While studying French wine I asked a Burgundy wine collector friend of mine if he had any great Pinot Noir recommendations. He said something to the effect of:
“DRC is great.”
That’s like saying “a Lamborghini is a great car.”
For the rest of us who don’t have $1,500 lying around for a single bottle of wine, I’ve collected some research outlining wines that don’t get the limelight from highly acclaimed wine regions. These wines are usually found around $20 and are totally worth it. So without further ado I present to you:
6 Underrated Wines From Top Regions
1. White Bordeaux from Pessac-Leognan
Check out white wine from Bordeaux’s hot appellations.
Every year around April, Bordeaux hosts this thing called en primeur. The event is basically a show pony extravaganza of Bordeaux’s top wines. Thousands of wine-elite thunder into the region determined to find the season’s best wines (and supposedly best prices) before they even leave the barrel. While all this hubbub is going on, rarely anyone pays a second glance to the dry white wines of the area. White Bordeaux is made with Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.
What to buy
- $12 You can find easy and cheap Entre-Deux-Mers AOC or Graves AOC
- $24 Richer white wines from Pessac-Leognan AOC
- Find out more about White Bordeaux.
2. Zinfandel from Napa
The O.G. Napa red wine
I plan on high fiving the next person I ask about Napa who says they love Napa Zinfandel. Truth is, Napa has been kicking ass at making Zinfandel for much longer than Cabernet Sauvignon. Before Napa wineries rip out their last Old Vine Zinfandel to make room for more profitable Cabernet Sauvignon, make sure you try some. Zinfandel is fruitier than Cabernet but it still offers a long and thought-provoking finish. In Napa, Zinfandel produces more white pepper/spice notes and higher acidity than from other areas (like Lodi).
What to buy
- $19 Red & Green Zinfandel from Chiles Valley in Napa
- $24 Frog’s Leap Organic Zinfandel from Napa Valley
- Find out the fascinating story of Zinfandel
3. Dolcetto from Piedmont
For when you don’t want to wait 12 years for Barolo to be ready…
Dolcetto means ‘little sweet one’ but this name is a little misleading because Dolcetto DOCG wine is rarely little nor sweet. It’s a rugged meaty wine that’s long been overshadowed by Barolo. And it’s true, Barolo tastes great after 10 years but Dolcetto is ready to drink young… especially with pizza. When you taste a Dolcetto, it will be bold with the taste of leather, blueberries and tea leaves. It has big tannins but relatively low acidity, making it easy to drink with hard cheeses and rich meats. Some Dolcetto is labeled as Dogliani (see below).
What to Buy
- $20 Look for Dolcetto d’Alba DOCG, Dolcetto di Ovada DOCG and Dogliani DOCG labeled as Superiore
4. White Burgundy from Mâcconais
Everyone can drink white Burgundy, you just need to know where to look.
My first love for Burgundy was actually her white wines. White Burgundy is 100% Chardonnay (except for the rare Aligote) and the wines are very aromatic and have creamy-but-balanced use of oak-aging. The best white Burgundies aren’t cheap, but you just have to look in the right places. In the southern part of Burgundy there are 2 sub-appellations called Mâconnais and Côte Chalonnaise. These two regions offer the best values –by far– in Burgundy. The wines of Mâcon make mostly Chardonnay and it’s a great place to start drinking white Burgundy.
- $13 Look for a Mâcon Village wine such as Viré, Burgy, Clessé and Pouilly-Fussé
- Learn more about Burgundy
5. Red Burgundy from Monthelie
Try red Burgundy from lesser known villages.
Everyone always asks me about good values for Pinot Noir in Burgundy. I won’t lie, you’ll probably need to spend at least $30 to get something that would be only $20 elsewhere. Still there is a trick that has worked for me several times:
Look for red wines from the Côte de Beaune sub-appellation and focus on lesser-known villages. Monthelie is right next to Volnay and Pommard, which are much more well-known village names. The wines from Monthelie are just as good. Study a Burgundy wine map, and buy wine next door to the famous village names. Also, it doesn’t hurt to stay away from large negociants like Louis Jadot. Not because they don’t make good wine but because they know they make good wine and price it accordingly.
6. ‘Reserva’ Tempranillo from Rioja
If ‘Crianza’ Rioja is Mama Bear and ‘Gran Reserva’ is Papa Bear, then ‘Reserva’ Rioja is Baby Bear… it’s juuuusssst right.
Rioja is wine made from Tempranillo in north central Spain. The wines from the region have very high tannin and acidity, making them perfect for collecting. In the Rioja classification system there are 3 levels of quality with Gran Reserva as the top tier. The irony with this system is that the Reserva wines are the favorites of Rioja winemakers and drinkers alike. Next time you’re in the wine isle look for Reserva, it’s the secret of great Rioja.
Bonus! An alternative to Amarone
Have you heard of Italian Amarone? Learn about the Valpolicella classification system and its hot value wine: Valpolicella Ripasso.