Stuck in the Middle.

A cautionary tale of envy, greed, satisfaction, philanthropy, and a happy ending!


I just read, with some envy I might add, a report on a dinner of quite expensive wines. The wines themselves aren’t terribly important, though for full disclosure they did include some La- La wines from Guigal, those impressively yet overpriced Cote Rotie, a few first growth Bordeaux, a pair of Grand Cru wines from Joseph Drouhin, and the obligatory aged Champagne. 

Today it’s the envy, and not so much the wines that I would like to talk about. Presumably on the same night as my friend indulged to excess I has tasted through a flight of white Bordeaux under $15 and had chosen the absolutely terrific $11 bottle of 2012 Chateau la Perriere, a 100% Semillon bottling that clocks in at 12% alcohol, for my dinner. Dinner was Hawaiian style ribs, marinated in ginger, garlic, jalapeno, onion, pineapple juice and soy sauce, slow smoked with mesquite and served along with a classic Greek salad and some grilled eggplant rounds topped with Feta and oregano. 
Dinner was fabulous. It missed nothing, the wine was perfect and appropriate for the meal, quickly drained as we ate on the patio. I did not want another wine during dinner, and did not even think about any other wines while enjoying it. It was a joyous little bottle that I scored 87pts.
And then I read the notes my friend put together about his dinner and those pangs of envy crept in. Until I realized a few things. 
For starters, I don’t even really like the La-Las nor aged Champagne that much. A great bottle of Bordeaux is always a treat, and Drouhin does produce some absolutely seductive Burgundies, but it’s not like any of the wines shared by and with my friends that evening were wines I had some primordial need to taste. In fact I have tasted nearly all of them before, and here I might seem a bit douchy, for lack of a better word, but I have better wines than those enjoyed that night in my cellar.
And yet with my dinner I still would have, and did opt for, the lowly little white Bordeaux.
My friend doesn’t write about lowly little bottles of white Bordeaux. In fact he rarely writes about anything that costs less than about $35. When he does write, it is about wines that will get someone jealous, which begs the questions why he is writing about these dinners in the first place, but I am nothing if not equally guilty on that front so lets leave that discussion for another day.
Today I was focusing on envy, but more importantly the passing of that envy. I have found myself increasing stuck in the middle of the wine world. With one foot avidly endorsing $15 bottles of wine while the other pulls unrelentingly towards wines that are prohibitively expensive for so many.  I have to consider myself fortunate that I have found myself here. A very large part of what I do, this writing about and rating of wines, is done, not intentionally but in practice, to validate people’s closely held beliefs. There is something in the ego of man that makes him want to be good at things, and for some bizarre reason many of us think that being good at wine means being able to enjoy, and perhaps speak about in some intelligent way, wines that are expensive and rare.
It is a stupid, divisive, and elitist view that has always been the bane of the wine world and the fact that so few people can have such a profound effect on this business is troubling, but it is what it is.
The saddest part of all this is that all of these experts, self appointed and otherwise, rarely explore the wines that the world is in fact drinking. I’ve arbitrarily classified these wines as the under $15 crowd, and typically they begin at around $8. Less than that and we tend to be completely immersed in commodity wines that, while sometimes pleasant, are generally constructed for consistency so they lack some of the variation and evolution in the bottle that more artisanal wines provide.
Have I been fooled by these wines in the past? Most certainly I have, but as I think back on the top values I’ve enjoyed over the past year what I am most powerfully struck by is the sheer quality one can find, albeit after a tasting through a case or more of comparable wines, at this modest price point. A price point that many influential palates don’t bother with.
So what? Here’s so what. For starters, I can understand all the glory in a fabulous bottle of one of the greatest wines on earth. And, to use an example most closely linked with my experience, I can understand paying $300 for a great bottle of Barolo even though you can get a terrific bottle for $40. Now imagine for a moment if you could get that quality at $15. The calculus begins to break down a bit, doesn’t it?

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  • Snooth User: Tiakittie
    1041141 89

    Hear! Hear!! I am in! Stuck in the Middle Night here we come!! And to your point about $15 value wines...Thank You!! I make my living sussing out, tasting and selling wines of good to great quality AND value to price conscious wine lovers on a budget (myself included). Glad to know it is a profession that is not going unnoticed or unappreciated by such knowledgeable wine experts as yourself!

