We all like to save money and to obtain the most value for our dollar and purchasing wine is no different. One of my favorite phrases in this regard was penned by wine importer Kermit Lynch who said, “If you’re looking for value, look where no one else is looking.”
There is wisdom here. I understand that some people like familiarity, but I find that with wine it pays to be adventurous. It’s much more difficult to find great values with the usual suspects like cabernet sauvignon, pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and even malbec. As certain grapes gain popularity, they are exploited by the large volume producers to gain market share. The way that these big brand wineries can offer very low prices is by purchasing bulk grapes and manipulating the wine-making process, cutting corners and using industrial additives. A 1.5 liter bottle of wine for less than $10 is not a value. Neither are all the big brands that you see lined up on the shelves. We can call them “fancy jug wines” and all the different grape varieties from the same winery seem more like a bunch of different ice cream flavors than real values.
To look where no one else is looking focus on traditional, less famous wine regions in countries that have a long wine-making history. These areas have been around forever and produce wines with indigenous grape varieties. The Languedoc and Roussillon in southern France come to mind with grapes like carignan, grenache, cinsault and syrah. The south of Italy has great values as well with negroamaro in Puglia, primitivo in the Salento, gaglioppo in Calabria, and nero d’avola in Sicily. Not to be left out are Spanish reds made from tempranillo and garnacha and whites from macabeo (also called viura), airen and xarel-lo. South America, with its long viticultural history, is a good place to shop for the more international varieties. As the popularity of malbec has soared, look elsewhere on this continent for deals from cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and also less well known grapes like bonarda, carmenere, tannat and viognier. Even South Africa has great values, especially in whites, and grüner veltliner from Austria is one of the best deals to enter the market lately, especially in 1L bottles. One note, many of these offerings will have a screw cap or even a bottle cap on top of the bottle. These closures are keeping the wine in good condition and because they cost less than corks, they are saving you money.
For wines that offer value in terms of quality, you might pay a little more than the cheap stuff, but not much, and personally I don’t mind a few extra dollars if I’m more than doubling the quality of wine in the bottle and supporting individual family wineries as well. As a bonus, you’ll get a true and honest expression of a wine.
Michael Amendola is wine director at The Village Wine Merchant in Sea Cliff. Learn more about wines at www.villagewinemerchant.com.