Great Values in St. Louis Wines: The Wine & Cheese Place

Given Gut Check's never-ending quest for obsession with great wine values, we figured it'd be a good idea to check in from time to time with local merchants. They pick a wine they consider to be an excellent values, and we get our drank on and talk about it. The goal is to identify wines that 1) offer bang for buck, and 2) we can actually afford to purchase.

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This is where they make the wine. There's a drawing on the bottle, but the picture's purtier.
Location: The Wine & Cheese Place (7435 Forsyth Blvd, Clayton; 314-727-8788)
Hours: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
Expert: Aaron Zwicker, wine buyer
Wine: 2007 Commanderie de la Bargemone Coteaux d'Aix en Provence rouge
Price: $10 (sale price)

Aaron Zwicker paced the aisles of the Wine & Cheese Place for quite some time before pulling a 2007 Commanderie de la Bargemone off the rack.

"Dan Kravitz at Hand Picked Selections is recognized as a leader in value-priced wines, and the Commanderie has been one of our staples at the store for as long as we've worked with Dan," Zwicker says by way of introduction. "He knows all the producers he works with and brings to the States some really great value wines."


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Great Values in St. Louis Wines: 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar

Given Gut Check's never-ending quest for obsession with great wine values, we figured it'd be a good idea to check in from time to time with local merchants. They pick a wine they consider to be an excellent values, and we get our drank on and talk about it. The goal is to identify wines that 1) offer bang for buck, and 2) we can actually afford to purchase.

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Evan C. Jones
Location: 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar (1913 Park Avenue; 314-231-9463)
Hours: 3:30 p.m.-1 a.m. Tue.-Sat.
Expert: Jeff Stettner, proprietor/enabler
Wine: 2011 Arindo Rueda verdejo
Price: $12

"It's hard to beat Spain for great white wine values," says Jeff Stettner of 33 Wine Shop in Lafayette Square. "The verdejo, a grape originally from North Africa and introduced to Spain in the eleventh century, is a nice alternative to a sauvignon blanc, but you get more bang for the buck with this one."

Stettner's right on the mark with this one. As Gut Check swirls and sips our Arindo -- the "Rueda" in the name refers to the region where the wine is made, located in the provinces of Valladolid and Segovia in northwest Spain -- the first thought that comes to mind is: We could drink this all the live-long day.

Stettner, meanwhile, slurps from his glass like the professional he is (the better to aerate the wine and diffuse its flavors), then throws out some more precise tasting notes. "I'm getting some lemon peel.... Limes, a decent amount of minerality, good acid. Crisp," he concludes.

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Wine of the Week: The Velvet Devil Merlot at Copia Urban Winery & Market

Gut Check loves us some wine. We want a bottle with bang and a bang for our buck, so every week we will visit a local wine shop, where an expert will recommend a good-value wine priced under $15. We'll drink some and tell you whether we want to continue -- because the only time Gut Check has our nose in the air is while we're draining our glass.

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Sarah Baraba
Walking into Copia Urban Winery & Market (1122 Washington Avenue; 314241-9463), Gut Check was a little intimidated and frankly nervous that they had misunderstood our request for a wine under $15. The white tablecloths, fireplace and sparkling décor didn't exactly indicate we'd be finding a bottle bargain. But, oh, did Copia's wine buyer David Schaeffer prove us wrong. He sat down with Gut Check for a taste of Charles Smith Wines' the Velvet Devil Merlot, that will set you back $15 on the nose.

This 2009 merlot hails from Washington State's Columbia Valley, giving it something California wines cannot. "Washington makes great wines, and they're pretty much known for their pinots," said Schaeffer. "The climate is a little bit cooler than when you go down south to Napa or Sonoma and that allows the grape to stay on the vine a little bit longer and gives them a little bit more sugar so they can make better, fuller wines."


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Wine of the Week: Villa des Anges Cabernet Sauvignon from the Wine and Cheese Place

Gut Check loves us some wine. We want a bottle with bang and a bang for our buck, so every week we will visit a local wine shop, where an expert will recommend a good-value wine priced under $15. We'll drink some and tell you whether we want to continue -- because the only time Gut Check has our nose in the air is while we're draining our glass.

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Erika Miller
Always on the quest for easy-drinking, low-budget wine, Gut Check has picked up on some of the telltale traits that separate a decent bottle from a forgettable one. In our experience, wines that come with a twist-off top are often placed in the forgettable category, but Gut Check's opinion was changed by the Villa des Anges cabernet sauvignon from the Wine and Cheese Place (7435 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; 314-727-8788).

