Thursday, July 08, 2010

Looking for Grapes In All the Wrong Places

People have different ways of locating good wine values. Some shop the sales, while others haunt the box stores. A few turn their backs on their favorites--Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, sparkling wine--and settle for something they're less fond of hoping it will suit their tastebuds.

My number one budget strategy (other than finding yourself a good wine retailer who will get to know your taste in wine and can steer you away from costly errors) is quite simple, can be done in any store, and is neither a strategy based on abstinence or rock-bottom clearances. Here it is:

Look for grapes in all the wrong places.

Certain regions become justifiably famous for producing a single grape--like Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa, or Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley--and this means that growers can command the highest prices for their wines. But Cabernet Sauvignon is not the only grape grown in Napa Valley. Trust me on this. Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling (rare, but it's there!) are excellent and represent excellent value, too, because really, when is the last time you heard anybody ask "Do you have any Napa Riesling??"

Here are a few of my recent finds that fit the "great grape in a surprising place" mantra for wine value.

Verdelho, Albariño and Grüner Veltliner--From Clarksburg: Dancing Coyote may just be the greatest value wine producer you aren't drinking--yet. But if you see a cavorting coyote on a wine label, buy it and try it. You are going to be amazed at the taste and quality inside the bottle. Dancing Coyote is in Clarksburg, CA along the Sacramento River delta. I tasted a number of their wines (and reviewed their Petite Sirah a little while ago) and all of them were impressive. The whites were especially excellent QPR, however, and made with grapes that are normally associated with the Iberian Peninsula or Austria. The 2009 Dancing Coyote Verdelho (suggested retail, $10.99; available for $8-$14) was fresh and clean, and had well-balanced flavors of apple and lemonade with a bit of spritz. Try it with some spicy shrimp and chorizo kebabs for a fast weeknight supper. The 2009 Dancing Coyote Albariño (suggested retail $10.99; available for $8 -$10) had loads of green apple flavors and aromas, with citrus threaded through. And the 2009 Dancing Coyote Grüner Veltliner (suggested retail $10.99, and available through the winery) is a terrific example of domestic Grüner Veltliner, with typical grapefruit, lentil, and dust aromas and flavors. A bit more full and round than an Austrian example, this went well with pasta with ham and asparagus.

Pinot Gris from Australia: When you think Pinot Gris you may think Alsace or even Italy--but not Australia. The 2009 Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris from Australia's Yarra Valley (suggested retail $15; available between $13 and $23) demands you reconsider this notion. It had a distinctive aroma profile of muted mandarin orange and nectarine. The flavors included notes notes of white nectarine, white peach, and Meyer lemon. Nicely balanced between fruit and acidity, this was an excellent QPR winner from Innocent Bystander.

Chardonnay from Italy: When I think Chardonnay I think California or France--not Italy. But Italy makes some beautiful Chardonnay, including the excellent QPR 2008 Tormaresca Chardonnay from Puglia (available for between $9 and $13). Straightforward, clean pear and apple aromas and flavors, with slight citrus inflections and no discernible oak, which was a nice change of pace. It was terrific with Ina Garten's Szechuan peanut noodles.

Malbec from California: Americans have finally discovered Malbec, which is a good thing since it's a terrific red grape with roots that extend back into French viticultural history. Now, Malbec is most often associated with Argentina, but it's grown in California, too.The 2008 Red Rock Winery Malbec Reserve is an exceptional Malbec for the price (suggested retail $10.99; available for $8-$14), with a "blue" flavor profile of blueberries and huckleberries. The aromas are accented at first with white flowers, and a nice note of baking chocolate enters into the aftertaste. For $11? Excellent QPR.

Full Disclosure: I received these wines as samples.


Till said...

Terrific post with great tips on bottles I'm eager to try - even if I disagree with your premise. Who hasn't had their share of baked Pinots, thin Cabernet and wines that merely taste like, well, wine? Catchy idea that might work with samples but when you're paying for it, best to know the producer, brand, what you're likely to like or get tipped off by a reliable source. Good grapes in the wrong place might just as well make average (or worse) wine.

Dr. Debs said...

Funny, but the wines that I've had that most often meet your description of "baked Pinots" and "thin Cabernets" are inexpensive bottles from expensive appellations. And I'd like to think this is your reliable tip off--but you're free to ignore the advice!

Eric said...

Thanks for a great article. I live in Virginia and am starting to enjoy Rieslings from the northern part of that state. Of course, there's always a risk that producers don't make a particular wine for a reason, but when looking for bargains that's a risk you sometimes have to take.

cuocere said...

I love your blog! I can never remember your suggestions once I'm in the store! Do you have an app for the iPhone? I would use it regularly. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

cuocere said...

I love your blog! I can never remember your suggestions once I'm at the store! Do you have an iPhone app or something? I would use it all the time!