But if you think that just because a supplier isn't a vintner, then the product must be inferior ... well then let me introduce you to Kermit Lynch. (Maybe not to buy his CD though...) Recently, I've discovered an American group of young négociants who have been sourcing some really good affordable wines under the label Cultivate Wines.
This team travels the world sourcing great grapes and juice from some outstanding vineyards and wineries. The resulting products are excellent bargains and very interesting examples of specific varietals and blends. If a vineyard that they sourced from last year has a bad harvest, no worries. They'll pick from somewhere else this year.
Rather than lock themselves into trying to make exactly the same wine from vintage to vintage, Cultivate Wines seeks to continuously discover interesting wines that they can sell at reasonable prices. If that's not enough to get you interested, they also donate 10 percent of their sales to a rotating group of charities that address education and basic human needs. Consumers can visit the company website to submit charities, which are voted on a quarterly basis to receive grants up to $50,000.
Their portfolio of wines is diverse and represents several price points. At the very top is a lovely red blend they call "The Feast." Retailing at around $29, The Feast is a mix of 66 percent Napa Valley Merlot and 34 percent Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The resulting wine is velvety and well balanced. The intense notes of raspberry upon palate entry fade into a nice long finish and would hold up very well against any flavorful red meat dish or even pasta with a red sauce.
Even jammier and more fruit-forward than The Feast is Cultivate's homage to Kenny Rogers: The Gambler. A blend of mostly Malbec and Bandeira grapes, this is a masculine wine that smacks of leather and good cigars. Apparently they remember Kenny before all that botched plastic surgery. You should be able to buy a bottle for under $20.
On the lighter side, Cultivate sells two excellent whites: a lemony chardonnay called Dream Walking, and Double Blind, a super dry pool pounder of a Pinot Grigio. Dream Walking retails for around $26 and would be a good choice to pair with roasted chicken or buttery seafood dishes. Its creamy mouth feel and tamed oakiness would be lost if you tried to match it with food that was too spicy, so show a little restraint with the Sriracha. The Double Blind Pinot Grigio is an affordable Italian white from the area around Venice, and it sells for about $17. Like most Pinot Grigios, it would be a super match for grilled seafood or vegetables, and would great or just served good and cold on the back deck while you think about where to make reservation for dinner.
Cultivate Wines also produces two boxed wines that I have personally never tried, but have heard good things about: Wonderlust chardonnay and Copa Cabana, a cabernet/carmenere blend from Chile. Both retail for about $35 for a 3-liter box. I have friends who swear by both of these as their house wines, and coincidentally these are the same people that never have any room for leftovers in their refrigerators. You gotta have priorities.
If you've tried these two boxes, or any of the fine wines from Cultivate, share your impressions in the comments. Look for Cultivate in many local restaurants and your favorite wine shops.