|Bandit, Bianco, 1 Liter, Italian Trebbiano, 2003. $6 Find this wine|
Sometimes it’s all about your expectations. George Bush strings words into sentences without making any egregious grammatical errors in a debate and lo and behold, he’s won! Same with this wine. It’s in a Tetra-Pak for crying out loud so your expectations are at rock bottom. But hey, it’s not half bad! The three thieves are actually three winemakers from California who broke through with their bold red jug wines last year. This year sees the Cal-Ital Bandit Bianco, made entirely from Italian Trebbiano grapes (brilliant marketing idea! Import surplus Italian wines rather than buying surplus domestic ones and consumers will pay a premium!). Pale yellow in color, this unoaked wine has a crisp acidity and a twang of steel tank. The Tetra-Pak makes it convenient for sticking in the picnic basket for summer concerts—just be sure to chill it before setting out since an cooling sleeve won’t fit around the box. Resealable. (Imported by Liberators, Inc, Sausolito, CA)
Wine in a box,
|Toad Hollow, The Eye of the Toad, Pinot Noir rose, Sonoma County, 2004. $8 Find this wine|
“Fine wine at a reasonable price” is the motto of Toad Hollow winery based in Healdsburg, Sonoma. This dry, crisp and refreshing rosé with notes of rose petals and strawberries is indeed easy on the palate and on the wallet (it is probably the cheapest, good Pinot Noir from California given how the prices have taken off post-Sideways. Since it is from their own vineyards, however, it will likely remain affordable unless they decide to divert the juice back to other Pinots that fetch a higher price). The flavors resemble excellent rosés from Europe though it is, surprisingly for a Pinot Noir, more full-bodied. The winemakers tip their hat at this style in the name, the eye of the toad, since French rosés are known colloquially in French as “the eye of the partridge.” A
great eye peers through the label. Enjoy with chevre or salads on the deck.
Antichi Vigneti de Cantalupo, Il Mimo, (rose) 2004. $11 Find this wine
This mime speaks volumes. On a hot summer day, there is nothing like a bottle of rosé glistening in the middle of an outdoor table surrounded
by excellent salads
|and breads and good company. And with plenty of warm weather being served up this summer across the northern hemisphere, I wouldn’t be surprised if rose sales were up higher than the thermometer. Il Mimo fits the bill very nicely with it crisp acidity and smooth and balanced fruit—it is one of the top value roses from Italy|
I’ve found this summer. (Importer: Summa Vitis, San Francisco)
Capcanes, Mas Donis, Barrica 2003. $11 Find this wine
These old vines keep pumping out excellent value vino. Located in Montsant, the value-minded person’s region next door to Priorat, these 60 year old Grenache and Syrah vines produce a profound wine. In the glass, it is transparent and deceptively light in color yet on the palate the complex flavors yield to a finish that is rare among value vino. I would serve this wine with confidence to any guests—and this vintage’s swanky new label helps it further punch above its price point. Importer: Eric Solomon, Charlotte, NC.
Luzon, Jumilla, 2004. $7
Find this wine
Lush and velvety this big red from Spain’s up-and-coming Jumilla region has great bang for the buck. If I had been traveling with a cork screw last week (which I wasn’t thanks to the TSA) this would have been my wine of choice (but since I wasn’t I factored in the corkscrew price and then opted for a screwcap from down under). This monastrell-syrah blend goes well with smoked or grilled meats and is on my list for “transitional reds for the fall” as well as “candidate for best label of the year.” Importer: Jorge Ordonez.
Teatro, Malbec. (NV). $6 Find this wine
This is an Orwellian wine. It states neither vintage nor place and comes from the eerie producer named “bodega A-72107″ (though the synthetic cork was stamped “Weinert,” a reputable producer). Why the marketing department at Bodega A-71207 chose the name Teatro and then put some restaurant watercolor scene on the label is known only to them but the wine gets the job done whether you’re having a pre-teatro menu or a BBQ. The wine does exhibit some of the red fruit leatheriness of Malbec but it is really only recommended for bargain hounds who won’t pay a dime over $6 since there are several other good examples still under $10 (viz Alamos). But, hey, if wine half this good were available by the glass in restaurants, wine drinkers would be happy. Importer: Pelloneda, NY.
