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Value Alert: 2009 Balletto Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

Monday, August 22, 2011

The road to discovering new wine producers can take many directions. I usually have at least a dozen wines on my mental shopping list - a combination of recommendations from friends on Twitter, things I've read on blogs, tips from friends in real life, offers from retailers, and favorable ratings from wine publications. It typically takes months for me to hear a recommendation, seek a wine out, procure it, taste it, and write something up about. But I recently discovered a wine and completed the whole cycle in just a week.

To kick off Restaurant Week Boston we visited Sorellina. It was our first time there and I thought it was fantastic: Elegant & serene but with a lively atmosphere. Impeccable service. Outstanding food. 4.5/5 stars. Enjoyed it very much.

That said, the mark-up on the wine was pretty aggressive. The table next to us ordered a $140 bottle of Groth Cabernet that's readily available at retail for $39.99. I think I've even seen it for $34.99. $210 for a bottle of '07 Orenellia...too bad it was a half bottle.

But restaurants almost always use wine as a profit center - nothing new there. I chose to go the by-the-glass route. I probably should have gone with something from Italy (Sorellina is a modern Italian restaurant) but I just wanted to enjoy some wine with whatever I might order. I went for a glass of 2009 Balletto Pinot Noir for $14.

In the context of the tranquil environment, beautiful stemware, and ideal serving temperature I thoroughly enjoyed the wine. I took note of the producer and thought to check whether I could track it down at retail. I did a search on Wine-Searcher.com (the gold standard for finding wine online) and it turned up a retailer who said they had it for less than $20. That's the good news.

The bad news it was only available at Select Liquors - a retailer I've had bad luck with. I've tried ordering wines from them at least a couple other times and they've never fulfilled for one reason or another. However, after a couple days I received an email saying my wine was ready for pick-up.

Select Liquors is situated within Bazaar on Cambridge - a funky but evidently well-regarded (according to Yelp reviews) Russian grocery in Allston. I had a hard time finding someone who spoke English to direct me to where I could get my wine. I showed my ID at the register and that was that. I got my 2 bottles of Balletto and I was on my way.

Drinking it later that night during family pizza night (Old School this week for those keeping score) something occurred to me. The atmosphere in which I tasted the wine the first time couldn't have been much more different. And I have to say - although it was still outstanding the second time I did like it more the first.

In many ways a bottle of wine is a commodity. The effort that goes into preparing it in a restaurant pales in comparison to the Lobster Gnocchi we had at Sorelina (which was amazing by the way). But when you factor in the overall experience and the resulting discovery of great wines that can occur it's a bit easier to swallow the high markups we see in restaurants.

2009 Balletto Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.9% Alcohol
4,004 Cases Produced
Release Price: $24

Rich but not overripe. Black cherry and cola notes. A little rough around the edges (mildly astringent, which may improve with time) but there's so much right here it's hard not to love. Really nice wine.

90/100 WWP: Outstanding

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Question of the Day: 
What's your strategy for dealing with overpriced wine in restaurants?

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