Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Noble Writ's St. Louis Grand Crus: Andrew Traughber, Bon Vivant Wines

Posted By on Tue, Mar 31, 2009 at 3:24 PM

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Dave Nelson is the author of the blog Beer, Wine and Whisky. He writes about wine for Gut Check every Tuesday.

St. Louis Grand Crus is an ongoing series in which I highlight an individual wine shop, restaurant or winery doing remarkable work in the St. Louis area. In this edition, it's Andrew Traughber and his Columbia, Illinois, wine shop, Bon Vivant Wines.

click to enlarge DAVE NELSON
  • Dave Nelson
Yes, I did say Columbia, Illinois, and, no, it's not as far as you think. Depending on where you live in St. Louis, it's either a short drive or a worthwhile outing. From mid-county, it takes about 30 minutes to get to Bon Vivant (less once we have highway 40 back); if you live in the southern part of the metro area, Columbia is about ten minutes into Illinois across the JB bridge.

What you get for your effort is a truly personal selection of wines you won't find in most shops in the country, let alone St. Louis. That selection is tended by a knowledgeable, thoughtful wine merchant eager to engage in conversation for the sole purpose of helping you choose wines you'll enjoy.

Andrew sees wine's primary purpose as a companion to food, but he's not uptight about food and wine pairing. The quest for the legendary "perfect match" holds little interest for him as a practical pursuit -- taste and smell are simply too ethereal and fleeting, particularly when you are engaging in the mental gymnastics of pairing a wine to a dish that has yet to be prepared. Instead, Andrew focuses on finding complimentary flavors and even textures. For him, wines that show purity and delicacy are the best source of good pairings.

 
click to enlarge Andrew Traughber of Bon Vivant Wines in Columbia, Illinois - DAVE NELSON
  • Dave Nelson
  • Andrew Traughber of Bon Vivant Wines in Columbia, Illinois

                                   Three Questions for Andrew Traughber

Wine Epiphany? An embarrassingly ripe Zinfandel that shall remain nameless.

Most Interesting Recent Wine? 1974 Sutter Home Zinfandel -- still lively and complex.

Holy Grail Bottle? A Roumier Musigny that is in its prime.
click to enlarge DAVE NELSON
  • Dave Nelson
The stock at Bon Vivant largely reflects Andrew's philosophy. Due to the smaller size of the shop, Andrew selects the wine carefully. He doesn't have room for non-essential wines, and you won't find wines there simply because every one else has them. Instead, Andrew covers a lot of ground with selections from great producers whose wines emphasize nuance and complexity. Classic producers are represented, but many bottles are made by rising stars or come from underappreciated regions, so their prices have not caught up with the quality inside.

Most of the wines at Bon Vivant are in the $10-$30 price range. Andrew feels the breadth and depth of his selection in this category measure up to those of any store in the region. There is also a rotating cast of eclectic value wines, and some impressive heavier hitters for people looking to splurge. I see the strengths of Andrew's stock in his Loire and Beaujolais selections, both of which are the top selections in the St. Louis area, and in esoteric and interesting producers from the United States.

A serious bonus for Missouri customers is Andrew's access to wines that make it into Illinois due to the Chicago market but don't cross the river. I routinely find bottles, like the Louis/Dressner portfolio, that I used to have to order from stores in New York City or San Francisco.

The other aspect I love about Bon Vivant's selection is how quickly it changes. There are always new and interesting things to try each time I visit. Andrew wants to sell wines that people enjoy, but he gets real satisfaction from introducing his customers to new and different wines that expand their knowledge and experience. That's a just and noble cause in my book, and if I were going to have a wine store, I would hope it would be a lot like Bon Vivant.

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