People are often intimidated by the language of wine and by the mystique that surrounds the selection of a good bottle. Yes, there is plenty to learn about the regions of the world where grapes are grown, how the grapes are blended, how the aging process affects the finished product and how the vessels used in the aging process affect the taste.
Must I be able to identify the area of Napa Valley in which a bottle is produced in order to enjoy sharing it with a friend? I think not. I know what tastes good to me, and I have learned to trust my own taste buds.
Still, there are too many choices to make, and I’m not inclined to do the research. Since I’m sometimes put off by the adjectives used in describing wine, I’ve learned to rely on the assistance of wine sellers who can help cut through myriad offerings. Leave it to the experts. And there are many in our area.
Cost Plus Eastern Market Wines is located in Eastern Market on the same block as R. Hirt Jr. Co. (the cheese and specialty-foods emporium that supplies many of the markets throughout the area). Cost Plus is open to the public and worth a trip at least one Saturday morning a month. Tim McCarthy has presided over Cost Plus for 21 years and is now joined by his son Dan. These guys know wine, and love to educate you. They have a fine selection, including many good values in various price ranges.
About 20 years ago, a friend, Ameen Howrani, bought a $30 bottle at Cost Plus. We opened it in the parking area, anxious to taste the highly touted selection. (No, we didn’t drink it out of the bottle.) While Ameen raved about what 30 bucks could buy you, savoring the drink as he shook his head from side to side, I, not having paid, was somewhat more objective. I suggested mixing it with olive oil and garlic and a little salt and pepper and some Dijon mustard for use on some fresh greens at dinner. The wine had nearly turned to vinegar. We took it back and Tim confirmed my assessment, explaining that the turning of wine to vinegar occasionally does happen (which is why waiters allow you to taste the wine at restaurant tables, to ensure it hasn’t “turned”).
The replacement Tim provided was as good as promised. The important lesson for me was to trust my palate. If it tastes good, it’s good. If it doesn’t, don’t drink it. And, don’t let the cost fool you. Just because you pay good money for a bottle doesn’t mean it isn’t the one in the box that happened to turn bad.
Someone recently told me about a new, user-friendly wine store in Ferndale. Simply Wine – 100 best wines under $15 is located on Woodward Avenue, two blocks south of Nine Mile. I spent some time with Ed Bosse, the boss. He is a man who loves wine, and who feels, as I do, that wine should be enjoyed by everyone. His store is, as billed, a place to discover a good bottle without breaking the bank. On my first visit, I spotted two Italian reds on the counter. When I inquired about them, I was told that the first one, Salice Salentino, was dubbed a pizza wine. That was all it took for me, as I make pizza at least three or four times a week. In my book, the medium-dry red could as easily be called a chicken wine or a lamb chop wine as a pizza wine. At $11, it was lighter than a robust Chianti, yet full enough to stand up to the pie that I was forced to make. Another wine that I recommend is a 2001 Chumeia Pinot Noir ($15).
Part of what makes Simply Wine unique is the way the wines are displayed. They are organized by the following categories: rich, clean, rustic and ripe. As part of each display, there are descriptions of the “flavors,” such as dried fruit, earth, prune, leather and raisin in the ripe section, as well as the food pairings that are recommended with the wines. For instance, rich wines are suggested to be served with grilled chicken and fish, turkey, white flesh fish, summer fruits, melon and more.
The shop’s “special occasion wines” are priced at $15 to $40. Just about everything else is less than $15. There are about 150 choices — more than I require — most selected from smaller wineries. According to Ed, an increasing number of winemakers pride themselves on the ability to produce fine wines that are affordable and can be enjoyed frequently by everyone. As a result, good wine is less expensive, relatively speaking, than it was 20 years ago. His store also sells a few gourmet sauces and pastas and two or three books about wine.
For me, the bottom line is that good food served with a decent wine works well, no matter what, if you are dining with people whose company you enjoy. There is no substitute for animated, provocative conversation.
Papa Joe’s, a gourmet market in Birmingham, has a fabulous wine selection and a staff that is knowledgeable and willing to attempt to locate and bring in whatever they can for you. I am amazed by the extent of knowledge that some of these folks have.
For those who know what wine they are looking for, Costco is a source for exceptional values. I am told that the Costco chain is the nation’s largest seller of wine. But I’ve never found anyone there who can offer any advice. You do not need a membership to buy wine at Costco.
Trader Joe’s, the West Coast discount gourmet grocer that entered our area several months ago, has a decent selection of wine at bargain prices. While their staff has some knowledge about the bottles they sell, they are not the equivalent of the McCarthys or Ed Bosse. The best thing about Trader Joe’s is you can buy several different decent bottles of red and white for $3, a bargain that’s truly hard to beat.
It’s getting warm. Go grab a couple bottles, fire up the grill, invite some friends over and enjoy.
Cost Plus Wine: 2448 Market St., Detroit. Call 313-259-3845.
Simply Wine: 22635 Woodward Ave., two blocks south of Nine Mile in Ferndale. Call 248-548-2110.
R. Hirt Jr. Company: 2468 Market St., Detroit. Call 313-567-1173.
Papa Joe’s: 34244 Woodward, Birmingham. Call 248-723-9400.
Trader Joe’s: 27880 Woodward, Royal Oak. Call 248-582-9002.
Trader Joe’s: 31221 W. 14 Mile Road, Farmington Hills. Call 248-737-4609.
Trader Joe’s: 2398 E. Stadium Blvd., Ann Arbor. Call 734-975-2455.