|Castillo de Fuendejalon, crianza, Campo de Borja, 2001 $9 Find this wine
We’ve heard of wine in a box. And even wine in a paper bag. Well this wine bottle is packaged pre-bagged! Yes, I am recommending a wine under $10 in a paper bag (and I’m Dr. Vino, not Wino!). You may be familiar with the Rioja packaging of gold wire wrap, but this wine from Campo de Borja comes with all information printed a paper wrap. But it’s not the outside that’s important since the inside holds a pleasantly oaked, medium bodied red with notes of dark fruits and violets. A blend of old vine greache and tempranillo, this wine’s packaging makes it ready to hit the road and bring to friends at the grill. (Scoperta Importing, Cleveland Heights, OH)
Codice, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, 2002. $8 Find this wine
This balanced red has notes of irony. It’s ironic because the term “codice” is the old word for Spanish laws and the wine is not from the strictest legal category, the denominacion de origen (D.O.), but instead from the larger and looser Vino de la Tierra de Castilla in the plains southeast of Madrid. However, since I have discovered several yummy, easy-drinking reds from this new area, it does lead wine drinkers to wonder about the values of the D.O.s. From the same family that makes Sierra Cantabria in the Rioja, this balanced, medium-bodied red is not earthshatteringly profound but it’s competently done and a good value. It is sure to be a crowd pleaser by the barbecue. A Jorge Ordonez selection (Tempranillo
Inc, Mamoroneck, NY)
de Roriz, Prazo de Roriz, Duoro 2003. $12 Find
This wine is international in style and if that’s ever a bad thing, it’s not in this case since I’ve tasted some pretty rough table wines from unreconstituted winemakers in Portugal. But the Duoro is really looking up and has become one of Europe’s best places for value vino (or vinho) as well as the exoticism of indigenous grape varietals, often unheralded internationally. This wine blends the Tinta Roriz, Tinta Franca, Tinta Barroca and Touriga Nacional to come up with a smooth, fruit forward red wine with excellent aromas of leather (saddle, not jacket) and dark fruit. On the palate, the pleasant tannins also have an X factor that I ascribe to the Touriga but would make it a great match for smoked or grilled meats. Kudos go to the Duoro DOC, which has one of the prettiest certification stickers on the back of the bottle. Importer: Premium Port Wines (San Francisco, CA).
|Peachy Canyon, Incredible red, Bin 114, 2002. $9. Find this wine
This will provide the American red for the 4th of July-you can supply the white and the blue. I often like a chilled white or rose in the summer to beat the heat. But then there are those meals, such as BBQ, that just cry out for a big red and the all-American Zinfandel fits the bill (although DNA research has proven the grape has its roots in Sicily and Slovenia). Peachy Canyon, a family-owned winery near Paso Robles, has a line of affordable zins. This “incredible red” is not the most full-throttled example of the grape, but is balanced with dark fruits and a peppery finish. 7,800 cases produced.
See the previous list including great summer wines
Crisp, racy whites
Simonsig, Chenin Blanc. 2004 $8.99 Find this wine
The rapid pace of change in the South African wine industry means that the country’s wines are a blend between old and new. Chenin blanc, for example, has been grown for centuries in the country and marketed under the name “steen” but has only recently been rebranded as Chenin
blanc. This Simonsig Chenin blanc is much more full flavored and lush than the traditional Loire style, but it still has that crisp acidity that makes it an excellent summer quaffer. Since the transition to democracy and the re-opening of the export markets a decade ago, Simonsig has worked to increase the quality of this wine and it certainly is apparent in the wine’s delicious fruit. (28,000 cases made; imported by Quintessential, Napa, CA)
Domaine des Cassagnoles, vdp Gascogny, 2003, $8. Find this wine
This bargain white is likely to become a summer staple around the Dr. Vino headquarters. Gascogny produces many great, rustic wines.
Winemaker and owner Gilles Baumann uses only fruit from his estate in this blend of three grapes that don’t grab the headlines (Colombard,
Ugni Blanc, and Gros Manseng). This crisp and refreshing white should be in everyone’s picnic basket as it matches well with warm weather
and lighter fare such as salads or sandwiches. Beat the exchange rate with this bargain! Importer: Weygandt-Metzler.
|Crios, rose, Mendoza, 2004. $9.99 Find this wine
The Malbec is fast on its way to becoming Argentina’s signature grape. The big, brawny red makes a great accompaniment to grilled meats, abundant in the Argentina. But it is rare that
|Check out the extended profile of Susana Balbo in The Real Wine World|
Malbec makes a rosé. Bleeding this wine off of her old-vine Malbec, Susana Balbo has crafted a serious rosé, dark in color, that would help the most devout red wine drinkers transition to summer. The wine is excellent with grilled calamari—in fact, anything grilled—and particularly great when consumed outdoors! Importer: Vine Connections.
