smart spending

It's a buyer's market for wines

Spain

History: Spain has become one of industry's pillars for great wine. Today, the country might be delivering the most bang for your buck with that bold international flavor you find in expensive French wine.

Celebrated varietals: "Spanish reds are doing a great. From cellar-worthy, super high-end Riojas and Priorats to immediately accessible Campo de Borja blends, they are very inexpensive," Hughes says. "I love Spain right now."  

Best buys: The 2004 Campo Viejo, an award-winning Riojas vineyard, is selling for $14 and pairs beautifully with bleu cheeses. Its bright ruby-red color and complex blackberry aromas leave way for a delicious taste of fruit. This wine and other Spanish wines compete with the world's very best but sell for a fraction of the cost. That's because Spain has more vineyard area than other European countries and much of the wine is distilled for making brandy, Puglia says. "More of these grape growers from lesser-known regions are starting to make decent wine from these grapes instead of trying to sell it in bulk to brandy makers," Puglia says. "Now, lesser-known Spanish regions like Yecla and Jumilla are producing big, ripe jammy reds."

Jason Smith, master sommelier and director of wine for the Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas, recommends buying several value Spanish wines at once. Do your own little taste testing and pay close attention to the importer on the back of the label. Every importer's wines will taste different, he says, and you should stick with the importer that selects wine that meets your expectations. "It's great to read reviews, but nothing is better than tasting," Smith says.

United States

History: While the United States will never catch up in winemaking years, some states are making up for time with innovation. California, Oregon and Washington wines have become international sensations with their great grapes.

Celebrated varietals: California's Napa Valley is now home to some of the world's best-selling value wines, including Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 for about $9.99, depending on where you shop. Washington and Oregon have great vineyards producing excellent white wines, such as the 2007 Grand Estates Chardonnay for around $12.99 and the Erath 2007 Pinot Gris for about $15.

Best buys: For Kevin Brown, winemaker for R&B Cellars, the best value of them all is America's heritage grape, the zinfandel, a red wine that tastes like berry fruits.

"Zinfandel is just a phenomenal wine and the very best zinfandel isn't going to cost you more than $70 a bottle," Brown says. A good zinfandel to buy would be Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel 2007, which is rich and tastes like ripe fruit and is priced around $15.
"You can't say that about just about any other varietals -- the best cabernets, pinot noirs and chardonnays cost in the thousands," he says.

Some wine connoisseurs, especially those from the Old World countries, believe American wines often are overmarketed and overpriced. While this is debatable, the best American value may not be in the big-league regions like Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley. Smith says to look for up-and-coming American regions, like Paso Robles, Calif., for great buys. Paso Robles produces cabernet sauvignon, syrah, zinfandel, merlot and pinot noir and are known for their consistency. "Also try different varietals. Don't just try chardonnays and pinots," Smith says. "Try some things that are not so mainstream, like petite syrah and sauvignon blanc that can deliver a better value."

One last tip: Some of the more popular importers offer great wines at bargain prices. Look for wines imported by Robert Kacher Selections, Winebow, Kermit Lynch, Michael Skurnik, Terry Theise and Polaner.

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