I was doing some research for a friend on, of all days, Good Friday, and was perusing the Manitoba Liquor Marts website for some wine suggestions. This isn’t something I do often — I usually just go to the site to find out prices or see what’s still available or what isn’t.
But a friend who was travelling in the States had emailed, asking me for some recommendations of wines that would be about $40 here at home, because he thought he could pick them up for about $20 in the U.S. to serve at a picnic reception he was hosting for a bunch of broadcasters.
Since the $40 range is not a price-point I frequent often, I turned to the site for some guidance. And as I was attempting to seek out some Italian and Californian wines to suggest (he’s a dyed-in-the-wool Italian wine fan, but was also interested, with some very specific qualifiers, in considering some American wines because he thought they might be — and I’d bet they likely ARE — much less expensive in the country in which they’re produced), I had a VERY pleasant surprise.
Now believe me, I understand it when wine prices increase. It’s the nature of the marketplace. Prices go up. They don’t go down. At least, not very often. I’ve noticed with American wines that increases or decreases seem to be tied to the value of the Canadian dollar. If our dollar is lower than the U.S. greenback, prices of American wines increase in Canadian liquor stores. If our dollar is worth more than that of our neighbours to the south (and how I long for those days to return!), prices drop. Well, SOMETIMES they drop. Not always. And even when they do, it’s often not much or not for a very long time, until current stocks have been depleted. And even THEN, the price drop is usually minimal.
There was one occasion a few years back, when a really lovely Chardonnay, the Chateau St. Jean from California dropped a full four dollars, going from $23.99 a bottle to $19.99 a bottle. It’s stayed at that lower price for a few years now, which is great. The Chateau St. Jean has just the right amount of oak, and it’s very pleasant. Heavy — I guess full-bodied might be a better way to put it — but with delicate undertones, I adore this wine. With a bit of citrus — lemon, I think — some apple and peach flavour, the Chateau St. Jean (pronounced ‘Jean,’ as in the female name in English, not ‘Jean,’ as in the male name in French — this should be straightforward because the product is American, but of course the ‘Chateau’ makes all of this massively confusing), this beautiful wine is layered, and complex, and really buttery.
But even with that experience under my belt, you can understand my excitement and disbelief when I noticed in my examination of the listings that the price of Sledgehammer Zinfandel, which I also adore, had fallen a full six dollars. Six bucks? Come ON, now. That never happens!
I figured maybe the company had had a bad year — that the product was no longer up to snuff and wasn’t the delightful beverage I was impressed by at the Rotary Westman Wine Festival Gala Dinner a couple of years ago. So to find out for sure, I set out to pick up a bottle of the Sledgehammer Zin at the 10th and Victoria Liquor Mart. Until recently, I’d been swearing by another California product, the Paso Creek Zinfandel, which was and is delicious — it’s loaded with black fruit, and has a hint of licorice and a pinch or two of black pepper. It’s good to sip, but it’s even better with barbecue — either pork ribs or beef short ribs — and it sells for $18.99 a bottle. And it’s a great wine.
But I was keen to try the Sledgehammer again, just to see what the story was. Other than a drop in quality, I couldn’t figure out why it had gone from $22.99 down to — get this — $16.99!! — unless something was really amiss.
So imagine my surprise when I got to the Liquor Mart, found the Sledgehammer Zin and checked the label. It was the 2010 vintage! And that vintage had been great in years past! So I bought a bottle, which was particularly good timing since we were planning to have short ribs for the next evening’s meal.
Needless to say, I was apprehensive but still hopeful when I popped the cork as the dinner hour approached. I took a deep breath, poured a tasting amount into my glass, swirled it around and took a sniff.
Yes! The expected peppery, cherry aroma that was undeniably Zinfandel to me.
I took a sip. Ahhh. This was what I remembered. Cherry, pepper and a hint of chocolate. And there’s no arguing with what it says on the label. "Big, bold and persistent." That’s the Sledgehammer Zin (which is aptly named) in a nutshell. I was beyond delighted.
Because it’s a rarity for prices to drop, especially so significantly, I’d definitely suggest taking advantage of the Sledgehammer price now. With our dollar now hovering around 90 cents U.S., who knows what the price-point will be next time around. I plan to grab as much as I can, especially of the 2010 vintage. But if it’s the same price, I’ll certainly not turn up my nose at more recent incarnations of the Sledgehammer Zinfandel. A great wine at a reasonable price? I’m in.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 3, 2014