The Swill-O-Meter

We Swirl. We Sniff. We Swill.

Tony's aisles are loaded from ankle to waist with cases of wine of diverse variety and far-flung origin. Prices, however, seem to bounce consistently between $25 and $60, no matter the age or simplicity of the wine within. With the help of a Tony's salesman, we bought a case of wines--then assembled an expert tasting panel to evaluate our purchases. Our tasting party consisted of Diane Teitelbaum, a Dallas-based wine consultant and wine writer; Whit Meyers, vice president of food and beverage for Jeroboam and the Green Room restaurants; Susana Partida of Salute!, a wine broker; and myself.

With the exception of the 2001 Poppy Hill Cabernet Sauvignon (suggested retail $9.99, Tony's price $39.95, case discounted to $19.98) and the 2002 Château Les Anguillères Bordeaux (retail unknown; Tony's price $69.95), which the panel judged too harsh, the reds were fresh, simple and very drinkable.

Whites were more problematic. The best ones were crisp, very simple wines: the 2003 Salmon Creek Chardonnay (retails on the Web for $7.99; Tony's price $35.95, case discounted to $11.98); and the 2004 Andrew Peace Southeastern Australia Chardonnay (retails on the Web for $7;Tony's price $39.95, case discounted to $19.97). But the panel found that eight of the 12 whites tasted were either past their prime or in the throes of ruin and therefore undrinkable. A sampling, with our tasters' comments:

2000 Signus white BordeauxSuggested retail price unknown; Tony's price $49.95.

Whit Meyers: "Oxidized, maderized [brown with off flavors], undrinkable. If you

drank that for 50 bucks, you'd never buy another white Bordeaux."

1996 Chehalem Reserve Oregon Pinot Gris

Suggested retail price $19; Tony's price $34.95.

Meyers: "Pungent wet dog."

Susana Partida: "Don't put down dogs like that...cooked diesel. It's terrible for your brand...It's awful."

1995 Moonshine California Chardonnay

Suggested retail price unknown; Tony's price $29.

Meyers: "Burnt toast, burnt butterscotch."

Diane Teitelbaum: "Bitter, oxidized, old canned peach...too baked."

1997 Byington Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay

Suggested retail price $22; Tony's price $59.95.

Meyers: "It tastes like paint. Or varnish. It belongs in a hardware store. It tastes worse than mouthwash."

Partida: "That's a shame. That's a good wine normally."

1996 Château des Sarrins Cotes de Provence Rosé

Suggested retail price unknown; Tony's price $11.98.

Meyers: "Tastes like tamarind tea. It's done. It's bad."

1995 Reine Pédauque Les Rigaudes Cotes du Rhone

Suggested retail price unknown; Tony's price $35.95.

Teitelbaum: "Tanky, oxidized, finish is unpleasant, shows mold...Terrible."

We successfully exchanged the Château des Sarrins rosé and the Signus white Bordeaux for a salesman's recommendations of equivalent Tony's value: a 2001 Foppiano Pinot Noir (very good) and a 2000 Cordier Lauretan Blanc Bordeaux (badly oxidized and undrinkable). --Mark Stuertz

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