The Secret to Finding Great (Value) Wine
It doesn’t matter if we ride a bus or drive a Porsche, we all want good deals on great tasting wines. The only problem with this simple desire is that wine is a limited resource and it’s constantly changing, so it’s easy to get stuck in a wine-buying rut and become disappointed. So, the question is:
How does one adapt quickly to the ever-changing wine market?
Wine is the semi-ironic poster child of “nothing stays the same.”
We would, of course, recommend that you subscribe to Wine Folly and let us help you find out about where to look for wines and how to greater develop your palate. But honestly, if you’re a smart shopper, all you really need to know is: undervalued wine regions, undervalued grapes, and highly productive vintages are where to look for awesome wines at great values.
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Undervalued Wine Regions
Everyone (and *definitely* their mom) knows about Napa Cabernet, Burgundy Pinot Noir, and Tuscan Brunello di Montalcino. And, sure enough, these wines are some of the most expensive wines in the world. But, If you’re looking for amazing wine values, don’t drive these well-travelled paths.
What’s surprising is that as well-connected as we are today, there are still hundreds of regions making stupendous wines that people still don’t talk about. Take Vinos de Madrid, for example. This is a small, high elevation vineyard area in central Spain that quietly produces some of the most amazing Cabernet blends, Syrah, and Garnacha on the planet (especially the Garnacha!). Yet, this region doesn’t get much press because its not focusing on marketing itself.
Speaking to the smart shopper again, here’s a leg up on where to start looking. The following lesser-known regions have knocked our socks off lately:
A Few Regions to Find Big, Bold, and Lush Wines
- Douro Valley, Portugal: Known mainly for Port wine, it’s the dry wines from this area that will blow your mind. Douro reds are inky black and equal parts fruit and dusty minerality.
- Puglia, Italy: Primitivo di Manduria is just one of the many surprises you’ll discover in the boot of Italy.
- Yecla and Alicante, Spain: These are two regions in Spain that make excellent red wines with both Cabernet Sauvignon and the regional grape, Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre).
- Columbia Valley, Washington: Right now, Washington state is the place for great value reds from the United States.
- Lodi, California: This is a massive region with a very long history of winemaking in California’s central valley. Expect bold, smoky red wines from the region’s many old vines.
- Roussillon, France: This is a region that almost touches the border of Spain. Keep your eyes peeled for Maury Sec, a super value GSM blend.
- Sicily, Italy: So many great valued wines to try here from the Cab-like, Nero d’Avola, to the Pinot-like, Nerello Mascalese. You’ll also be surprised by Grillo–a lemony white wine.
A Few Regions to Find Lithe, Elegant, and Mineral-Driven Wines
- Naoussa, Greece: If you close your eyes and taste this wine that’s made of Xinomavro, you’ll be surprised at how similar it is to Barolo.
- Umbria, Italy: Leave the hype of Tuscany and Brunello to the higher elevation vineyards of Umbria making incredible Sagrantino and Sangiovese.
- Bierzo, Spain: If you love European wines, make a point of seeking out a Mencía-based wine.
- Uruguay and Brazil: You wouldn’t think that Uruguay or Brazil would make such elegant wines (afterall, it’s the “new world” right?). You’ll be surprised to discover Brazil’s balanced Merlot and Uruguay’s structured-yet-elegant Tannat. Just cover up the label and none will be the wiser.
- Patagonia, Argentina: A very different face of the Argentine wine industry is happening in the south around the city of Neuquén. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay show serious potential.
- Villány, Hungary: Kékfrankos (which is also known as Blaufränkisch) produces deep, brooding wines in a classic almost Bordeaux-like style that’s sometimes blended with Cabernet Franc. Go Hungary!
- Mendocino, CA: Mendocino is one of the most exciting regions in California right now for cool-climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Surprisingly, prices are still reasonable.
P.S. There are much more than just these. This is just a starter list!
Love Pinot Noir? You might like some of the varieties listed above.
A couple of quick searches on the Wine Spectator ratings database resulted in 25,151 rated Cabernet Sauvignon wines and just 31 Bobal wines. This isn’t because Bobal is a rare grape. In fact, it’s one of the most planted red grapes of Spain. It’s just not that well known and because of this, most of it is used for average wines. That said, a few wineries are making delicious punchy-yet-plush reds that are only about $10 a bottle. A price like that is hard to beat! So, make it a habit of exploring grape varieties you may never have heard of before. And remember, if life gives you bad wine, make Sangria.
To get you started, here are some lesser-known varieties that have surprised us recently:
- Montepulciano: It was long considered a throwaway grape until producers in Abruzzo realized it was their pride and joy. There is still some variation, but you’ll do well to seek out wineries with good ratings or who are featured in Gambero Rosso’s annual book
- Monastrell: It’s expensive when it’s called Mourvèdre in France, but in Spain it’s called Monastrell and it’s way cheaper!
- Touriga Nacional: Touriga is definitely Portugal’s champion red, with a lovely likeness to Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux Blends.
- Alicante Bouschet: Another find from Portugal (well, not originally) making deep, brooding red wines with a smoky-sweet finish.
- Pinotage: South Africa’s own deep black grape offers passion in a glass.
- Bonarda: What the heck? You mean Argentina has gobs of Bonarda and no one has ever heard of it? Sheesh.
- Carignan: You’d think 40 years would be enough time to prove old vine Carignan is actually great.
- Assyrtiko: Chablis, you better watch out!
- Garganega: More famously known as Soave, producing remarkable Pinot Gris-like peachy flavors.
- Vermentino: Step aside Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino is here.
- Grillo: The perfect, minerally white wine.
- Grenache Blanc: This one is a game-changer. You’re thinking you’re drinking a light white wine and then, you start to taste the structure and body in this wine. Grenache Blanc is a grower, not a shower.
- Marsanne: It’s like Chardonnay and Viognier made a beautiful baby (even though they’re not related at all).
- Chenin Blanc: This grape is pretty well known (and high-priced) from France, but OMFG, we can’t believe no one has figured out South Africa’s biggest secret!
P.S. Again, we had to cut ourselves off at just seven to give you a solid starter list.
You don’t necessarily need to get into the nitty gritty when researching vintages (although it can be fun!). The important thing to ask yourself is, “was the vintage productive in the region in question?” If it was, you can bet that a surfeit of wine flooded the market on that vintage from that region.