What's the difference between a wine snob and a wine geek? There’s a great blog post at Citypages.com called "What kind of wine drinker are you?" that spells it out quite nicely. In a nutshell, a wine snob is someone who has an air of supremacy but may not have the wine wisdom to back it up. The wine snob generally favors big name wines with considerable price tags and high scores from critics; any wine with a rating below 90 points need not apply. Even when wine snobs are drinking less expensive wine, only big name brands will do.
A wine geek is commonly more objective, adventurous, and passionate about sharing knowledge ― and wine. Wine geeks never want to come across as snooty or condescending to their less wine-obsessed friends. They do hope to open their minds and their palates to new wines, new wine regions, and new ways of exploring and experiencing wine. This is something wine geeks do for fun.
One of the things we pride ourselves on at our wine shop is that we taste every wine before deciding whether or not it will grace our shelves. We make a conscious and active effort to discover wines that over
deliver on quality at a relatively reasonable price. For wine geeks, that’s really what it’s all about. A genuine wine geek would rather brag about finding an insanely good wine for $20 dollars than show off a 99 point wine they paid $200 for that everyone already knows is meant to be good.
It’s particularly easy to get caught up in the name dropping game with California Wines. After all, most are names we can pronounce and remember as opposed to, for example, some French and Italian wines that are named after places and chateaus, villas, and estates we have never visited. Whether you are a bonafide wine geek, or would like to play one at your next dinner party, spend your money wisely; we’ve come up with a list of California wines that are more esoteric and – in our humble opinion – better than, their wine snob, bigger name counterparts.
Wine Snob Wine: Harlan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (Avg $750)
Wine Geek Alternative: Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (Avg $500)
Even More Bank for your Geek Buck: Corra Cabernet Sauvignon Napa valley ($150)
Not that Harlan isn’t great stuff (and not that $700 and $500 aren’t both crazy pricey) but save yourself 250 bucks and get an amazing 100% Cabernet with serious pedigree from one of the best winemakers in ‘the valley’. Scarecrow is true Rutherford Cab from the J.J. Cohn Estate, whose grapes have been featured in such legendary wines as Inglenook, Opus One, Niebaum Coppola, and Insignia (ooh, caught the wine snobs eye there, didn’t we?!). In addition to being an amazing winemaker and really nice person, Scarecrow Winemaker Celia Welch was named one of America’s Top 10 Tastemakers by Forbes in 2006 and “Winemaker of the Year” in 2008 by Food & Wine Magazine. Corra is Celia’s own brand and she produces less than 400 cases of this ultra complex Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wine Snob Wine: Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Napa (Avg $95)
Wine Geek Alternative: Tor Wines Mast-Cimarossa Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (Avg $80)
Even More Bank for your Geek Buck: Detert Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($70)
Silver Oak demands high prices but is it really all it’s cracked up to be? You can get superior bang for your buck with other Napa Cabs from lesser known producers such as Tor and Detert. Tor Kenward worked at Beringer Vineyards for 27 years and learned from renowned winemakers such as Ed Sbragia. With his own label, Tor focuses on small production wines from stellar vineyards; Mast-Cimarossa combines the lush fruit from Mast Vineyard in Yountville with the deep fruit from Cimarossa Vineyard on Howell Mountain. The Detert Family has been growing wine since the 50’s surrounded by vineyards for Harlan Estate, Far Neiente, and Mondavi to name a few. In 2000, the brothers finally decided to make some wine of their own for public consumption; only 140 cases are available of the latest vintage of Cabernet.
Wine Snob Wine: Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon Napa (Avg $70)
Wine Geek Alternative: Palazzo Red Wine Napa ($55)
Even More Bank for your Geek Buck: Obsidian Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Red Hills ($30)
Cakebread is perhaps the number one brand people ask for here at the store. They know the name. What they don’t know is that these days it costs about $70 per bottle and does not have near the depth of flavor of wines like Palazzo and Obsidian Ridge in our humble opinion. Scott Palazzo was inspired by Bordeaux and winemaker Peter Franus consults with him on this classic, powerful blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. The Obsidian Ridge Vineyard is a special place, situated at high elevation on the other side of the Mayacamas Range. The soils get their intensity thanks to being part of the youngest volcanic flow in the North Coast region. The Cabernet is bold and concentrated yet silky smooth.
Wine Snob Wine: Chateau Montelena Chardonnay Napa (Avg $50)
Wine Geek Alternative: Ojai Vineyard Chardonnay Bien Nacido Santa Maria ($35)
Even More Bank for your Geek Buck: C. Donatiello Chardonnay Russian River Valley ($25)
Yes, Chateau Montelena Chardonnay is “the one from that movie.” Just because the 1973 Chardonnay won top honors at the famous “Paris Tasting” in 1976, doesn’t necessarily mean it is the “best. Chardonnay. ever” anymore. Other producer’s ― and other regions ― are currently crafting the best California Chardonnays. Ojai makes a beautiful Chardonnay that is aged exclusively in older French barrels to avoid being overwhelmed by oak. C. Donatiello makes an elegant, balanced Chardonnay that drinks way above its price point.
Wine Snob Wine: Williams Selyem, Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($70)
Wine Geek Alternative: 2007 Rhys Alesia Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($55)
Even More Bank for your Geek Buck: Holdredge Pinot Noir Selection Massale Russian River Valley ($45)
Williams Selyem Pinot Noir deserves respect but there are so many great Pinot Noirs being produced in California that the smaller, lesser known brands merit a larger share of your attention. Rhys is a new project that is highly sought after and over delivers on quality, especially with the Alesia brand which brings out the pure fruit of Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir for a realistic price. Holdredge, a small family operation, makes unbelievably expressive Pinot Noirs from different vineyard sites in Sonoma.
Wine Snob Wine: Plumpjack Syrah Napa ($45)
Wine Geek Alternative: Longboard Cellars Syrah ($30)
Even More Bank for your Geek Buck: Donkey and Goat Syrah Mendocino ($25)
Oh, Syrah. We have mentioned on this blog before that Syrah is difficult to sell in the NY retail market, much to our chagrin. Plumpjack has made quite a name for itself with resorts, restaurants, and spas no less wine. For around 15 bucks less (and that’s a lot in ‘Syrah dollars”) you can get yourself some Longboard Syrah from surfer and Rhone wine lover, Oded Shakked. For even less you can enjoy the super small production (less than 200 cases) Mendocino Syrah from Donkey & Goat Winery, which has tons of deep flavors and firm structure.
Wine Snob Wine: Conundrum White Wine ($25)
Wine Geek Alternative: Massican Winery Annia White Blend ($25)
Even More Bank for your Geek Buck: Mahoney Vermentino Las Brisas Vineyard Carneros ($18)
To drink Conundrum or not to drink Conundrum; that is the Conundrum. In its heyday, under the direction of Caymus Vineyards, the wine became known for its quirky drinkability. These days there are much quirkier wines out there for a similar price or less. Take for instance Massican’s Annia blend of Tocai Friulano, Ribolla Gialla (from the only vineyard planted in California) and Chardonnay; it’s fresh, delicious, and distinct. Also try Mahoney’s Vermentino. A grape generally found in Italy is done justice in California with this citrusy, silky version.
There are so many wines to discover out there that we think it’s a shame to just go with a name, or stick with what you know. Nearly every time we attend an industry tasting we come across a new California producer that is making amazing wine under the radar. Just in the past week we have unearthed some great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Alta Maria, excellent Sauvignon Blanc and a Bordeaux blend from Arkenstone Winery, and a sultry Howell Mountain Cabernet from Cimarossa.
Happy Hunting. Cheers!