Live Poorly, Drink Richly

Exploring the Cabernets of Washington's Columbia River region.

Rich people doing poor-people things and poor people doing rich-people things, is how a young journalist once described his dream “beat” to me. I hadn’t thought of this comment in years, but it came to mind as I pondered a reader’s complaint that this column misunderstands the socioeconomic status of its audience. In the reader’s view, East Bay residents are mainly affluent folks with no interest in bargain-bin wines — as opposed to “the masses,” who “don’t care about varietal, brand names, or any other such notion.”

Flawed demographics aside, the real issue here is why someone’s tastes should be determined by his or her net worth. Limiting as finances may be, aren’t there plenty of rich people out there doing poor-people things, poor people doing rich-people things, and vast numbers of us somewhere in between doing things all along that continuum?

Evidence came on a recent evening, when three Wineaux felt wealthy indeed as we sipped Cabernet Sauvignon from eastern Washington state. The 2003 Columbia Crest Two Vines Cab ($5.99) had an unfair disadvantage that only our token winemaker could detect. The bottle we opened was slightly corked, meaning it’s one of the estimated 3 to 5 percent of bottles whose natural closure has tainted the wine with a corky aroma and flavor. The other two of us still found this one very drinkable, with an aroma like tobacco and low tide, and a ripe, earthy taste.

Our lovely guest taster complained that the 2003 Cab from Red Diamond ($6.99) was too “Zinny” for her liking. Maybe that’s why I loved it so much. With an intoxicating aroma of violets and a taste of warm plums, I thought it begged for a big juicy steak. The others found it just “okay.”

I snuck in a higher-priced bottle — the 2003 Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Cab ($14.99) — hoping that we’d pick the $5.99 bottle as our collective favorite. Perhaps if the Columbia Crest hadn’t been corked, we would have, given the winery’s reputation for making great, affordable wines. But corked it was, and two of three tasters did like the Chateau Ste. Michelle best. “Is that a banana I smell?” LGT asked demurely, and it was — along with a little cherry and dry leather. The taste was jammy and flavorful.

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