Thinking about the wine we drink

Good morning, friends, and please welcome us back to my first Wine Advisor e-letter since August 19. My apologies for missing two biweekly issues this month. As you might have guessed, Covid-19 finally came to visit our house, and the fatigue associated with even a “mild” case knocked me down for a few weeks.

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I’m happy to report that I feel just about fully recovered now, though, and that includes my wine-reporting taste buds. What’s more, I’ve been holding on to a very special topic that came across my desk just before the pandemic came calling.

Those of us who subscribe to The New York Times and follow Eric Asimov’s excellent wine column, “The Pour,” may have already seen his August 19 article, “Four Ways to Think About Wine.

For those who missed this article (or if you’d like to view it again), the article link above and this gift link will take you to the article for free, legally bypassing The Times’ paywall.

With the subheadling, “You can improve your drinking experience by taking a more thoughtful approach to the bottles you choose and how you judge what’s in your glass,” Asimov opened his report this way:

“Drinking is thinking. That is, the way you think about wine affects what you choose to drink and how you generally approach wine.

“To give wine any thought at all is optional. Many people see it simply as a means to an end, whether a weekend pleasure, a social lubricant or an alcohol delivery system. As with orange juice or diet cola, in their minds, it’s not worth much reflection beyond selecting a favorite brand.

“But if you find wine intriguing, and would like to choose and drink better bottles, one of the easiest and most direct methods is to adjust your mind-set. Here are four ideas that will make wine a deeper and richer experience.”

Think of Wine as Coming From the Earth
Asimov’s first point is that we should “think of wine as coming from the Earth.”

Red wine in glass. Photo by Quinn Dombrowski, Creative Commons license BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Red wine in glass. Photo by Quinn Dombrowski, Creative Commons license BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

“It’s all too tempting to equate wine with the store,” he writes, but then points out that “by the time a bottle of good wine reaches a merchant, it has already been on a long journey that began in a vineyard. ”

Asimov is speaking my language here, and you will usually see this principle at work in the tasting report I include in each issue: I make it a point to find wines that are not only affordable – between $10 and $20 for a bottle is my working range – and that in some way reflect the land, the earth on which they are grown. Wine nerds can argue about terroir and what it means, although evidence is growing that molecules of clay or granite in which the vines are planted don’t actually make their way up the vines and into your glass.

But wines that reflect the style and tradition of their particular region in distinctive yet characteristic flavors? I’ll take that any day over a coldly neutral wine produced in hundreds of thousands of bottles and devoid of anything clearly speaking of their heritage. You should too.

Think of Wine as Food
Referring back to his March 6, 2017 column, Want to Pick Better Bottles? Repeat After Me: Wine Is Food, Asimov made his next point – to “think of wine as food” – by telling us that “The logical next step is to treat wine as you would food,” adding that people often “never make this leap.”

“Consumers who otherwise shop carefully, avoiding processed, chemical-laden foods in favor of simple ingredients grown organically or the equivalent,” he writes, “think nothing of adding processed wines to their shopping carts.”

Asimov’s second point flows directly from the first, and again, his approach runs parallel to my guiding principles that point me to my choice of wine that I purchase to review in each issue. Wines with a sense of character and place – they don’t have to be pricey to be praiseworthy – invariably go well with food and become an integral ingredient in the meal in which they are served.

Think of Wine as an Adventure
Asimov next suggests that readers think of wine as an adventure. “When you open a bottle of good wine, you don’t always know what you are in for,” he tells his readers. “That unpredictability is part of the fun.”

I hear this, I agree with it, but I probably need to nudge myself to pay attention to it more regularly. In my quest to achieve the first two points, which are very important to me, I’m strongly inclined to keep going back to my favorite regions in France and Italy, the vineyard regions that I can be sure will produce wines with flavor and character and that I can usually afford. I’m now making a note to myself to reach out, try a broader range of wines while still following the first two points … and sharing my findings with you.

