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.
"I wanted a guy who just finished a long day laying asphalt and a guy who's been to Bordeaux to both come in and feel comfortable," says Cory Blackwell of deVine Wines & Spirits (2961 Dougherty Ferry Road, Valley Park; 636-825-9647). "This is a rock 'n' roll wine shop."
Indeed, when Gut Check visited deVine Wines (get it?) to try an unpretentious Stickybeak white blend, the Valley Park shop vibrated with the strains of Jimi Hendrix.
Blackwell, a native St. Louisan whose business card lists his title as "Owner/Janitor", opened the shop with his father four years ago, after an injury ended his career as a Navy deep-sea diver, stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
"I think my background makes it easy for people to trust me," Blackwell says. "Being a diver, working where humans should not be, working on subs underwater for six hours at a time...it's a specialty position. You have to have some honor and commitment. Those same things help me make it through running this store. Plus," he adds, smiling, "you have to like to drink wine."
It was an aged bottle of Dom Pérignon that first got Blackwell hooked on wine in 2000. He split the cost of a case with his roommate who was on assignment in Dubai, then stored the ritzy champagne near the toilet in a downstairs half-bath -- the coolest spot in a Hawaiian home. After that, Blackwell learned via trial-by-tasting.
"I tell everyone who comes in, 'Don't be afraid to taste'," Blackwell says. "Feel free to dump it out, but everybody's palate is different. Just because your husband or wife says, 'I don't think you'll like it', doesn't mean you won't."
So what is Gut Check tasting today? The 2009 Stickybeak Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, a recent but popular addition to deVine Wines' nearly 700 selections. The wine is one of the first vintages from a company that began 15 years ago as an importer of Australian wines. Based in Napa, the importers delved into wine making themselves, taking inspiration from the best of their vintner neighbors. Thus, the name "stickybeak" is Australian slang for busybody, someone who sticks his nose over the fence to spy on what's going on next door.
According to the Stickybeak website, this Sonoma County blend is made from 72 percent semillon grape from a twenty-year-old vineyard in Knights Valley, finding "loamy clay with broken limestone soil." The other 28 percent is sauvignon blanc, a "steely" fruit from the "foggy" Russian River Valley for "keeping it cool."
What do the experts say? Blackwell says the golden-tinted wine is nicely balanced between fruit and acidity and that it would pair well with seafood. He also noted that while walking his dog a few days ago, he caught wind of honeysuckle, and that heady aroma reminded him of this wine.
Stephen Tanzer International Wine Cellar rated the 2009 vintage 88 points, noting its "high-pitched aromas of pear, green apple, lemon zest and honeysuckle." The review goes on: "Surprisingly supple on the palate, with juicy flavors of pineapple and orchard fruits. The nicely persistent finish shows spice and bee pollen notes and good closing cut."
Huh? Although we commend Blackwell's nose for picking out the honeysuckle, we just can't reconcile most of Tanzer's overblown description with what we tasted. Bee pollen? Usually we remove the insect from our flute before tasting. Pineapple wine? No, thank you. Pair that with Malibu.
Gut Check's take? The wine has an intense aroma for a white wine, and it was a mix of fruit and flora. Upon tasting though, the fruit was brief, followed quickly by light but predominant acidity. It has a clean finish that doesn't evaporate immediately like many white wines. It's an easy, refreshing, sometimes tangy quaffer. We balk a bit at paying $14.99 for an uncomplicated white, but we found it elsewhere for $17, so Blackwell is right: We have good reason to trust him.