Jean Luc Colombo, rose de Cote Bleue, 2004, $9.99 Find this wine
Summer is a great time to drink pink. It reached 90F (32 C) this week on the Dr. Vino deck and in that kind of heat it’s hard to drink red. So we often think red and drink pink in the heat of summer. Jean-Luc Colombo (who grew up in Provence but now makes most of his wines in the northern Rhone) has rehabilitated this Cote Bleue domain on the hills near Marseilles to make some quite savory rosés. This wine was one of two that struck me as being at the sweet spot in terms of value at a recent Provence rosé tasting. This Rosé de Côte Bleue is a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Counoise grapes, all hand-picked and goes great with salads and grilled white fish—under the shade of an umbrella of course! Importer: Palm Bay Imports (Syosset, NY).
|Cuvée de Peña, vdp Pyrenées-Orientales,
2003, $8. Find this wine
The label says Peña and the synthetic cork says Pène
(but the name could also be the Catalan “Penya”)—call it what you will, this wine is an excellent bargain. A balanced, medium-bodied blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre, this un-oaked and unfiltered wine from near Perpignan goes well with grilled meats. The hot 2003 vintage makes it clock in at 13.9% alcohol but it is silky smooth nonetheless. Buy this one by the case! Importer: Hand Picked Selections (Warrenton, VA).
Caparra & Siciliani, Ciro, Rosso Classico,
2002 $11.99. Find this wine
Are you tired of big reds, high in alcohol? Then this Ciro from Calabria in the boot of Italy is for you. Weighing in at an old-fashioned
12.5% alcohol, this red is light in color but that doesn’t shortchange the flavors of this 100% Gaglioppo. Soft tannins and a light acidity
complement the hint of red berries that make it an excellent and balanced food wine. In fact, I thought of the title of David Rosengarten and Josh Wesson’s Red Wine with Fish as some pan seared halibut would be a great accompaniment to this wine. Importer: Gregory Smolik (S Cubed Selection, Maverick Wine Co., Chicago).
Cortes de cima, Chaminé, Vidigueira, 2002. $10.99. Find this wine
Portugal has long been known for Port but the quality of its table wines has been steadily improving over the last decade. There are many compelling examples made from indigenous grapes such as the Touriga, but this one has the unusual combination of blending Tempranillo (which has greater renown in Spain) and Syrah from Alentejo, in the south of Portugal. The result is a silky smooth and full bodied red with rich dark color and unctuous flavors, including notes of plum. The Jorgensen family owns and operates these vineyards using sustainable agriculture.
Importer: Tri-Vin (Mt. Vernon, NY).
Elsa, Barbera, (San Rafael). 2003. $7 Find this wine
Barbera from Argentina? Yes, this classic grape of Piedmont has successfully relocated to the San Rafael district in southern Mendoza. Velvety smooth, with notes of strawberry and cherry and little of the acidity typical of Barberas, this new world interpretation of the old world grape is an excellent value. The single vineyard for this wine lies 2500 feet above sea level and the Bianchis practice sustainable agriculture and harvest the grapes by hand. If this is what Barbera can do in Argentina, Malbec should be shaking in its boots! Importer: Quintessential, LLC. (4,000 cases produced).
Chateau la Baronne, Corbieres, 2001, $9.99
If you have a hankering for the blends of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre from the south of France but have seen the prices rise above $10, then consider this wine currency relief. The 60% Carignan takes away the heft of Syrah and makes it a perfect transitional red for spring weather, lighter in color but full of spice, dark fruits and garrigue from the Corbieres in Languedoc. Hand harvested from a vineyard that practices sustainable agriculture and bottled unfined and unfiltered, this is one good red baronne. Importer: Louis/Dressner.
Ramon Cardova, Rioja, 2003 $11 Find this wine
Noah, Tevel, Judean Hills, 2002 (or 5762 in the Hebrew calendar). $14
About a decade ago Robert Parker reviewed a Spanish white lavishing praise in his prose and calling it “the best white wine
from Spain I have ever had.” Score: 88 points. I had similar feelings about these two kosher wines, which were both very good for Passover but I might not run to get them the rest of the year. However, those Passover-observing wine geeks who can’t bear the sight of Manischewitz ever again can rejoice that the quality of kosher wines has risen to the level on display here. The Ramon Cardova is a competent Tempranillo with traditional dark fruits, oak influence and soft tannins (importer: Royal Wine Corp). The Noah comes from the Judean Hills outside of Jerusalem and is a 60-40 blend of Cab and Merlot (importer Abaranel Wine Co). It is robust and full bodied despite being “mevushal,” a boiling process which previously meant something like “death to quality.” Advances in winemaking now mean simply that this wine can remain kosher even when served by non-Jews. L’Chaim! For more on kosher, click here.
Beyond the grade (but worth it):
Maison Bouachon, Vacqueyras, 2003. $18 Find this wine
Verget, Saint-Veran, “Terres Noires,” 2001. $18 Find this wine
Dehlinger, Syrah, reserve, 1997. $?? Find this wine
With an unlimited budget, finding great wine is easy: proceed to auctions for the old vintages and leading shops and the wineries directly for the current releases. Yes, there are some details such as struggling to get on the latest cult winery mailing list but the general point remains the same: if price is no object, there are a lot of choices in the wine world.
