Gut Check loves us some wine. We want a bottle with bang and a bang for our buck, so every week we will visit a local wine shop, where the experts will recommend a good-value wine priced under $15. We'll drink some and tell you wether we want to continue -- because the only time Gut Check has our nose in the air is while we're draining our glass.
Gut Check can think of few things sweeter than finding a designer label that's a steal of a deal. Especially if said label is adhered to a finely balanced bottle of wine. This week at West End Wines (4906 Laclede Avenue; 314-361-9463), we found just that in a four-grape red blend called 2009 Paolo Scavino Rosso Vino da Tavola.
West End Wines owner Renee Skubish's first job in the biz was a sales position at an Italian wine distributor in New York, and her abiding love for Italian wines carries over into her store. She grew up in Illinois and returned to the Midwest only recently, opening West End Wines about six weeks ago.
She's proud of each and every one of her store's nearly 300 wide-ranging selections, but when she starts in on Paolo Scavino, her enthusiasm is boundless. She shows us a Barolo made by the same family-run Piemonte estate that costs ten times what she gets for the $14.50 vino da tavola -- i.e., table wine -- and guarantees that the winery, which has been around since 1921, invests the same high level of care, whether it's lavished on a special-occasion bottle or a "pop-and-pour."
"I like all wine, just some more than others," she says with a laugh. "I believe in Italian wines because you get a lot of value."
How does it taste? First, here's what the so-called experts say...
The shelf talker provided by distributor Banville and Jones makes the Rosso Vino da Tavola sound like a competent administrative assistant: "entry level, straightforward," "fragrant," "medium body and nice structure." Only slightly more helpful is the revelation that what we have here is an "easy to drink palate pleaser for everyday."
Skubish describes the wine as a "true ruby," and Gut Check must concur: This red blend gleams like a translucent jewel in the glass. When tasting, Skubish instructs, "We start broad, by saying we pick up 'bright red fruit,' and then narrow the description: 'OK, what kind of fruit?'"
Turns out this smooth, balanced wine has multiple personalities -- and they have names! Skubish breaks down the blend, grape by grape: There's dolcetto, "light and sweet," and barbera, the "consummate food grape" (which we take to mean it doesn't overpower other flavors, @agrave; la brushing your teeth right before eating. Then there's nebbiolo, used to make the famed wines of Barolo, a grape Skubish says is "thin-skinned, not overly forward or masculine."
(Gotta admit she lost us there. Then again, Gut Check's understanding of men is roughly on par with our understanding of the nebbiolo grape: nebulous.) Finally, the addition of merlot brings all the players together. How? We're not sure. Skubish says it takes seven years to gain substantive wine knowledge; till then we're gonna chalk it up to group therapy.
"The best part of my job is tasting and talking to people," says Skubish, who opens bottles for tasting every Saturday, "but it's also a lot of responsibility. The success at the dinner table is ultimately my success."
While we're on the subject of success at the dinner table, Renee, are you a cork gal or a screw-capper? "I'm a traditionalist," she replies, "so I love the specialness of getting out a great bottle and popping the cork. It's all part of the experience: It's fun, celebratory. Screw caps are fine, but it might as well be Perrier."
Gut Check's take on the Scavino vino: This stuff tastes like what "good wine" should taste like: easy and enjoyable to drink with some complexity thrown in to slow you down a tad. And a cork! All for under $15.