When the results of Plonkapalooza, the Globe's annual wine tasting, are published, customers come out in droves. They arrive at wine shops throughout the Greater Boston area with print article in hand -- or, more commonly these days, on smart phones or tablets. Top vote-getting wines sell out quickly. Even after nine years of conducting the annual event, we are still amazed by the response. Readers tell us they refer to the list of wines -- $15 and under, nominated by area wine shops -- well into the new year. In case you missed it, here is the article, "Value wines offer some surprises," along with the list of 50 nominated wines.
The story gives folks a glimpse at how expert tasters select their favorites. But how do wine shops nominate the wines that get tasted? (Starting in the summer, we ask each for a list of five whites and five reds. The Globe purchases all bottles.) Recently, we circled back around to this year's participating retailers to ask them.
"It's a unique opportunity to nominate wines that I myself would drink," says Nicolas Haegeli, Old World wine manager at Colonial Spirits of Acton. "I nominate things that I enjoy, and what customers enjoy." When narrowing down his list, he selected bottles that represent "something a little bit different." A white Rioja is a good example -- many people expect all Rioja to be red.
"It's always fun to have the opportunity to talk about wines with consumers," says John Hafferty, owner of Bin Ends in Braintree and Needham. "At its heart, that's what Plonkapalooza is all about...opening doors to learn about fine wines." Like all of the pours in his inventory, the bottles he nominated represent a "sweet spot" -- notches above commodity wine, but not so high-end that customers are put off by price. We are impressed that Bin Ends offers a South African sauvignon blanc (normally retailing for $13) for under $10 -- sure to please the value-minded enthusiast.
Mike Dupuy, owner of Streetcar Wine & Beer in Jamaica Plain, nominated unique, off-the-beaten-path pours that he carries regularly. Dupuy and staff member Dave Dougan selected wines from the shop's casual cart -- a 30-bottle display that frequently features selections $15 and under. They nominated the Croatian red that earned top marks from tasters. Current stock sold out within an hour of opening. "It's so exciting to see the new arrivals from Eastern Europe, especially in this price point, where people can experiment."
Some shop owners decided to throw in unexpected selections. John Libonati, who owns Social Wines in South Boston with his husband Chris Schutte, put forward a white wine from the Veneto that some might consider kitschy and easy to dismiss. "It's a good solid wine, " he says, remembering how much he and colleagues enjoyed it at a blind tasting a while back. "We're always searching for wines $15 and under."
TJ Douglas, who owns The Urban Grape with wife Hadley, nominated wines that are not only appealing and well-crafted, but bottles that "spark conversation." Douglas gives an example of a Rioja made of 100 percent graciano grapes rather than a tempranillo blend. Chelsea Bell, who oversees events and education at both shops in Chestnut Hill and the South End, helped make selections. "We chose wines based upon a mix of large and small distributors. We always get super excited...there are so many great wines in the $15 range." Ultimately, Bell asks herself the same question echoed by fellow nominators:
"What would I like to drink?"
We thank the following retailers for this year's Plonkapalooza nominations: Bin Ends, Braintree (781-817-1212) and Needham (781-400-2086), Colonial Spirits, Acton (978-263-7775), Social Wines, South Boston (617-268-2974), Streetcar Wine & Beer, Jamaica Plain (617-522-6416), The Urban Grape, Chestnut Hill (617-232-4831) and South End (857-250-2509).