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 an expert will recommend a good-value wine priced under $15. We'll drink some and tell you whether we want to continue -- because the only time Gut Check has our nose in the air is while we're draining our glass.
Gustine Market (3155 Gustine Avenue; 314-932-5141) is not your typical corner store. Sure, you can stroll into the rehabbed brick building across from Tower Grove Park and pick up a bag of Doritos or a Busch tallboy. But you can also find more interesting eats, like Shakespeare's Pizza or Billy Goat chips, or sample a specialty cheese.
Even better where Gut Check is concerned, customers can peruse the market's 80 wine selections with co-owner Vicky Cummiskey - which is exactly what we did while tasting the 2008 Steele Shooting Star Blue Franc.
The bottle is a best seller, and at $13.99, priced in the middle range of the market's offerings. The winemaker is Jed Steele, who cofounded Kendall-Jackson before starting his own company in 1991.
According to Steele Wines' website, the Shooting Star Blue Franc was inspired by a 1975 trip Steele took to Austria, where he fell in love with the lemberger grape. He brought the grape to Washington and planted it. He also renamed it, acting on the theory that "lemberger" sounds too much like "Limburger." Steele went with the grape's "ancient name," blaufränkisch, which translates literally as "French blue."
In transplanting this venerable red-wine grape, Steele has remained faithful to its Old World roots. Before even opening the bottle, you can see the wine is unfiltered; this allows for the contents to evolve in the bottle, and it also results in sediment that Americans might not be accustomed to encountering.
Be that as it may, the first thing Gut Check noticed was bottle's striking label: a blue French franc note with a personal touch in the form of a watermark. Cummiskey says Steele changes the watermark image with every vintage (a past bottling featured the winemaker's dog).
"It's an easy drinker," Cummiskey imparts as we admire the wine's pretty purple hue. "I can drink a lot of it."
The Steele shelf talker likens the Blue Franc, "depending on vintage, to pinot noir in lighter years and zinfandel in the riper vintages. Sometimes it is totally akin to a top-flight Gamay from Beaujolais."
...OK, a little context, please?
The shelf keeps talking: this wine is "clean, crisp, and unpretentious with tons of fruit, including warm berry pie, complementing the traces of pepper, almond, cherry and cinnamon...."
Happily for Gut Check, Justin Lieser of A. Bommarito Wines, local distributor for Steele wines, has stopped by for a taste and some talk. His description is more down to earth: prominent cherries and berries, and "fairly soft" tannins thanks to a minimum of oak aging. "There is oak," Lieser allows, "but it's not overpowering."
Cummiskey suggests serving this wine "slightly chilled" and pairing it with patio barbecues.
Cummiskey says the market, which she and her husband Kurt, a lawyer, revived a year and a half ago after rehabbing the building, has a solid neighborhood clientele of young professionals. "We're always changing our selection, always something in season," she says of the wine selection, adding that customers are kept up to date via the market's Facebook page.
In addition to hosting a wine tasting one evening a month, the market has a bottle open for tasting every day, along with samples of cheese, Shakespeare's and/or products like the spicy ruffled Billy Goat chips we munched with the Steele red.
There might even be more time for tastings now that baby Conrad is eighteen months old and the family business has found a successful niche in the Cummiskeys' own neighborhood.
Gut Check's take: Shooting Star Blue Franc is as dependable a product as you would expect from a founder of Kendall-Jackson. We can discern the fruit, followed by the tannin and a flavor that persists but isn't too chewy. We're pretty sure we detect a nice hint of spice at the finish -- but that might be the Billy Goat chips. If you're in search of a bargain, you're liable to find this bottle for several bucks less, but then you'd miss checking out the Cummiskeys' sweet store.
Gustine Market's next scheduled wine tasting takes place May 26, beginning at 5:30 p.m.