Think of Good Wine as Analog
To end his column, Asimov suggests we think of wines as being like old “analog” recordings rather than our current digital music: Here’s how he puts it:

“Good wine will always have incongruities, modest warts and blemishes. These irregularities can be delightful, because the beauty of a wine is not measured by whether it approaches perfection. It’s conveyed by its soulfulness, by its individuality and distinctiveness. Good wine has warmth and character, like the analog recordings that I find far more appealing than the often-cold perfection of digital.”

While I agree with Asimov on his underlying principle, I disagree with his metaphor. I had a large collection of 33 1/3 RPM black-disk LPs back in the ’80s, but I fell in love with compact discs as soon as I heard them. I never got that “cold” effect that he and other aficionados speak of. CDs lured me with their own kind of sound – crystal clear, so perfect that for the first time it was easy to hear the orchestra’s inner voices, the various strings, woodwinds. brass, and percussion that make up the ensemble. It was beautiful, it was a revelation, and I loved it. Yes, I moved on from CDs to digital sound online as quickly as I could, and Apple’s recent addition of lossless sound and spatial audio makes it even better.

If I were going to use the metaphor of “analog,” I’d see it as fitting in with my preference for organic food and drink, freshly and locally grown where possible; or cotton and wool garments in preference to polyster and its chemistry-set cousins. I like real stuff, and that goes for food and wine and a lot of other things.

After you digest this column, be sure to read Asimov’s column for free at this gift link if you haven’t already. This link will let you legally bypass The Times’ paywall.

You’ll also find my notes below on Boutinot “Les Six” Cairanne, a good Grenache-dominant Southern Rhône named-village red for under $20.


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Today’s Tasting Report

Boutinot 2018 “Les Six” Cairanne ($18.99)

Boutinot 2018 "Les Six" Cairanne

A blend of six (hence the name) traditional Southern Rhône grapes – 50% Grenache Noir and 10% each Mourvèdre, Syrah, Carignan, Counise, and Cinsault – Boutinot “Les Six” Cairanne shows a dark blackish-purple in the glass with a garnet line at the edge. Ripe raspberry and black pepper aromas, typical of this regional grape blend, lead a ripe red- and black-fruit aroma and flavor that adds mineral notes of clay on the palate. Mouth-filling and sharply acidic, its juicy fruit flavors add firm tannins and a touch of peach-pit bitterness and the warmth that 14.5% alcohol provides. It’s a good-quality Southern Rhône red, better suited with food than aperitif service. U.S. importer: Boutinot USA, Sanford, Fla. (Sept. 24, 2022)

FOOD MATCH: According to the producer, this wine has a natural affinity with herby lamb and would also go well with grilled meats and roasted vegetables. We enjoyed it with a hearty dish of bucatini with meat sauce.

WHEN TO DRINK: It’s ready to drink but not intended for long cellaring. The importer suggests enjoying this 2018 vintage through 2024, and that makes sense to me.

It’s a competitive value for a currently drinkable quality dry red wine at’s $19 average U.S. retail.

Here’s a detailed fact sheet in English from Boutinot Wines.

Check prices and find vendors for Boutinot “Les Six” Cairanne on

Follow this Wine-Searcher link to find listings for dozens of other wines from Cairanne.

Learn more about Southern Rhône red blends and find many more wines and vendors at this Wine-Searcher link.

Wine Focus September 2022:

Grenache Day was September 16, but we’ve taken the entire month to celebrate Grenache, a grape that is a backbone in both France and Spain. The lazy last few days of early fall in the Northern Hemisphere may remain a touch warm for this grape that can produce rather high alcohol, but give it a quick chill, and the fruit shines.

Whether you choose to call it Grenache or Garnacha, drink it straight or in a blend, please grab a bottle and join the discussion … and come back in October when we take a close look at Port and similar fortified wines!


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Good wines we’ve tried under $10.99!

Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10.99 or less that I’ve told you about in recent years. In some cases the prices may have risen over the $10.99 mark since I reviewed them, but they should still be excellent bargains. Please tell us about your favorites!


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