Anyone who cares about cheap wine and who wishes wine scores would go away needs to read Robin Goldstein’s book, “The Wine Trials”. His thesis is simple: People buy wine based on what it costs, and they assume more expensive means better. Blind tastings, in which people don’t know what they’re drinking, should show whether pricier wines actually taste better.
Which is why Goldstein held 17 blind tastings between April 2007 and February 2008 in Austin, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut (and I was a taster in one of the Austin trials). The results? Cheap wine is pretty good. “The tasters were shocked, couldn’t believe it,” Goldstein says. “They weren’t supposed to like the cheap wine the best.”
The book includes a list of the 100 best-rated wines for $15 and less, as well as a lot of math, footnotes and appendices. The latter demonstrate that wine drinkers are so intimidated by names and brands and price that they assume that cheaper wines aren’t as good. But his tasters preferred a $7 Beringer cabernet sauvignon to the winery’s $120 version, and a $12 Domaine Ste. Michelle sparkling wine over a $250 bottle of Dom Perignon champagne.
These three wines were among the best rated in The Wine Trials’ blind tastings:
• Osborne Solaz ($8): This is one of my longtime favorites, a Spanish red blend that’s well-made and food friendly, but doesn’t taste like it came from Australia. This is the top rated European red in the book.
• Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc ($10): A solid, dependable sauvignon blanc that’s available pretty much anywhere. The tasters called it bright and summery, with a pleasant grapefruit aroma.
• Famega Vinho Verde ($7): This surprised me, since vinho verde often falls through the cracks (that it has a greenish tint doesn’t help). But it’s very easy to drink, with clean apple and citrus flavors. Serve this well-chilled, and even with ice. —JEFF SIEGEL
Ask the Wine Guy
Q. Who invented wine scores? br>
A. There have been wine scores in various forms for a long time, but the modern wine score is the work of wine critic Robert Parker. He popularized the 100-point system that almost everyone uses, and that stores display on their shelves under the bottles of wine.
Roast chicken properly done is one of the great pleasures of cooking. Sadly, most roast chicken, even in professional kitchens, isn’t properly done. This recipe, though, does the trick. It’s reasonably simple and also makes the kitchen smell terrific. Any of the wines listed here would go well with the chicken.
Serves 4-6, takes about two hours
(adapted from “Professional Cooking”, sixth edition)
1 whole chicken, 3.5-4 pounds
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Clean the chicken, removing giblets and excess fat, and season well with salt and pepper inside and out.
2. Place the chicken in a rack over a roast pan, breast side down. Cook for 15 minutes at 450 degrees. Then turn heat down to 325 and cook another 30 to 40 minutes. You want the chicken to be browned but not overly so.
3. Take the chicken out of the oven and turn it over, so the breast side is up. Use a couple of kitchen towels to do this. Baste the chicken with the pan juices. Put the chicken back in the oven for another 45 minutes or so, so the total cooking time is 90 minutes. The traditional test for doneness is if the chicken juices run clear when you prick it.
4. Let the bird rest for 15 to 20 minutes, and then carve and serve.