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.
When Gut Check went a-wine-tasting this week, assaulted by cicadas, an earthquake and summer heat, we showed up rattled and dripping on the doorstep of Saint Louis Cellars (2640 South Big Bend, Maplewood; 314-880-9000 or www.saintlouiscellars.com). You could say we were a hunk-a, hunk-a burning...flesh.
Diane Blaskiewicz, the Maplewood store's manager and director of marketing, had mercy on us and served up a glass of champagne as sparkling as a rhinestone-studded jumpsuit.
It was the "All Shook Up" Brut California Champagne, made by Graceland Cellars. Why this champagne? Because it's Elvis Presley Month at Saint Louis Cellars! (What, you didn't know?)
Suspicious minds might be wondering: why is it Elvis Presley Month? Well, Father's Day falls in June, and Blaskiewicz explained that the owner's father was a big fan of Elvis. Realizing that the King of Rock 'N Roll still "has such a following," the wine shop hopes that like-minded fans (or children of fans) might give the gift of Elvis-brand booze.
"We used to bring in [local Elvis impersonator] Steve Davis to perform," Blaskiewicz said. "This year, it's just the sale -- fifteen percent off all the Elvis wines."
Graceland Cellars, the winemakers who had the licensing to use the Presley name on their products, stopped producing the Elvis wines a year ago. According to Blaskiewicz, Saint Louis Cellars purchased the entire stock of the Elvis line in Missouri, but its supply has dwindled. In addition to the Blue Christmas wines and the Blue Suede Shoes Chardonnay (of which, ahem, Gut Check has received at least two bottles as gifts), the King California Cabernet Sauvignon is a best-seller, and Blaskiewicz said the shop is down to its very last case.
"Often, if the customer or receiver is an Elvis fan, they will never open the bottle," Blaskiewicz says. "But it's actually good wine, so I tell people to buy two bottles -- one to drink and one to save if you want."
One might not expect this kind of down-to-earth advice -- or kitschy product -- when first walking into Saint Louis Cellars, a bright, sophisticated and modern space. Upon closer inspection though, the shop's emphasis is on accessibility and understanding its customers. It does this by keeping records of customers' purchases in order to make better recommendations, sorting wines based on flavor profiles like "Big," "Easy" and "Fruity," and by unabashedly selling bottles based on shelf appeal.
"We're big on packaging and attractive labels," Blaskiewicz says. "But we taste every single bottle we sell in the store." She explains that even though customers might initially buy a bottle for its unique packaging, they won't buy it again if the wine isn't good.
"Everybody feels a little bit clueless when they walk into a wine shop," Blaskiewicz says. "I do. When I started here, I knew Budweiser, Bud Light, Bud Select. But that's the thing about wine -- even the more you know, the less you know."
Most of the Elvis wines -- including the All Shook Up Champagne -- are priced at $19.99, plus the fifteen-percent discount. So what are we getting for the money, besides novelty?
The shelf talker says: "The bouquet is full of golden apple and tropical fruit aromas, while the palate is a complex balance of refined acidity and creaminess. Perfect as an aperitif to enjoy now."
Blaskiewicz describes the brut as "dry, honeysuckle, yeasty, a true summer-sipper."
How'd the experts do? The coloring is definitely golden, but we didn't get much fruit, much less "tropical" fruit, from the nose. The champagne is dry, but not too dry, and it goes down smooth and effervescent. We have no idea where "creaminess" would come in when dealing with champagne, but we're glad we focused on the acidity. The shelf talker got one thing right: "enjoy now." Though the champagne was fairly bubbly at first, after only a couple of minutes, it had gone totally flat.
Gut Check's final take? It's a fun concept and easy to drink. Yet because of its limited supply (and quick flattening), this brut's tagline is "Now or Never."