" DON'T LEAVE THE PATH!"
-Gandalf, in J.R.R.Tolkien's The Hobbit
If you're a Tolkien fan, I don't need to tell you that Gandalf was cautioning Bilbo and the dwarves not to stray from Mirkwood Forest's central path. If you're NOT a Tolkien fan (query: why on earth not?), then just put it this way: a variety of rather nasty things were lying in wait for those who ventured into the trees. Of course Bilbo and the dwarves didn't listen to Gandalf, and their shortcut made a good bit of trouble for them but a delicious story for us.
Alternative routes have always fascinated me. What's down that road/behind that door/ inside that gate? Good, bad, or indifferent, I'm always curious. If there's a whiff of something forbidden or unconventional in the air, even more so. Which is why Wednesday found me at a closeout wine tasting, knee-deep in Auxerrois, Prié Blanc, and Blaufränkisch. There were a few hundred wines on the tables; I could definitely have found an acceptable Chardonnay, a decent Cab, or something else that colored inside the lines. But I wasn't looking for acceptable, decent, or merely safe. I was looking for fascinating, surprising...delicious. And I found it in the aforementioned Auxerrois, Prié Blanc, and Blaufränkisch.
Distributor closeout tastings happen for a number of reasons. Maybe a portfolio of wines has been discontinued, or moved to a different supplier. Maybe one vintage arrived late, and the next one early. Maybe the accountants said, 'Too much. Reduce your skus by X percent.' But the most frequent reason wines end up on a closeout list is this: the portfolio manager found an exquisite but obscure little wine, took a gamble on it selling through, but the sales staff were either too busy or too unimaginative to sell it. Sometimes both at once.
That's where we come in. Sure-wines with an unfamiliar name, grape, or region are harder to sell than widely-recognized brands, grapes, and labels. We have to explain them, or maybe open a bottle and let our customers taste them. But the rewards can be incredible-great wine at a fraction of the original price. Because the wine that the portfolio manager took a gamble on? I want that wine. I don't care what it's called. I suspect you may want it, too..
Despite losing the path, Bilbo and the dwarves make it out of Mirkwood mostly in one piece. In the end, Bilbo's alternate route was actually safer than the 'official' one. The closeout tasting ended similarly: I avoided the plonk, and picked up some absolutely amazing bargains. We look forward to sharing them with you.