Cheap Wine is Au Courant 

With all our economic woes, it is nice to know you can cut back on wine, without having to “cut back on wine,” if you know what I mean.  Bargains are everywhere these days, with many premium wines actually lowering their prices to retail outlets.  But you can also find excellent quality wines and hidden gems in the under $25 range. And my philosophy is that price does not always dictate quality when it comes to good wine.

This is also the philosophy of Seattle’s Fremont Wine Warehouse. In November, 2008, experienced wine connoisseur Michael Cawdrey opened up this bargain wine shop. “I developed the under $25 concept a year ago, because I knew that was the majority of my customers, and I wanted to keep the inventory at higher turn-around to provide new and exciting choices for my customers and lower overhead for me,” Cawdrey says.  “That along with no fancy fixtures, concrete floors, zero decor, and just me allows me to have a lower profit margin than anyone else and I pass that savings on to my very loyal customers.”

And Cawdrey knows good wine. His wine career began 25 years ago and included stints at Columbia Winery, the Pan Pacific Hotel, Four Seasons (in various cities) and the Lakedale Resort on San Juan Island. In these roles, he conducted walking wine tours and educational programs, set up tastings, and opened wine bars, He has seen the recent discounting for premium wines even here in Washington state.  L’Ecole No. 41 Syrah has slashed $5 off their price, so most retailers can sell it for under $20 a bottle. And Isenhower from Walla Walla, released their Cab Franc about earlier than usual, and at $5 less than last year.

In my book, anyone who strives to find bargain wines for people on a budget without sacrificing quality is doing God’s work.  I stumbled upon his no-frills warehouse a few weeks ago- where all the wines are under $25 – and he introduced me to a wonderful little gem: Parejas Cellars Zweigelt.  It retails for $12.98 and is only available for retail at Cawdrey’s shop, as well as some local restaurants and wine bars.  This red is 100% Zweigelt – a grape of which I’d never heard – and is grown in the Colombia Valley. It is one of a kind, in what is the only commercially available Zweigelt in Washington State.

The amusing story behind this little treat is that the Federal liquor control on wine labeling would not allow this wine to be designated as Zweigelt, since it is not yet an “official” varietal – even thought it was mistakenly approved in Idaho. So the label actually reads “Red Table Wine”. Cawdrey says, “The grape itself is a hybrid developed years ago in Austria of Saint Laurent and Lemberger.  It has the qualities of a Lemberger with an inviting nose of raspberry, marionberry, and Lambert Cherry interwoven with oak.  It finishes on a lingering note of mature red fruits.”

Cawdrey suggests pairing this tasty treat with grilled dishes and mild to moderately spiced Hispanic, Latin or Spanish dishes. In the interest of full disclosure, I have not had the opportunity to sample this little lovely yet, but plan to do so this coming weekend at the Fremont Wine Warehouse’s weekly tastings. Salut!