Let's face it, finding an inexpensive wine is easy, but finding a wine that is both cheap and delicious is a difficult task. When in doubt, we wine geeks tend to revisit a specific wine region that we've come to trust with our wallets, knowing that buying a wine from an unknown producer in an up-and-coming region is like playing the lottery -- you're more likely to lose than win. The Winegeeks writers recently compared notes and divulged the regions they feel provide the greatest wines at reasonable values. Much like they're favorite wine regions, each of our writers looks to a European wine region when searching for a deal.
In your opinion, which wine region provides the best bang for buck?
E. S. Brown
To me there are lots of regions that consistently offer great wines at great prices, but for the one area of the world that for my wine buying tastes consistently outkicks the coverage I have to head towards Spain. Straight up, there are just too many styles, grapes and flavor profiles that rock the proverbial casa to even think about going elsewhere when I want to spend $15 or less. Case in point, from a small area within the Castilla Y Leon in Northwestern Spain, a discerning shopper can find a deliciously dry Verdejo from Rueda, a juicy white that practically jumps out of the bottle with notes of citrus, flowers and minerals. One friend compared them to drinking Limeade, except better.
And then just down the road is Toro, a region known for coaxing just about as much stuffing as possible from the ubiquitous Tempranillo. Lots of black fruit, tea leaves and vanilla-scented oak add roundness and body. And still within Castilla Y Leon is Bierzo, the home of the up-and-coming Mencia grape. These wines are a tasty blend of the light red fruit and minerals of Burgundy but with a decidedly earthy and spicy edge thrown into the mix. All this in just one of the thirteen different political areas within Spain. Who could ask for anything more?
There is no single region that provides the best bang for your buck, but there is an entire country -- Italy! A single region would limit you to a few different styles of wine while the country of Italy provides an infinite source of styles that is laden with value in every price point.
At the high end of value are the prestigious wines of Brunello di Montalcino and Barolo. Recently, some consumers have complained about rising prices but when put into context, the prices of these wines could double and still offer value. Consider what these regions face: several very short vintages, poor exchange rates, increased world demand, long mandatory minimum aging requirements, etc. Despite these restraints, Barolo and Brunello sell for a fraction of the price that Classified Growth Bordeaux and Top California Cabernet sell.
On the flip side, if you are looking for a great wine that sells for $5-$15 a bottle, no country has more diversity of wine styles and flavors than Italy. For white wines there is the fragrant and refreshing sparkling Prosecco; the tart and quaffable Trebbiano from Abruzzi; the herby and lime-scented Pecorino from Abruzzi; the elegant and refined Fiano and Greco of Campania; and fragrant, fat and plump Vermentino from Sardinia. For the reds there is the juicy Valpolicella in Veneto; the sturdy Montepulciano grape from Abruzzi; the intensely tannic Agliancio in Basilicata; the earthy and floral Monica from Sardinia; the well structured Nero d'Avola from Sicily; and finally the fruit driven Primitivo and Negroamaro from Apulia... And I am just getting warmed up!
Grab a map, run your finger along the southwestern portion of France, and you'll find a wine region that, I believe, offers amazing wine deals. Varietals from Bordeaux, the Rhone and beyond are grown in small appellations such as Cahors, Languedoc, and Pic St. Loup. For a fraction of the price of 1st growth Bordeaux or single vineyard northern Rhone Syrah, amazing deals abound in bottles of Grenache, Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet, and Cabernet Franc. Southwest France showcases deep, dark, spicy wines, rich with terroir, but light on the pocketbook.
When looking for bargain wines, I always look to Napa Valley to find great wines for unbelievable prices. Just kidding. If you were to ask me which wine region has the most overpriced wines, my 1st response would be Bordeaux, and my 2nd response would be Napa. I have to shell out $30 just to find a wine that I can call decent, while wines under $15 are just a step up from swill.
When looking for wines that have outstanding value, there are 2 regions I immediately gravitate towards when I enter the wine shop: Alsace, France and Douro, Portugal. Alsatian whites range from great to simply dynamic, with wines that could possibly outlast me, longevity speaking. Unbelievable wines, you know -- the kind that can silence a dinner table, can be found in the $20-$25 range. This may be more than most consider a bargain, but in my opinion most Alsatian wines are easily worth twice their cost. Meanwhile, Port houses are making table wines using the same grapes they normally use in their Ports, and they can be found for $10-$15 a bottle. When I'm trying to get over a "case of the Mondays", my remedy is to pop open a Douro red for a spirit-lifting Monday night dinner.