Voyaging for Value
By Steve Heimoff
For consumers, the wine glut is a mixed blessing. On the plus side, so much wine is sloshing around that competition is driving prices down. Producers have been forced to lower prices on their main product lines or shunt wine off into alternative brands. And with an ocean of bulk wine up for grabs, everyone and his brother is starting up new labels that can represent good value.
But there is a downside: Not all of these wines are good. From what I've tasted recently, some producers think that all they have to do is price something at $7 and consumers will line up to buy it. Nope. People aren't stupid. They know that bad wine—no matter how inexpensive—can never be a value.
Having said that, there are some great bargains out there, if you know where to look. Cab and Merlot from Napa and Sonoma are still pricey, but look for values from Lodi and Paso Robles. Good, inexpensive Pinot Noir is tough to find, but there are scores of Chards, Syrahs, Sauvignon Blancs and Zinfandels inhabiting the value zone. In particular, the California appellation is your best bet.
All of the wines below are distributed nationally, so they should not be hard to find, but the current market is so volatile that prices can vary widely around the country. Dollar amounts cited are what I shelled out in California; you might pay a few dollars more or less.
90 Delicato 2002 Shiraz (California); $6. The grapes for this impressive Aussie-style Shiraz, from Lodi and Clarksburg, are ripe; the palate boasts has rich flavors of cherries, black raspberries, blueberries and plums. Feels succulent, with a smooth texture and a long, sweetish finish, but it's perfectly dry. At this price, you can't go wrong.
90 Fusée 2000 Syrah (California); $5. This Châteauneuf-style wine is jammy, with black stone fruits, berries and dark chocolate, and a sweet black cherry core, but it has body and tannins to lend it weight. The winemaker suggests pairing it with cassoulet. New from Don Sebastiani & Sons.
90 Gallo of Sonoma 2001 Reserve Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast); $8. This is an astonishing value, especially from such a prestigious appellation. Has a silky texture and lush but dry flavors of cherries, raspberries, herbs, mushrooms, coffee and clove that unfold across the palate. Versatile at the table; try with pork tenderloin with plum sauce. With more than 30,000 cases produced, this should be easy to find.
89 Bonny Doon 2002 Vin Gris de Cigare (California); $10. The latest in a series of noteworthy blush wines from Randall Grahm, this rosé is remarkable for its insistent but delicate flavors, which include strawberries and cream, white peach, white pepper and vanilla. It all meshes into a delicate, sleek wine with quite a bit of complexity. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Marsanne.
89 Francis Coppola 2001 Rosso (California); $9. Leave it to director Coppola to manage an ensemble cast of Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Sangiovese and come out with a smashing success. Forward fruit flavors mesh with earthier notes of herbs and tobacco wrapped in a silky texture; the finish is complex and long. Serve it with chops or even a simple pasta with cheese.
89 Quady 2001 Elysium Black Muscat (California); $10/375 ml. "Elysium" in Greek mythology is the afterlife of perfect bliss, and it's not hard to imagine this as its house pour. It is sweet—but not shockingly so—with blackberry, orange, vanilla and chocolate flavors, and a richly smooth mouthfeel. If you're treating yourself to something chocolaty, especially if it has oranges or strawberries, this will be a seductive companion.
87 Baron Herzog 2002 Chenin Blanc (Clarksburg); $7. This wine, from a leading kosher winery, is rich in apricot, peach, lime, kiwi and nectarine fruit, and is without the wax-bean quality that can plague wines made from this variety. This version is not quite dry yet not quite sweet, and pairs perfectly with a salad of mixed greens, blue cheese and ripe pears.
87 Esser 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (California); $8. An example of how the bulk-wine glut is providing great value. From former Cuvaison President Manfred Esser, this bright Cab bursts across the palate with flavors of black cherries, plums and smoky vanilla, and an edge of dried herbs. Its soft tannins and smoky oak add weight. Will get even better with a year in the cellar. How many $8 wines can you say that about?
87 Rodney Strong 2002 Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc (Sonoma County); $12. This wine shows cool-climate Russian River Valley origins in the appley, green grass and lime flavors and crisp minerality, but the blend includes warmer Alexander Valley grapes that contribute lush notes of sweet figs and ripe white peaches. The result is balanced and delicious. Winemaker Rick Sayre, an accomplished chef, recommends drinking it with spicy grilled prawns.
87 Taft Street 2001 Chardonnay (Monterey County); $7. Monterey grapes star in this juicy wine, with its bright flavors of tropical and citrus fruits, steely acidity, and spicy notes of toasty oak and vanilla. The yummy flavors float in a creamy-smooth texture. Taft Street has long been known as an overlooked find. Its Chardonnays have consistently scored well in our tastings.