    Aug 07, 2014 at 11:12 AM

  • Snooth User: opq
    775134 17

    I like it! Count me in! Thanks for another great article.

    Aug 07, 2014 at 12:59 PM

  • Snooth User: scshyne
    33878 1

    Well said! Learned a long time ago, when expensive photography and stereo equipment was the rage...for about 20% of the cost of the most expensive item, you get 80-90% the benefit.

    Aug 07, 2014 at 2:17 PM

  • The point is, any idiot can find a good bottle for $35 and up. It takes an experienced palate and a bit more knowledge to find the lower priced gems.

    Aug 07, 2014 at 3:15 PM

  • Quatsch

    Aug 07, 2014 at 3:16 PM

  • Snooth User: 2Jaded69
    1515732 11

    Great article, thank you!

    Aug 07, 2014 at 3:29 PM

  • Snooth User: dguet
    386400 48

    A toast to the hunt for good, inexpensive wines! Count me in!

    Aug 07, 2014 at 3:38 PM

  • Good grief ... so true now that I am retired on a fixed income - stuck in the middle sounds like a date I will treasure more than opening an overpriced competition wine. I'd rather drink a good QPR that pairs beautifully with food.

    Aug 07, 2014 at 3:53 PM

  • Snooth User: zinfandel1
    Hand of Snooth
    154660 1,084

    A topic well worth talking about. On most occasions I get more enjoyment from my$20/$25 wines than I do from the few bottles of $50.00+ wines that I have.
    Count me in for your "STUCK in the Middle".
    Now that I am retired and on a fixed income, you know what direction I am leaning toward.

    Aug 07, 2014 at 4:10 PM

  • Excellent idea! Count me in as well. I have a bottle of 1964 Haut Brion that I planned to open this year, and this sounds like the time to do it....

    Aug 07, 2014 at 4:41 PM

  • Snooth User: cctravers
    392150 2

    Perfect article. Though I have never had $300 wine, most of my $100+ bottles have been disappointments. It is truly more about the atmosphere and company- so long as the wine is at least drinkable...

    Aug 07, 2014 at 10:00 PM

  • Snooth User: macdermid2
    1298758 23

    Nice article, thank you. I think many of us can agree that wine, no matter the cost, always tastes best when enjoyed with good friends. And what tastes good to one person may not taste great to the next, regardless of the price or rating of the wine. Perhaps "Stuck in the Middle" should begin as a blind tasting!

    Aug 08, 2014 at 6:42 AM

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 198,230

    I will say Greg, one of my favorite tastings of all time was that first "open that bottle" night you hosted. It out ranks Conterno and '89 Barolo tastings with the pure enjoyment factor. This idea sounds pretty similar, no? If so, I'm game. On a different note, I really miss the city and our regular tastings.

    Aug 10, 2014 at 1:39 PM

  • Snooth User: brujazz
    532433 11

    Well put GDP! I always try to match my wine to the meal and climate. This past week end saw my 40th wedding anniversary. We are at home and dined on coq-au-vin preceded by a roasted tomato caprese. The wines, Philippe Prie Archange champagnes and Pinots from Kosta Browne and Kistler. The prices for the wines ranged from $35 for the champagne to $75 and $90 for the Pinots. While not Romanee Conti in cost, the Pinots were expensive, but were perfect for the occasion. The evening before, was dinner by our pool. The temperature was in the mid eighties and the grilled trout and $15 Thirsty Owl Finger Lakes Riesling couldn't have been better!

    Aug 11, 2014 at 9:35 AM

  • I am often stuck in the middle. Ånd that is why I feel I can never go wrong with Rose.

    Aug 11, 2014 at 10:28 AM

  • Snooth User: FedericoE
    1032146 8

    I'm particularly attracted to Spanish wines and usually stick to below $20 bottles, I have occasionally tasted and liked a little more expensive wine and usually I've been satisfied. Since your article was about envy it made me think about "great" spanish wines that even if given to me it would probably give me pains to open and drink, am talking about $99 to thousands of dollars bottles, such as Vega Sicilias and the likes. Your article made me think about it and certainly you make a lot of sense that drinking wine is more to enjoy the meal and the company than to boast about an expensive one. Thank you. non the less am still curious.

    Aug 11, 2014 at 11:14 AM

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