By The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
We’ve been writing unabashedly about some terrific wines for the luxury consumer because the trends show people are spending more for their wine. Cooped up for a couple of years, they are looking for a reason to spend available money to find something pleasurable to offset their confinement. We get it. But not everyone – even in the best of times – can afford $50 for a bottle of wine. So, this week, we offer something less expensive to relieve the boredom for those who have temporarily given up travel: a round-the-world trip in 12 bottles. This makes for a great New Year’s resolution – try something new and learn more about wine.
You don’t have to spend $100 for wines from Bordeaux, Barolo or Priorat. Instead, seek an adventure in learning more about a less known region and discovering an inexpensive wine you haven’t yet tried. Put together your case of discovery wines and do a little research. Learn about the local culture, the grape varieties and the food. If you can’t travel to these wine regions, you can explore them virtually through movies and books.
Instead of giving you specific wines you may not be able to find in your market, we’re going to suggest grape varieties in regions with an emphasis on diversity and adventure. We’re excluding the United States for this trip just for an exotic getaway.
Let’s start demystifying France, the country most people associate with expensive wine. That may have been once the case but today there are as many values to be found in France as there are in the United States.
Not everything in Bordeaux is expensive. Ignore the grand crus and look for wines from the satellite districts such as Cotes du Bourg, Fronsac and Cotes de Blaye. Or look for “Bordeaux Superieur” or “Medoc” on the label. You can find a good Bordeaux for under $25. As asides, learn the difference between the Left and Right Banks. Read the fascinating history of the 1855 Classification or the Judgment of Paris tasting. Look for movies or YouTube videos for entertainment while you sip a glass.
As for white Bordeaux, look for the semillon-sauvignon-blanc blends from Graves. We buy Chateau Ducasse by the case at less than $15 a bottle. It never fails us.
Before you leave France – arguably the epicenter for wine – pick up a bottle of rosé from Provence and a riesling from Alsace. Provence rosés are among the best and generally costs less than $20. There is no better region for dry riesling than France’s beautiful Alsace region. A little research will yield a fascinating history of this region occupied by the Germans on several occasions. For even more fun, make a batch of baeckeoffe, a regional specialty perfect for winter eating.
With our case a third filled, let’s move across the border to Spain. There is a bevy of great garnachas and syrahs that deliver the same burst of flavor as a $50 pinot noir from Oregon. And they are great matches to grilled foods, chili or winter stews. For the best deals, look off the beaten track in regions like Campo de Borja and Jumilla. There also are good buys in the more well-known regions such as Rioja and Penedes but stay away from the expensive wines of Priorat.
For Spanish white wine, go north to the Riax Baixas region to find albarino – a perfect match to oysters and other seafood. With your glass full, read about the Camino de Santiago, an ancient path through villages and valleys that crosses northern Spain and is said to be the final resting place of St. James.
Look to Italy next in your wine journey. Barolos and barbarescos are ridiculously expensive. Chianti can be inexpensive but the region producers a lot of inferior wine too. We suggest you look instead to Abruzzo for montepulciano reds or to Sicily for vermentino whites and nero d’avola reds. Learn more about Mt. Etna, the world’s most active volcanos, while you’re sipping one of these delicious, inexpensive wines.
A trip around the world in wine would have to stop in South America. Chile makes some great sauvignon blanc for under $15. Argentina is known for its malbecs. Pick up a bottle from each of these locations.
Our final stop would be in Australia and New Zealand. Australia makes some incredibly fruity shiraz and grenache – or blends of both grape varieties. New Zealand’s pinot noirs are pretty expensive, but its sauvignon blancs are often good deals if you like your sauvignon blanc a little grassy and tart.
Here’s a summary of your case:
France (4 bottles): Bordeaux red and white, Provence rosé, Alsace riesling.
Spain (2 bottles): Jumilla garnacha; Riax Baixas albarino
Italy (2 bottles): Montelpuliciano, Sicilian vermentino.
South America (2 bottles): Argentina malbec; Chile sauvignon blanc.
Australia/New Zealand (2 bottles): New Zealand sauvignon blanc; Australian shiraz.
Dust off that visa, get your vaccinations and start packing. Happy trails!
Gundlach Bundschu Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2019 ($45). Cherry and cranberry aromas with a hint of vanilla. Ripe and juicy cherry flavors make this a delicious quaff and a versatile wine to go with just about everything you put on the table.
Ram’s Gate Estate Pinot Blanc 2019 ($38). This wine was a pleasant surprise. Using three clones from three blocks of vineyards, the wine has a perfumy and citrus nose followed by pear and mandarin orange flavors. Tart and fresh, it’s a great aperitif or a wine to pair with citrus-based sauces. Very different.
Faust Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($60). Full-bodied with relatively high alcohol, this dense and unctuous wine is built to be paired with beef or wild game. Ripe black cherries with hints of clove and herb.