86 Barefoot Bubbly NV Brut Cuvée (California); $7. Sometimes you need a good bubbly but can't spend a lot: weddings, bar mitzvahs, block parties, that sort of thing. This 100% Chardonnay is terrific, with apple, peach and brioche flavors, fine mousse and an elegant finish.
86 Fetzer 2002 Echo Ridge Johannisberg Riesling (California); $6. Count on Fetzer to have good wines at giveaway prices. This appealing Riesling is delicate in body and very fruity, with ripe flavors of apples, peaches and apricots. It has a spritzy, almost Champagne-like zest, and slight sweetness. It's also easy to drink, with a low 12% alcohol.
By Paul Gregutt
To put it bluntly, the Pacific Northwest is not value wine country. The total vineyard acreage is too small, the cost of production too high, and the number of big (half a million cases or more) wineries can be counted on one hand, with fingers left over. Washington and Oregon are not drowning in surplus grapes, and Chateau Ste. Michelle's Johannisberg Riesling, which has the largest case volume (60,000-plus) of any single wine from the region, is allocated. Nonetheless, there are strikingly good wines in the $8 to $10 price range. Not a lot of them, but as Spencer Tracy once said of Katharine Hepburn, "what's there is cherce."
90 Columbia 2001 Sémillon (Columbia Valley); $8. Straight-ahead, varietal Sémillon has never found much popularity here in America. But value wine seekers should be poking into the untraveled corners of the wine world; wines like this are the reward. Bone-dry and enlivened with creamy hints of bean and vanilla, this is a sleek, textural, steely wine very much in the ultracrisp style of winemaker David Lake. Bring on the oysters.
89 Hedges 2001 C-M-S Red Wine (Columbia Valley); $10. The blend is half Cab and half Merlot and a splash of Syrah; hence the moniker C-M-S. A full 20% of the fruit comes from the winery's vineyards in the Red Mountain AVA. It captures the complexity of far more expensive red blends, with a succinct mix of red fruits, mineral and fresh-roasted coffee-bean flavors. This and the winery's superb blended white wine may be the two best bargains in Washington.
88 Arbor Crest 2001 Sauvignon Blanc (Columbia Valley); $10. Sauvignon Blanc, it seems, has always been the signature grape for this Spokane-based winery. Consistency in the vineyard is part of the reason; it has been made from the same Sagemoor Vineyard grapes for the past 21 years. Fermented in stainless steel, kept on the lees, and finished in a rich, thick, tropical-fruit style, it's layered and intense, with bold flavors of apricots and peaches.
88 Covey Run 2002 Gewürztraminer (Washington); $7. Part of the Canandaigua Brands portfolio, this Yakima Valley winery makes a full line of varietally sound, fruit-driven wines. This vivacious Gewürz is bursting with floral and citrus scents and ripe, semitropical flavors. It's a great example of how well this overlooked grape does in Washington. And it is a slam-dunk match for spicy-sweet Pacific Rim noodle dishes and satays, with just a splash of Muscat Canelli in the blend to bring out the orange blossom and tangerine flavors.
88 Latah Creek 2002 Chardonnay (Washington); $11. Winemaker Mike Conway has been using fruit from the same vineyards since 1982, his first vintage. He believes in letting the fruit speak for itself, and it does. This is ripe and delightful, mixing flavors of pineapple and tart tangerine. There's a finishing hint of spice from gently applied oak, and the finish is crisp and refreshing. 11,000 cases produced.
88 Randall Harris 2001 Merlot (Washington); $10. This one-wine brand was minutes away from folding a year ago, but a drop in price and a series of superb vintages for Washington Merlot made some great juice available. Unlike most Merlots under $20, this one is not just light and fruity. It offers rich, true flavors of ripe cherries, followed by layers of milk chocolate, toast and spice. Unfortunately, although 2,800 cases were made, distribution is limited to the West Coast.
By Roger Voss
The unifying theme behind this selection is diversity. These 12 wines from France show both the wide range of styles and the great values that can be found there.
Stylistically, France can do anything. In the north, there are the cool-climate whites of the Loire and the aromatic wines of Alsace. In the south, there are wines that can compete head-on with the ripest, richest wines of California or Australia. And, in between, there are the classic areas of the Rhône, Burgundy and Bordeaux.
Burgundy's production is too small to offer any real bargains. Only in the Beaujolais region of southern Burgundy are values to be found, and several good examples are included here (see sidebar). But the vast vineyards of the Rhône and Bordeaux hold some of the country's greatest wine values. They are bargains not only because they are inexpensive, but because they combine good price with impressive quality. No California wine at the price can equal the depth of flavor—or the complexity—of Domaine de la Janasse in the Rhône, or the elegance of Château Fonréaud in Bordeaux.