Andy Silver had this cabernet ready for us when we walked in the door and told us that for only $9.99, this wine is one of the store's better sellers.

"The price is absolutely right," Silver said. "To get a cab with some character for under $10 is very good."

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Gut Check Visits Saint Louis Cellars' Fall Fling

Gut Check loves us some wine. We want a bottle with bang and a bang for our buck, so every week we will visit a local wine shop, where an expert will recommend a good-value wine priced under $15. We'll drink some and tell you whether we want to continue -- because the only time Gut Check has our nose in the air is while we're draining our glass.

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Emily Wasserman
Normally when one hears the words "Fall Fling," images of tulle-lined party dresses and flowered lapels come to mind. Maybe you feel a shiver run down your spine at the memory of a school-chaperoned event, complete with punch bowls and a greasy-haired DJ.

Luckily, Saint Louis Cellars' (2640 South Big Bend Boulevard; 314-880-9000) 2nd Annual Fall Fling was a much different affair. The event, which allows the general public to sample over 90 wines for only $5, is part of a biannual event series that started in the spring of 2010, and marks its fourth anniversary this Fall.

"We were originally trying to think of a one-year anniversary idea, and we thought of having an event where customers could sample everything in the store. We go to all the distributors and get to taste the wine before we buy it, so we thought it would be fun if people got to do it, too," manager and marketing director Diane Blaskiewicz explained.


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Wine of the Week: Parker Station Pinot Noir from Starrs

Gut Check loves us some wine. We want a bottle with bang and a bang for our buck, so every week we will visit a local wine shop, where an expert will recommend a good-value wine priced under $15. We'll drink some and tell you whether we want to continue -- because the only time Gut Check has our nose in the air is while we're draining our glass.

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Erika Miller
Parker Station pinot noir is as light and playful as the panda on the label.
The recent shift from boiling hot temperatures to cool, breezy days had Gut Check in a mellow mood when we waltzed through the sun-drenched doorway of Starrs (1135 South Big Bend Boulevard, Richmond Heights; 314-781-2345). Owner Bud Starr kept our pleasant mood going with a rare find - a pinot noir under $15.

When Starr asked his staff members their favorite low-cost pinot, they chorused "Parker Station." This 2009 pinot pick is sourced from Santa Barbara, California and is a "go-to" low-cost pinot, according to Starr. For only $10.99, Parker Station is as clear and light as the weather outside and shines a soft scarlet color. Starr said the light color of the wine indicates that no syrah snuck its way in, which can sometimes be the case with cheap pinot noirs. He also pointed out that the Parker Station actually smells like a pinot noir, a scent many low-cost pinot noir wines lack.


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Wine of the Week: Gatekeeper Chardonnay at the Wine Merchant Ltd.

Gut Check loves us some wine. We want a bottle with bang and a bang for our buck, so every week we will visit a local wine shop, where an expert will recommend a good-value wine priced under $15. We'll drink some and tell you whether we want to continue -- because the only time Gut Check has our nose in the air is while we're draining our glass.

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Ettie Berneking
After teaching a class full of wine laymen about the tasty traits of chardonnay, Phil Peimann, a salesman at the Wine Merchant Ltd. (20 South Hanley Road, Clayton; 314-469-4500), had plenty to say about the store's recent chardonnay newcomer: Gatekeeper. After wowing us with a mouthful of wine trivia, Peimann invited us to sit down for a taste of this fruity wine.

Many people have perceptions of which wines are within their budget and tend to steer clear of iconic wallet-busting varietals. That's why Peimann likes Gatekeeper so much. "There's no pretension behind this wine at all," he says. "It's meant to be drunk." And at the sale price of $13.99, it's easy to do just that.

One reason Gatekeeper, which hails from southeastern Australia, is bargain priced is that it's not a single-vineyard product. That, Peimann points out, can actually work to a wine's advantage when it comes to flavor, because it helps to ensure balance.

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Campos de Luz Garnacha 2007 from Grapevine Wines

Gut Check loves us some wine. We want a bottle with bang and a bang for our buck, so every week we will visit a local wine shop, where an expert will recommend a good-value wine priced under $15. We'll drink some and tell you whether we want to continue -- because the only time Gut Check has our nose in the air is while we're draining our glass.

