For the first time since we opened our shop, Mary and I were able to take off for a short vacation right after our busiest time of the year. We accomplished this feat by some good forward planning back in August to secure some great airfare. We are just returning from the week in Hawaii. It has also been, as near as we can tell, some 6 plus years since we visited the island state.
We found Hawaii to be as beautiful as ever, but sadly it seemed even more expensive than we had recalled. While the wine by the glass choices in restaurants were truly impressive across the board, some of the prices were nothing short of staggering. Pride Mountain Vineyards, Failla, Stags Leap, Shafer and other Napa Valley notables were routinely available a glass at a time. They came with hefty prices though, typically over $25 per glass. Selections from some great producers out of Sancerre and Bordeaux in France, and lovely choices from some of Italy’s heavyweights were similarly spendy.
For wine consumers the question often is, “how do you enjoy great wine when in a high cost area like Hawaii, without adding a second mortgage?” A couple of easy pointers will keep you drinking well at more gentle prices.
First, especially for Europe, it is important to know your vintages. The best recent years for Europe have been 2010, ’11 and ’15. Specific regions like Tuscany and Bordeaux also produced some great wines in 2012. This is important, as many tourists will stick to what they know when ordering from a restaurant list or buying in a grocery store or wine shop when away from home. For many of us, we know the domestic producers better than we may know those from the “Old World.” So, the first pointer is to dodge the high-priced choices from California and head for the bottom of the list, where some great European choices can be found.
At dinner one night I noticed, tucked away in Italian section of the list, a wine from the Ornellaia appellation in Tuscany. The list did not have vintages, so I asked our server to do a vintage check on the wine, which was also priced about a third less than the big-name, domestic producers that were included. He returned to let me know he had one bottle of 2015 left and then it was all 2016. With ’15 being such a banner year for Italy and especially Tuscany we bought the bottle on the spot! It was all we could have hoped for and more!
At another dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Roy’s, we were thoroughly impressed with the by-the-glass line-up, but again they had some “eye popping” prices attached. While going over the list Mary spotted a Nebbiolo from the Langhe Mountains in Piedmont, and it was priced quite a lot better. Winner again! The wine was delicious.
The moral being: skip to the bottom of the list, or wherever the European section is housed, and shop for the values that are hidden away and frequently go wanting for attention. The lesson in grocery stores or wine shops is a similar one. Since we had rented a “condo,” we decided to make dinner at home a couple of evenings. The closest grocery store had an ample selection of wine with plenty of good to great names, but like the restaurants the prices were at “ouch” levels. But one of the nights we were there shopping we noticed one of our favorite Cotes du Rhone bottlings on the lowest shelf. When we looked at the price, we knew we had scored again.
Moral number two is: when in a grocery store, skip the eye level shelves and shop down where most folks don’t look. We were able to find several compelling domestic producers too that we completely enjoyed by shopping in list sections or on shelves that garnered less attention, and while they were more than we would have paid at home, at The Dinner Party, they were still priced better than the big names.
It is always possible to drink better wine when you are traveling to a high cost area, just remember to “shop where others don’t” on lists and in stores to find the bargains.
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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country.
After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.