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ADVERTISING: Advertorial — What are we looking for?

by GEORGE BALLING
| March 24, 2021 1:00 AM

We taste almost every wine that comes in that’s destined for the shelf, featured in our wine clubs, or used in any of our weekly and monthly special offers. The only wines we don’t taste before we put them in our shop is the highest of the high-end collector items that retail for hundreds of dollars. The distributors don’t pass those samples out for free, sadly. We get asked often what it is that we are looking for when we taste all this wine.

Let’s start with what we are not looking for and that is what we like to drink. What we enjoy is constantly changing, Mary’s and my tastes change regularly and they rarely lineup perfectly. To put a collection together for our clients based on only the things we like in any given week or month would likely leave our customers and community wanting. We get and embrace that each of us has a unique palate and enjoy differences in varietals, winemaking styles and places of origin.

When we taste a wine for inclusion in any of our programs we always start with balance. Several years back on a wine trip we put together for our customers called Wine Camp, our good friend, Bryan Hinchberger, came along as a presenter. Bryan has worked as a wine distributor and importer and possesses a wealth of knowledge on all things wine. Bryan’s mantra that weekend was, “It’s all about the balance.”

It became so popular that we had T-shirts made for all of the guests who joined us that weekend with that saying on the shirt. Before — and since — we always focus on a wine having balance. It is the first criteria of a well-made wine that all the components fit together in balance. Oak, fruit, tannin, sugar or lack of it, mouthfeel, texture, alcohol level and more must be in harmony for a wine to show its true potential. It is the first criteria of a well-made wine.

Another criteria we watch for is whether a wine is true to its varietal make up and place of origin. Over the years we have seen wines that seek to over emphasize the varietal or regional characteristics they are known for. Oregon Pinot Noirs with over amplified acids for the sake of acid, or New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs that are tart and green to the point of being unpalatable are just a couple of examples of winemaking taking the place of terroir influences, to make a point it seems, resulting in not very good wine.

Similarly, we don’t like to see whacky varietal combinations, or varietals being handled in ways they ought not be. We’ve tasted Sauvignon Blanc that was not only aged in oak but also left with residual sugar in the wine — it was dreadful. We’ve also been shown Viognier and Chardonnay blended together, two of the richer white varietals that when combined, only fight each other for prominence. And we’ve endured tasting rosé made from varietals like Cabernet, a full bodied, tannic red grape that doesn’t lend itself to rosé production. While we applaud innovations in winemaking there are some things that shouldn’t be fooled with.

We look for wines that our customers and community will enjoy. Wines that taste good and are varietally correct and that span the range of what a diverse group of wine consumers are searching for. A big part of this is a wine fairly priced for what it is, wine consumers are not likely to enjoy wines they feel are too expensive for what they are getting. Wine consumers all have different budgets for what they enjoy; from the value priced wines to the super premium, each price point has its consumers. The trick is that whether that bottle is $10 or $200, it needs to deliver on the expectations. We taste wines all the time that we consider good. The question then, is it that good? If quality and price don’t lineup then the wine will likely not succeed.

The best part is when we see that we have gotten it right. It happens when wine we bring in and think is really good and develops a following among our customers. It doesn’t always happen but when we can’t keep a wine in stock because so many of you keep coming back for it over and over, we know we have chosen well.

We all like different aromas, flavors and styles of wine. If we all liked the same thing, we would only need one wine. It's clearly not the case. Our job is to find wines that fit these diverse tastes here in our community — not for us, but for you. Come by the shop and we will try to find the wine that fits your taste each and every time.

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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.