Many American's cannot afford the luxury of fine wine that costs as much as most people's food or gas for the week? Can he humble himself and find something under $20 that a normal consumer can enjoy?
These questions did not come via the magazine; they came via my friends on Facebook who requested that I try and fine a low-priced wine that is not as horrific as 'Two Buck Upchuck' (Charles Shaw). In addition, our ConPress Editor-in-Chief also challenged me to find something that I could review for under $20, so over the last few months and after many, and I mean many terrible bottles of wine, I actually found one that is not only tolerable, but it's damn good. Depending where you live, this wine may be hard to find. However if wine can be shipped to your state then this month's wine is as close as a Google search away.
After purchasing three cases of various wines, all under $20 it was the second from the last bottle that I found acceptable. I purchased this particular wine for two reasons: one, it is a Pinot Noir, my favorite; and two, the bottle was so damn cute.
I drank many dreadful bottles of wine just for you dear reader. I endured the inevitable cut-rate wine headaches on more than one occasion. My finely tuned palate was gasping for a pardon by the time the third case was being opened. Yes, I drank all the wine, I'm that committed. I try not to pour even a bad grape down the drain. Well okay, a few bottles helped water my plants, but only a few.
From all the research I've done, for me personally, Bev-Mo and Trader's Joes combined have only a handful of bottles under $20 that I find tolerable. The rest are just a waste of the land they were grown on. Many of the low end wines aren't even made on real wineries. They are simply under sold, over produced, left over bulk wines that are often blended together, bottled to just make a profit, and given a clever name and a creative label. There's no passion or mystery in that and it's just not good enough. To those of you who think I'm an impossible to please wine snob, it's true, I am. But I'm not 'just' a wine snob. I'm also very practical and I would gladly line up to purchase a case or two of $20 bottles if I found more to be even remotely drinkable. The truth is, I tried very hard to enjoy this price range and I was really hoping I would. But having done this for a while now (20+ years), my palate has grown well beyond the likes of big box store wines and I can assure you, if you will allow yourself to enjoy even slightly higher end wines, it's bound to happen to you too.
That said, to those who may have doubted me, I am happy to say that I found one and it's the wine I'd like to introduce you to this month. It's a wonderful find and it hails from Germany, the home of superb sweet varietals like Gewurztraminer and Rieslings. But this little gem is neither. It's called Affentaler Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) Rotwein (Red Wine) and is also known as Monkey Wine. Affentaler has its ancestries in the Cistercian monks, who were nurturing grapes in that area around 1250. Because of the local chapels, the valley was known as Ave Valley, named after Ave Maria which in German is "Ave Tal." Over the centuries this area became Affental Vaelly, which means Valley of the Monkeys. The winery is located in Baden at the foot of the Black Forest along the Rhine River. Spatburgunder is the most noble of Germany's red grapes. This Pinot Noir is harvested later, in a colder climate than normal, leading to a sweeter fuller body. The wines features include developed aromas of cherries and wild berries with a powerful yet sweet and pleasing body.
The bottle design is unique and eye-catching and makes for a great conversation piece. It's a monkey that has a 3D effect with its arms wrapped around the bottle. The original monkey bottle has been a brand symbol of the Affental Viticultural Cooperative since 1949. The bottle itself has reached a cult status in Germany and the United States. When I purchased it at Total Wine, it was their last bottle and after tasting it during a holiday dinner, I have to say, I was smitten. I then found a case online at Wine Chateau and with shipping, the per bottle cost was around $17.
Monkey wine has become my every night dinner wine. It is slightly sweeter than a true California or Burgundy Pinot Noir, but not enough to be over-the-top. Since I eat a Paleo diet, mostly chicken and spinach every night it pairs quite nicely. The bottle is so original that everyone who sees it comments on it. Being the true lush that I am, I have lined up the empties all over the kitchen, which makes my wife very happy in a "when are you going to recycle these bottles?" kind of way. They are like Carnival trinkets; you just can't throw them out. Although she might deny it, I know she thinks they're really cute also.
Subsequently after a long and gut-wrenching search, my journey was a success and I found a wine under $20 that I really enjoy. I am now seeking out older vintages of the Monkey to see how it has aged and I'm hoping I'll be pleasantly surprised with my findings, but so far I have only found a 2009, 2010 and a 2011, so more on that in a future review. Also here is a little tip if you order wine online and have it shipped – 'be aware of bottle shock'. This is what happens to wine when it has been shipped by air and has travelled at a high altitude. The pressure combined with the cold altitude will cause wine to have a slightly fizzy or sour taste and might resemble a wine cooler. The wine will need about a week or two to settle down in the bottle. But if you are like me and cannot wait and can handle a slight buzz to your wine... then drink my friends.
**Starting this month I will list websites that carry the wines being reviewed; prices may vary and shipping restrictions may apply.
John Turi has had an impulsive career as a writer, wine aficionado, and artist. He has two published books of short fiction and poetry. He is a former child actor with the anxiety to prove it. He began college with a major in Mortuary Science. With a desire for writing he switched to Creative Writing and then finally finished at a free love hippie art college in Southern California as a graphic designer / sculptor. For over six years he worked in the wine industry and acquired a delicate palate for varietals. For the last 20 years he has become a private rare book and wine collector. He desires California Pinot Noirs, but his true love is the Italian Sassicaia. As a way to pay for his wine collection he works as a senior marketing manager / designer for an adult sex toy company. He is also training to be a certified master sommelier. Currently he resides in Southern California with his lovely wife Shawn-Marie, a deaf, blind and diabetic dog named Buddy and an angry orange cat properly named Orange.