No secret that I enjoy small wine shops and the individual wine experience they provide. I like the fact that they are part of our community and that I know their distributors and importers personally. I have always known about Total Wine & M
ore, but immediately dismissed it as a big box that sells a massive quantity of wine without education or regard for the small wine producers. In short, I assumed it would be the antithesis of an intimate, personal wine experience. I was wrong. This column exposes my wine cynicism.
Big store, big selection, big deals
More than 8,000 wines are housed at the Total Wine & More store located at the Plaza at Landmark. (Also, more than a thousand beers but I have no inclination for beers, as impressive as that figure may be ) Each of those 8,000 wines is priced below typical retail, which maintains Total Wine & Mores claim to everyday low prices. An additional 10 percent discount is offered for case purchases, making for a bargain-hunters wine paradise.
As impressed as I was with prices and varied and plentiful selection of labels in the football-field sized store, I was prepared to be underwhelmed with the staffs knowledge of and passion for those wines. The cynic in me was wrong, once again.
Ben Sibley is affable, good-looking, and unfailingly polite. He also knows a bit about wine. My first cynical question I throw at Ben How many wines do you taste each year? Over a thousand, came his immediate response. Not bad, thought I, but tasting many wines is no substitute for wine expertise.
Tell me about your wine education, I fired back. Its continuing and ever-evolving. I, and the rest of Total Wine & Mores wine professional team, experience over 20 wine education seminars and tastings throughout the year. We also attend monthly wine dinners with our producers. This is in addition to visiting wine regions around the world for an even better understanding of the wines.
Score another one for Sibley.
Sibley rises to the challenge
So, Mr. Sibley has a solid wine education and his palate is practiced in tasting wines. I had one last test for Mr. Sibley. Choose four wines that would impress me enough that I could recommend them to my very discerning and percipient readers (thats you). Here are the wines he chose, and my tasting notes on each:
Perle dAurore Ros – $13.99
Cremant de Bourgogne
Pinot Noir (100%)
Burgundy (Cote DOr), France
Those of you who have read my columns know my penchant for rose Champagne and sparklers. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Sibley chose this Cremant for one of his selections. It has a gorgeous salmon color, with very fine creamy bubbles. On the palate it has cassis and raspberry. Very dry finish with fresh minerality. A sophisticated sparkler and an amazing value in the face of $60 rose Champagnes. A winning selection.
2005 Cuvee Romanus – $19.99
Pinot Gris (100%)
Pasternak Wine Importers
This wine is named for Romanus Albrecht, the first winegrower of the Albrecht wine family in 1425. I was surprised at this pick, because Pinot Gris is not a widely known varietal. Sibley certainly showed his range in choosing this one. It is pure honeysuckle and ripe pear. Just a gorgeous food-friendly wine that will pair wonderfully with Thai or spicy duck. Also has good ageability will become more rich and complex over time. Another good selection 2 for 2.
2004 Vielles Vignes – $14.99
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre
Alfio Moriconi Selections
Vacqueryas is a small appellation in the Southern Cote du Rhone of France. As with all Southern Cotes du Rhone, this is produced with a blend of grapes. The result is a very inky wine with soft tannins and a hint of spice. Has a soft finish if you decant it for at least an hour (which Sibley thoughtfully did). Would pair very well with roasted meat or a hearty stew.
2005 Milton Park Shiraz – $8.99
Barossa Valley, Australia
Fran Kysela Imports
The most popular complaint I hear from novice wine drinkers is about the finish of a wine. The finish is the aftertaste what lingers after the wine is swallowed. This wine descends smoothly and effortlessly. Has more berry fruit than the typical Aussie Shiraz, and less pepper and clove. This is a simple crowd-pleaser. Not complex, not textured, just a solid drinker that even a white wine lover would enjoy. Also, the most popular wine at Sibleys store, which should tell you something. Would not be my personal choice to drink, but Id serve it at a reception without reservation.
The Vino Vixen is Mari Stull Founder of Club BV*, correspondent for Wine Taste TV, and member of the Society of Wine Educators. Have a wine question or comment for Mari? She can be reached at VinoVixen@vinovixen.org.