Whining and dining: Inflation opens the door for domestic wines

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Years ago, when I first started seriously drinking wines, I wasn't looking to become a sommelier or a monster wine snob. Basically, my goal was to find a few good brands and varieties of wines so that I could match a drink with a meal and only make a moderate ass out of myself.

After a little trial and error, I more or less reached my goal: I discovered that Penfold's Shirazes were hearty red wines that generally tasted great, Alsatian Gewurtztraminer went well with spicy Indian food, and Boone's farm wine was best consumed with a bottle of 7-Up or a Slushy. Best of all, most of the wines that I discovered were well under $10, which meant that they fit my budget beautifully.

Over the years, wines have come in and out of style, which means that prices have gone up, taking a few of my favorites out of my range. Penfold's became really popular in the mid-1990's, and I wasn't able to afford most of its wines; ditto Alsatian Gewurtztraminer. On the other hand, there's never been a lack of good brands for me to try, and I discovered Spanish Rioja, Kim Crawford unoaked Chardonnay, and Idaho Gewurtztraminer, all of which are really tasty and reasonably priced (at least for the time being).

Of course, given the recent inflation of the dollar, it's getting harder and harder to find decent, inexpensive imported wines. According to some analysts, European vintners have been holding off on increasing prices for a few years, largely out of a desire to maintain the American market. However, the dropping value of the dollar is making it impossible to sustain their artificially-lowered prices, and many have already started charging more. While wealthier wine drinkers will probably just suck up the price increases, lower-income tipplers (including yours truly) are expected to start migrating back to domestically-produced wines.

If you like wine, here's the good news: I've already started scouting the territory for you. To begin with, you might try out some of the Idaho white wines out there. As I've already mentioned, I've had a few good Idaho Gewurtztraminers and Idaho Pinot Grigio, although a bit watery for my tastes, has tended to be cool, refreshing, and delicious. Another wine that I feel like giving a shout-out to is Chateau Morissette. Located in my old stomping-ground, Southwest Virginia, they make a refreshing blended white, Our Dog Blue, that is a perfect summer wine. If you come across a bottle, give it a shot. As for me, I have yet to try the famed "Two Buck Chuck," but will be testing it out. Similarly, I've been hearing a lot about Three Thieves and their interesting take on box wines, which I will also trying.

My sister Jen, the designated sommelier in my family, also has a few domestic suggestions. One is Barefoot, a California vintner whose bottles generally range between $5 and $8. Most of the reviews that I've read of it were pretty complimentary, and the merlot was singled out for particular praise. Jen also likes Red Truck (and its white counterpart, White Truck), a fruity California red that has also gotten some nice write-ups. Finally, she suggests Bitch, an Australian Grenache. Although it's not domestic, it's still pretty cheap; Jen's seen it retailing for $8-10. She describes it as "a little cough medicine-ey until it opens up, and then I like it with chocolate and some cheeses." Regardless of anything else, it gets major points for the name!

Well, this gives you (and me) a few new brands to try. No matter how bad it gets, I promise that I will not be giving Franzia another shot, as my last go with it ended very badly. On the other hand, if I need to degrease an engine, de-worm my cat, or relive my wasted youth, all bets are off.

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. All circumstantial evidence to the contrary, he's not a white zinfandel kind of guy.

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