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Erika Miller
Campos de Luz garnacha is a little sip of summer.
Although the sweltering heat of the past few weeks is (hopefully) a thing of the past, it's still summer in St. Louis, and at Grapevine Wines and Cheese (309 South Kirkwood Road, Kirkwood; 314-909-7044), summer means a glass of garnacha.

To prove this point, co-owner Bob Gray pulled out a slightly chilled bottle of Campos de Luz 100 percent garnacha from the Cariñena region of Spain. Gray says garnacha, or grenache if the wine hails from outside of Spain, is the perfect summer wine because it's light on the palate but doesn't skimp on flavor.

This red is served slightly chilled, with the optimal drinking temperature hovering around 55 to 60 degrees. Gray describes the wine as flavorful, with strong raspberry flavors and a spicy nose. It's similar to pinot noir on the palate but features more fruit-heavy flavors. Like pinot, garnacha pairs well with light pasta dishes, chicken, seafood and anything spicy to match the spicy quality of the wine. It's also easy to drink on its own because the flavors are subtle and don't need to be balanced by a meal.

At only $12.99, the Campos de Luz garnacha is a steal. Last summer, the 2006 version of the same wine was the best seller at Grapevine. Gray speculates that the only reason why the 2007 isn't the best seller is because there's so much more competing with it this year. Along with the Campos de Luz, almost half of the wines in the main display at Grapevine are garnacha or garnacha blends.

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Cantele Negroamaro Rosato at the Vino Gallery

Gut Check loves us some wine. We want a bottle with bang and a bang for our buck, so every week we will visit a local wine shop, where an expert will recommend a good-value wine priced under $15. We'll drink some and tell you whether we want to continue -- because the only time Gut Check has our nose in the air is while we're draining our glass.

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Holly Fann
Cantele's Negroamaro Rosato

Rachel Buehrer was getting ready to teach one of the wildly popular weekly wine courses at the Vino Gallery (4701 McPherson Avenue, Central West End; 314-932-5665) when we walked in, sweaty and grumpy from the St. Louis heat wave. Wine, in all honesty, did not sound appealing at all. Buehrer, the owner and sommelier at Vino Gallery saw (or smelled) our distress and exhaustion and pulled a bottle of bright ruby pink wine from a table in the middle of the shop for us to try.

Long gone are the days when pink wine meant sweet and sticky. The resurgence of rosé-style wines has been strong with many French roses finding a standard place on local wine lists. Cantele's Negroamaro Rosato, however, is a varietal wine from Puglia, Italy. "This is a great rosé-style wine using negroamaro grapes," says Buehrer. "Negroamaro is also used to create big, bold reds that have lots of character but without any of that barn-yardy character you can find in big reds." Cantele is a small producer, just the type of unique, small-scale vineyard that Vino Gallery likes to search out and offer its clientele.

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Domaine Lafond Lirac Rouge from the Wine Merchant

Gut Check loves us some wine. We want a bottle with bang and a bang for our buck, so every week we will visit a local wine shop, where an expert will recommend a good-value wine priced under $15. We'll drink some and tell you whether we want to continue -- because the only time Gut Check has our nose in the air is while we're draining our glass.

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Erika Miller
The Domaine Lafond Lirac Rouge is a blend of grenache and syrah from France's Rhone Valley.
"I'm a Francophile," declared Dave Davis, assistant manager and "man about town" at the Wine Merchant (20 South Hanley Road, 314-863-6282) as he swilled a glass of 2009 Domaine Lafond Lirac Rouge from France's Rhone Valley.

When Gut Check popped in to the Wine Merchant on a sweltering (more like effing hot) July evening and asked Davis for a recommendation, he presented us with this red Cotes du Rhone. "If I had one area I could drink wine from, I would do the Rhone Valley," Davis says, citing its breadth of grapes and styles. "It covers all the bases."

The label on the Cotes du Rhone is as unassuming as the Wine Merchant itself, where helpful staff members dressed in casual T-shirts greet customers and traverse the many aisles making recommendations. The Wine Merchant appeals to wine experts and novices alike, with a huge selection of wines and an assortment of cheeses. For those wanting to expand their wine knowledge, the Wine Merchant offers classes and tastings several times a week.

During our impromptu lesson on Rhone Valley wines, Davis explains that this particular Cotes du Rhone is a blend of 70 percent grenache and 30 percent syrah. Grenache is predominant in the southern section of the Rhone Valley, while syrah rules in the north. This particular blend hails from Lirac, in the south of the Rhone. Davis credits the rockier soils for the nice mineral content of the wine, which he says shines through on the palette along with hints of dark red fruit and black pepper.

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