• By Allen Dale "Ole" Olson   |   Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 11:53 am   |     |   Print   |   Permalink

It wasn’t exactly a dare, but it was a challenge. “Would you ever drink a wine like that?” she asked. I have never wanted to be a wine snob, but I confess that every time I walked by the stacks of Three Wishes wines in Whole Foods, I shuddered just a bit. At $2.99 a bottle, the shelf notes taunted “Two-Buck-Chuck.” Yesterday I bought a bottle each of Three Wishes Chardonnay and Merlot.

I had just read Robin Garr’s thoughtful piece on “Can Merlot Be Saved” and wondered if by any chance Three Wishes could be an answer. There is a lot of Merlot in our market places that give the variety, if not a bad name, certainly an indifferent name. From Pomerol and a few other hallowed places, we know what Merlot can become, but mostly it comes to us as an easy-to-handle, risk-free commodity wine. So how could I go wrong with Three Wishes at $2.99?

It comes in a light-weight bottle with a small cork, two possible reasons its cost can be much lower than the heavier bottles we’re used to seeing from other California wineries, especially high end ones. It is low in alcohol, another plus to this aging palate. Unremarkable, yes, but as good as most $10 Merlots I have experienced. The fruit is there, the tannins are not. It is easy on the mouth and throat.

The Chardonnay did not hint of either citrus or oak. A Whole Foods reviewer found suggestions of pineapple; I did not. It tasted of the grape. Pure grape. Not bad. Could serve as a party wine. It will not replace Burgundy or Carneros, but for $2.99 — or even $5.99 or maybe even $7.99…

Before you think I’ve gone completely overboard, let me add a bit of perspective. A friend of mine married a woman from Naples. After each of his family visits he would bring back to our homes in Germany a case or two of “Papa’s Wine.” I never knew whether Papa made it or if it earned that designation because Papa always had it. It was what her family and her neighbors drank. I think it was Sangiovese-based, but I was never sure. It was a bit coarse but worked wonderfully with whatever we served at mealtime.

The caretaker of the building in which we lived was also from southern Italy. Every fall he would drive his truck to his home village and load it with grapes to bring back to our building’s basement in which he had placed two barrels. He claimed he couldn’t get “good grapes in Germany” so he made his own wine, a little white but mostly red. The stairwells in our building smelled wonderfully like a winery. His wines were certainly not complicated but they were very utilitarian. It was what he and his family had always drunk.

I have written several times about the cooperative in Argeles, the seaside village where we had a summer home. It was very pleasurable to take our unlabled liter bottles with stars around the neck to the co-op to fill them with red and white wines at about $2.00 each. There we would catch up on local gossip and meet just about everyone in the village en route to and from the bakery, the butcher shop, or the post office. These were the wines of the people.

Admittedly, Whole Foods may not accurately represent “the people” in a demographic sense, but its Three Wishes wine could be the counterpart of what these Italian and French villagers drink in their daily lives. Those village stores did not carry Piedmont or Bordeaux; they carried wines the people would use every day.

Will I use Three Wishes every day? No, but I may keep a supply on hand… just in case. Or to enhance our cooking. Or even for a large party. Or for tough economic times. It is, after all, a $2.99 wine. At that price, it’s a good wine.

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