What’s really hard is trying to find good, exciting wine that doesn’t break the bank. So if the household budget has limits on wine, or even if you are trying to find an expensive favorite for the lowest price, several strategies can maximize the wine dollar.
Where to shop
When bigger is better. Large format retailers drive hard bargains with producers and distributors and mostly pass those cost savings on to the consumer. However, in order to keep costs down, the range wines offered may be neither large nor exciting. If Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay is what you’re after, then Costco is the place for you.
Small is beautiful. While small wine shops are lots of fun, it can be difficult to find bargains. Usually owned by a proprietor who works on the premises, small shops can have a specialty (often a particular country). They are conveniently located either around the corner in a city or next to a supermarket in the country mall. Talk with the staff, particularly the owner, and find out where the shop’s strengths lie. And take advantage of any discounts or freebies listed below, such as free tastings on Fridays or Saturdays.
Mid-sized may be the sweet spot. The mid-sized chain has enough clout with distributors to move the goods and deliver low prices yet may not have forsaken its small shop roots. San Francisco’s The Wine Club and Chicago’s Binny’s and Wine Discount Center are some good examples of low prices and great selections.
Clicks and mortar: The internet has proven a great place to shop for books, DVDs and the latest electronics, but the full potential of the internet has not yet been realized for wine consumers. The recent Supreme Court decision will hopefully radically reshape this landscape very soon. Amazon’s recent partnership with Wine.com could be a sign of things to come in this dynamic space.
How to shop
Taste on someone else’s tab. With so many thousands of wines produced every year, consumers can be easily overwhelmed. And retailers know that. So many of them pour their wines for free! Check you local store for free tastings, often held in evenings during the week and during the day on Saturday. Tasting through all the wines at any given tasting (and yes, spitting is allowed!) will give you a better understanding of the different wine styles available, which over time, will help sharpen your own knowledge and preferences.
Take advantage of seasonal sales. Wine retailing is a business and businesses care about inventory. Certain times of the year demand is slow or new products arrive to push the old ones out the door and consumers should prey on these opportunities. Spring and fall are common times for sales so stock up. One consumer told me recently that he buys about 10 cases of wine a year for his house and buys four or five cases at the spring and fall sales. Walking out of the shop pushing a cart full of multiple cases may seem like a lot, but not only is it economically prudent, it also provides a heady feeling having all that wine (but be sure to store it properly).
Buy in bulk. Large discount retailers claim to offer shoppers “the best prices every day” and therefore don’t rely on sales. Most other shops, however, has some sort of loyalty program or incentive to have you buy more. The most common discount is after bringing a mixed case (12 bottles) to the register, the whole purchase receives a discount of 10, 15, or 20%. This is also a handy index to markups at a shop: the higher the case discount, the more you know the average per bottle price is ripping you off.
Become a regular. Wine shops can offer a “friend’s price” to regular patrons through various loyalty schemes. I recently went to a shop that offered 10% off a single bottle and 20% off cases to members of their club. The only way to become a member of the club, however, was to buy 50 different bottles of wine. This works if it is the shop near you; if you are just visiting the relatives out of town, it may be better to bring wine from home. Loyalty also has the perk of having the staff either reserve certain hard-to-find wines for you or to make accurate and personal recommendations for you.
Check for specials. Bottles that don’t sell can wind up as “bin ends.” Sometimes these are bottles that have had a hard time selling. However, use caution with these wines—a “how can you go wrong for $5.99?” attitude can end up costing you $5.99 if you just end up pouring it down the drain! Check the label for a lack of wine stains and push the cork to check for looseness, both of which may indicate the wine had been improperly stored. Discounts can also be thematic for a week or a month (for example, I recently saw “Pinot Envy” at Union Square Wines in New York in honor of the movie Sideways which discounted Pinots by all 10-25%).
Search the web. I recently bought a camera for cheap through Yahoo Shopping by plugging in the model number and then doing “sort by price.” Wine on the web is not quite at this level of pure price competition yet several search tools do bring it somewhat closer. Wine Searcher and WineZap offer buyers who are looking for specific wines the opportunity to type in a producer and a vintage, which generates multiple vendors. While many local shops may be able to ship across state lines thus avoiding sales tax, it is essential to check the shipping rates as this alone can eat up any cost or tax savings.
Let someone else carry it home for you. Many shops, particularly urban shops, have free delivery to customers in range. While it is not exactly a cost savings to get someone else carry your wine for you, it can be convenient not to have to schlep the 40 pound case any more than you have to.
Happy value hunting. Cheers!