering something new. We experiment more when it comes to food, frequently ordering dishes that we have never tried before. There is less adventure when it comes to ordering wine. People tend to stick with what they like and often take pride in calling themselves a “Cabernet” or a “Chardonnay” drinker. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but choosing California Chardonnay to drink with every meal is a little like ordering macaroni and cheese every time you dine out. It’s just plain crazy. There is so much more to out there to taste.
It would be easy for us slap a 90+ Cellars label on a motherload of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc and call it a day. Our business would do quite well with this strategy, especially since these varietals make up nearly 2/3rds of all table wine consumption in the US. But, that wouldn’t be very fun for us or exciting for you. We take great pleasure offering wines from grapes and places off the well beaten path of American wine consumption. In fact, two old Italian favorites have just arrived for the fourth time in as many years. I’m talking about our Barbera d’ Alba and our beloved Barolo.
Nothing new to us wine geeks, but perhaps a little mysterious to the wine buying public, these two wines come from Italy’s Piedmont, a subalpine region south of the city of Turin that sits between the Alps and the Ligurian sea just east of the French border. Barolo (rhymes with YOLO) takes its name from a village of the same name and is considered the most dazzling expression of the Nebbilo grape. It has been called “the king of wine, the wine of kings” by its fans which include some of the ancient ruling families of Italy. It has a nature that is powerful yet delicate combining an unctuously textured tarry character with elegant aromas of black cherries, roses and truffles. Some of the world’s greatest and longest lived wines are Barolos. Cellared properly the good ones can last for two decades in bottle. Consequently, you can spend a couple Benjamins a bottle just for the opportunity to taste it. However, you can bring ours home for the price of two cocktails.
Because you can’t drink Barolo every night, the denizens of Italy’s Piedmont also make wines from slightly less noble grapes, but nonetheless every bit as enjoyable. If Barolo is King than Barbera d’ Alba is at the very least a Duke or a Count. Made from juicy berries picked from hills just north and south of the town of Alba, it is full and flavorful but without the pronounced texture of Barolo. More suitable for Friday night pizza than a candlelit dinner, Barbera will make you rejoice that there are other options beyond Chianti and Cabernet to kick off your weekend.
Hey, you only live once, so the next time you walk into your local wine shop looking for weekend wine, ask for something different . Saunter past the Chardonnay and Cabernet, pass through the stacks of Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio and strut right up to the wine clerk and ask for Barolo or Barbera from 90+ Cellars. Trust me, it’s fun to say and even better to sip.