This is a great time to buy wine.
Much like other industries, wine producers and sellers are trying to survive. They’re discounting wines and consumers are winning big. Rather than sitting on inventory, some stores now are pricing wines that once sold for $55 — from 2001 and older — for less than $15 per bottle.
What’s more, predicts Kevin Zraly, author of “Kevin Zraly’s American Wine Guide: 2009,” is that wine retailers will continue to drop prices by as much as 50 percent in the next six months.
“In the history of wine, this is the golden age of winemaking, and quality wine at a very good price,” Zraly says.
The value is not just in the top-shelf wines collecting dust. Like never before, good wine from all over the world is available in the $6 to $15 price range.
To help you narrow your choices, here’s a look at some of the countries serving up quality wines at affordable prices.
- United States
History: Argentine producers have been making wine for about 400 years. There’s little traumatic weather in the wine region — the western part of the country — making life easier on the vine and increasing production. Because the country’s landscape is vastly different — from forests to deserts — the country’s wine varieties vary significantly.
Celebrated varietals: The country is known for its syrah and cabernet sauvignon, both reds, and chardonnay, a white. But the best values — and its emblematic variety — are the Malbec wines, a single red-grape variety that is the most-widely produced in Argentina. “The Malbecs of Argentina are just superb stuff,” Zraly says. Argentine Malbecs are bold red wines often described as “not in-your-face,” and pair nicely with grilled meats, pizza, stews, roasted beef and tomato-sauce based dishes.
Best buys: There are some great-tasting vintages out there for only $10. Look for the years 2002 and 2003. But newer wines are just as pleasing and easy on the pocketbook. The 2007 Terrazas de los Andes Malbec goes for around $9.95 and the 2007 Tilia Malbec runs about $8.95. Cameron Hughes, founder of Cameron Hughes Wines, likes all years of the Gascon Malbec, owned by E. & J. Gallo. “It’s an outstanding Malbec for around 10 bucks,” Hughes says. “Argentine Malbecs is where the values are coming right now.”
History: Chile was the first New World country to grow grapes successfully, when the Spanish brought their vines in the 1500s. Since then, Chilean wines have won over oenophiles’ palates all over the world.
Celebrated varietals: Producing large quantities of mostly red varieties, Chile is known for its versatile, yet complex, cabernet sauvignon. With a nice body and flavors of currant, oak and hints of fruit, the typical Chilean cabernet sauvignon pairs well with cheeses, grilled salmon, steak and buttery dishes. Cabernet sauvignon is perhaps the world’s most heralded wine, and some recent vintages can run about as much as a car payment. However, many wine lovers say they don’t taste much difference between a $6.95 Chilean cabernet sauvignon and a $29.95 bottle from another country. “Chilean winemakers have low cost of goods because land costs there have not shot through the roof,” Hughes says.
Best buys: Chile also makes a very nice and affordable sauvignon blanc, a white wine that’s a bright yellow color with herbaceous, tropical and mineral tastes. These wines, like the Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc 2007 and Carmen Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, typically cost $10 to $15. They pair extremely well with sushi and white fish. Chilean sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon can compete with like wines from all over the world, says Charles Puglia, sommelier at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York. “More premium wines are coming out of Chile, and that’s creating an emergence of consistent quality across the board,” Puglia says.
History: It should come as no surprise that France is home to some of the world’s best wine regions. The most-celebrated region is Bordeaux, which produces more than 700 million bottles a year.
Celebrated varietal: Red Bordeaux wines have the reputation of being very pricey, but 90 percent of all Bordeaux wines cost less than $25, Zraly says. Bordeaux whites are blends from these white grapes: sauvignon blanc, sémillon and muscadelle; small portions of colombard and Ugni Blanc (used to make cognac) occasionally are added.
Best buys: The younger wines and smaller productions, especially, can be purchased right now for $15 or less and still give that intense aroma and boldness Bordeauxs are known for. For example, Chateau Lagarosse 2007 retails at $15 but delivers the same rush of strong fruit and a soft finish as bottles twice or three times its price. Puglia says instead of shopping for 2005 Pauillac, you should look on the label for Cotes de Bourg or Premier Cote de Bordeaux. “These lesser-known, small chateaus and satellite designations on the outskirts of the big ones are really good. And you can pick up a great bottle of wine for $10 to $15,” Puglia says. A good white Bordeaux for about $8.99 is the Augey White Bordeaux — a combination of sauvignon, semillion and muscadelle grapes.
Noteworthy: While it’s the best-known, Bordeaux is not the only French wine delivering strong value right now. Wine consultant Brad Haskel says Rhone red wines are selling for $8 to $10, while the white wines from Alsace are going for $10 to $12.
“These producers from Southwest France are using plows and horses, just like in the old school, when everything was organic,” Haskel says. “(This method) certainly couldn’t happen in a place that needs to sell a million cases.”
The Alsace white wines, like the Hugel Gentil 2006, sell in liquor stores for $10.99 and go excellently with fish. The Rhone red blends, like Chapoutier Cotes du Rhone Belleruche 2006, run about $11 and typically receive good ratings in the wine journals as well-structured with red-fruit aromas. However, many of the best wines from these regions come from boutique producers. To keep from making wine-buying a crapshoot, Haskel recommends looking at the importer. “Wine importers are often listed on the back labels of wine bottles, so seeking out the ones you trust is one simple trick that even the professionals use to make smart selections,” Haskel says.
History: Like France, Italy’s culture is connected to the vine. And today, Italy remains among the foremost wine producers, turning out about 20 percent of the world’s production.
Celebrated varietals: It all starts with Tuscany, the country’s premium wine region that has such appellations as Montalcino, Bolgheri, Chianti and Montepulciano. Many Tuscan wines cost $12 or less, including the Remole 2006. This exceptional wine is a tad spicy with black pepper and aromatic herbs. It pairs with almost any pasta dish.
Best buys: A well-priced Italian red wine region is the Barbera, which has nice upfront acidity and sweet oak flavors. It goes well with pasta and spareribs. The Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti 2006 costs about $15.
Alessandro Lunardi, of Italian winemaker Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, says Italian wines are emotions in a bottle and should provide pleasure no matter what the price is. “Today, with a minimum amount of homework, everybody can find exceptional wines at every price level and have a great experience savoring them,” Lunardi says.
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.
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.