The wines do have one quality in common. They are, like most European wines, food wines. They taste better with food than by themselves. They also need to time to develop. Any of the reds, and even some of the whites (the Mâcon-Villages, for example) will benefit from being opened in advance, even decanted. There is nothing necessarily fancy about decanting—I just use a jug. But getting air to the wine before you start drinking brings out so many more flavors and aromas that decanting is worthwhile. Otherwise, the best glass from the bottle is also the last—and that's a shame.
Economically, France has not had a good year in the United States. The unofficial boycott of French products as a result of the French government's views on the Iraq conflict hit hard. At one point, sales of French wines were down 20 percent. Because Wine Enthusiast Magazine doesn't involve itself in politics, I can only say to those who wish to try bargain French wines, here's a great selection:
88 Château Fonréaud 1999 Listrac; $17. Jean Chanfreau's family, which owns Châteaux Fonréaud and Lestage in Listrac, produces this blend of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot, giving a wine with plenty of Cabernet cassis flavors, but also a roundness and spiciness that sit well with firm tannins. Lovers of young Bordeaux will find it ready to drink now, but it has a good five years before complete maturity.
88 Domaine le Couroulu 2000 Côtes du Rhône; $10. Guy Ricard of Domaine le Couroulu believes his 2000 vintage made wines that will "appeal very quickly." While his main production is of Vacqueyras, where his cellar is located, he also has vineyards in the Côtes du Rhône appellation. This wine confirms his prediction about 2000: It is ripe, with perfumed aromas and raspberry flavors. Sweet, soft tannins and concentrated fruit make it a great value.
87 Château Saint-Germain 2000 Coteaux du Languedoc; $9. A real value for a great, fruity wine. It comes from a biodynamically farmed vineyard south of Béziers and close to the sea. Almost black in color, it is intensely perfumed, with rich, black fruit flavors, touches of vanilla and licorice, and dense tannins. Drink this with rich meat dishes.
86 Chartron et Trebuchet 2001 Mâcon-Villages; $11. It's hard to find value Burgundy. The Mâcon region, in the south of Burgundy, is the only real source. Chartron et Trebuchet are négociants specializing in Chardonnay, and here they have come up with a typically soft, creamy wine, with floral aromas and flavors of white fruits with a touch of honey. Drink with fish or chicken.
86 Domaine de la Janasse 2000 Terre de Buissière (Vin de Pays de la Principauté d'Orange); $10. The Domaine de la Janasse has 50 different parcels of vines scattered between Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côtes du Rhône and Vin de Pays. This blended wine introduces Merlot into the local Syrah and Grenache, giving an exotic mix of southern French perfumes and herbs, with a lift of freshness and lightness from the Merlot.
86 Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard 2002 Sauvignon de Saint-Bris; $11. Sauvignon de Saint-Bris, which encircles the city of Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, southwest of Chablis, became an appellation contrôlée this year. Its specialty is crisp, fresh Sauvignon Blanc, a complete contrast to the Chardonnay grown throughout the rest of Burgundy. Jean-Marc Brocard, better known for his Chablis, makes this crisp, fresh and lively wine, with flavors of white currants.
86 Michel Laroche 2000 Syrah (Vin de Pays d'Oc); $11. Michel Laroche is a big man in Chablis. But he has also set up a winery near Béziers, at the Domaine la Chevalière, where he makes Vin de Pays d'Oc. This Syrah reveals how "New World" Languedoc wines can be. Aged in a mix of French and American oak, it is deep purple in color, with sweet fruit, strawberry flavors and layers of vanilla. The fruit is superripe, ready to drink and immediately enjoyable.
85 Domaine de la Gasqui 2000 Le Vallat des Taches (Vin de Pays du Vaucluse); $10. Old Carignan and Grenache vines go into this wine, produced from a vineyard just south of Avignon in the Rhône Valley. No wood was used in aging this wine, which allows the full herbal character of the fruit to shine through. It is sweet and intense, with ripe acidity and soft, velvety tannins. Drink with cheeses or rich meat dishes.
85 Domaine du Bouscat 1999 Cuvée Gargone (Bordeaux Supérieur); $10. This wine comes from a southfacing hillside vineyard not far from Pomerol. An unusual blend for Bordeaux, with 80% Merlot and 20% Malbec, it is fresh and perfumed, with firm tannins and black-currant flavors. Although it comes from the poorly rated 1999 vintage, it has good, ripe fruit. Like so many Bordeaux, this is a food wine, great with steaks.
85 Kuentz-Bas 2000 Sylvaner Tradition (Alsace); $10. Sylvaner doesn't make the finest Alsace wines, but it can make some of the most drinkable. As an apéritif, this is delicious: fresh and crisp, with citrus and green plum flavors and a hint of almonds. Kuentz-Bas is a family-owned négociant making a full range of Alsace wines in Husseren-les-Châteaux, named after the three ruined castles that dominate the hill behind the village.
