The Waco Brothers’ Dean Schlabowske

The Waco Brothers’ Dean Schlabowske

The guitarist and Cellar Rat owner talks the best, worst, and cheapest wines around

For years now, the Waco Brothers have been kicking up their heels around Christmas time at Schubas. This year, they’re headlining Dec. 18 and 19, entertaining a beer and whiskey crowd, most of whom are full to the brim with liquid holiday cheer.

For the more refined of Waco fans and Schubas reveler, though, one need only look to Wacos singer and guitarist Dean Schlabowske, a.k.a. Deano Waco. When he’s not rockin’ and rollin’, he’s the owner of Cellar Rat wine shop in Wicker Park.

With holiday gifting and partying season in full swing, The A.V. Club asked him (via e-mail) for some help with some fancy wine picks for everyone from non-wine fans to total cheapskates.

The A.V. Club: What’s the best wine for beer drinkers?

Dean Schlabowske: Depends. No, I’m not saying that beer drinkers should wear Depends. If we’re talking micro brew drinkers, I’d pick a big California Zinfandel. Fans of those intense, hoppy beers are looking for a blast of flavor. I have a great Paso Robles Zin from Midnight Cellars for $15.99. Bud or Miller Lite drinker? Try Ca’Stella Pinot Grigio for $9.99. These folks aren’t in it for the flavor, but at least you’ll be giving them a good example of a light style.

AVC: What’s the best wine for Christmas eve?

DS: If it’s just you and the loved one, Champagne wins. A small production wine, like the Brut Non-Vintage from Henri Mandois for $37.99, has tons more character than the household names produced by the tanker load—I’m looking at you, Agent Orange! (That’s a Veuve Clicquot joke, if I got too wine industry on you there.)

AVC: What about a wine for Christmas morning?

DS: Again, bubbles will do the trick. The Meinklang Pinot Noir Frizzante (a sparkling rosé of PN) makes a great breakfast wine. Low in alcohol, a hint of sweetness, beautiful salmon color, and produced by a family owned, organic winery in Austria.

AVC: Is there a good wine to serve hot? Is anything good mulled?

DS: Never been much of a fan, personally. I’d rather drink good wine than cheap, hot wine and spices.

AVC: What’s the best wine under $20?

DS: Red? White? Sweet? Dry? A current favorite in red is a Chilean Syrah from Elki. At $16.99, the wine has loads of body without being overly fruity, wonderful aromas of spice and tobacco. California Syrah or French of this quality would be $30. In a white, I love the Breussin Vouvray Sec-dry Chenin Blanc from France’s Loire Valley. Intense pear, apple, and spice note with a great underlying minerality. Again, $16.99.

AVC: What about the best wine under $10?

DS: Just under the wire at $9.99, try the San Silvestro “Ottone” Barbera from Italy’s Piedmont region. Medium bodied, in the classic dry Italian style with Barbera’s lovely berry fruit, this will go with just about anything. For a white, try the Eté Cotes de Gascogne at $7.99. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Columbard from the same French region where Armagnac brandy is made. Like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc? This tastes pretty similar to $15 bottles.

AVC: Is there a best wine under $5?

DS: This, I’m afraid, is a fantasy. Sorry, there is NO good wine under $5 per bottle. I’m not being judgmental here—if you don’t have much dough and you want to drink $3 wine, go for it. Just don’t pretend it’s good wine. No need to. PBR drinkers don’t pretend that they’re drinking good beer. But don’t try to convince me (or yourself) that Two Buck Upchuck is good.

AVC: What’s the best wine to give as a cheap gift?

DS: There’s no shame in giving cheap wine. It’s the thought that counts, right? And alcohol is a nice thought. Ask the wine geek at your favorite wine shop (you know, the one that plays guitar in the Waco Brothers) for a great value from some out of the way place with a decent looking package.

AVC: Is there a good way to seem smart when you’re talking about wine?

DS: The more detail you use in trying to describe a wine’s taste, the more people will secretly be thinking, “What a douche!” Most people don’t know much about wine. That doesn’t make them unsophisticated. Smart wine drinkers don’t try to impress.

AVC: What’s the best way to get over a nasty wine hangover?

DS: Drink lots of water, eat lots of food, then begin a regimen of recovery wine. Maybe start with a mimosa, then gradually move on to bigger, bolder wines. Repeat the next day, and the next, and the next...

AVC: What’s the most overrated wine?

DS: Oh, where to begin! Here are the three wines most wine shop employees will try to talk you out of buying: The aforementioned Veuve Clicquot (not terrible, just a $25 bubbly that sells for $45), Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio ($20 bottled water—the Lite of the wine world), and Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay (what White Zin drinkers graduated to and it’s just about as sweet). I would add Dom Pérignon and Roederer Cristal to the list. Certainly good Champagnes, but you can buy better for half the price.

AVC: What’s the most “Waco” wine?

DS: The Wacos are like Cotes-du-Rhone—hearty, spicy, reliable, not too highbrow.

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