85 Trimbach 2001 Pinot Blanc (Alsace); $11. Trimbach may be famed for its superb (and expensive) Rieslings, but for a great value, this Pinot Blanc is a well-made, ripe, rounded wine, which is just now completely ready to drink. With flavors of white peaches and an impressive richness, this could be drunk as an apéritif, but could equally partner cold cuts or fish.
84 Yvon Mau 2000 Premius (Bordeaux); $10. Buying branded Bordeaux can be a risky business. But a few of the Bordeaux négociants make some good value brands that also offer decent quality. This is one of them. From the great 2000 vintage, it is ripe, lively and fresh, but at the same time has some depth of flavor with red fruits, a layer of wood and the acidity that makes red Bordeaux great with rich foods.
By Michael Schachner
The mere mention of Italy conjures images of classic red wines like Chianti Classico, Barolo and Amarone, but at the value level, finding top-flight, low-cost reds requires a map and compass. Thus red wines comprise less than half of our mixed value case. Simply put: Italy is producing more value white wines these days than reds.
Southern Italy continues to show both a willingness and the ability to deliver solid reds at fair prices. Be they from Sicily, Sardegna, Puglia, Campania or Calabria, wines made from grapes like Negroamaro, Nero d'Avola, Monica and Primitivo are flavorful, relatively full-bodied, and generally complex. Among our five recommended red-wine values, the three highest rated are from the south.
Regarding white and sparkling wines, when Italy keeps it "simple," a code word for leaning toward indigenous grape types and leaving oak out of the picture, successes outweigh failures. For example, Prosecco, from northeast Italy, is arguably the best value sparkling wine in the world. Rarely does a bottle of Prosecco exceed $15; its a fine thirst quencher and palate primer. Moscato d'Asti, meanwhile, delivers sweetness stacked onto a lithe frame. Lastly, Orvieto, Gavi and even Pinot Grigio can be good values when made in a dry, classic style by the right winery.
89 Argiolas 2001 Perdera (Isola dei Nuraghi); $12. This wine is a bit special. It's made mostly of the native Monica grape, which gives off unbridled aromas to go with leathery nuances and wild raspberry flavors. Owner Antonio Argiolas's winemaking team ferments the wine in glass-lined cement tanks for purity, then ages it for 16 months in French oak. Perdera is spicy, precocious and out of the ordinary; best of all, it improves with each minute it's open.
89 Vietti 2002 Cascinetta (Moscato d'Asti); $12. Vietti, which makes some of Piedmont's most user-friendly wines across the full spectrum of price ranges, scores major points with this light-bodied, sweet frizzante. It smells of gardenias and fresh summer herbs, and it pulses with kiwi, nectarine and pineapple flavor. There's nothing not to like about this low-alcohol (5.5%) liquid dessert—surely the perfect match for ice cream or fruit salad.
88 Abbazia Santa Anastasia 2002 Bianco di Passomaggio (Sicilia); $13. A refreshing yet substantive white from the island of Sicily. The blend is 20% Chardonnay, 20% Sauvignon Blanc and 60% Inzolia. With dry, focused aromas and ripe citrus flavors, it's the quintessential wine to pair with Mediterranean classics such as olives, salads and seafood. The estate, which spans nearly 1,000 acres including olive groves, is named after a 12th-century abbey. This wine is a winner.
88 A Mano 2001 Primitivo (Puglia); $10. Mark Shannon of California has made his name on the back of this perennial Southern Italian value, a dead-ringer for friendly Golden State Zinfandel—as it should be, considering that Primitivo and Zin are genetically identical. This vintage is sweet, chewy and packed with chocolate and cinnamon flavors. You get the essence of natural sugar on the palate, yet ample acids and tannin keep it lively. A perfect wine for the winter.
88 Càntele 1998 Riserva (Salice Salentino); $10. Some wines are modern in style; others more traditional. Put this aromatic Puglian blend of 85% Negroamaro and 15% Malvasia Nera in the latter category. There's no bulk, heavy extract or pounding oak; just aromas of lavender, flower petals and citrus rind accompanying racy raspberry fruit accentuated by sharp acids. Any rawness will be tamed by pizza, pasta or a chunk of hard cheese.
88 Nino Franco NV Rustico (Prosecco di Valdobbiadene); $10. If someone says bubbly by the glass, I think Prosecco. Among the handful of very good ones is this spry offering. Bartlett pear aromas precede a smooth palate accented by soda crackers, apple cider and lime. Fairly long on the finish, and above average in complexity. And remember: A bottle of this sassy stuff is less expensive than a glass of the cheapest Champagne at a bar or restaurant.
87 Michele Chiarlo 2002 Gavi; $11. Nectarine and lemon dance all around and straight through the middle of this fruity, drink-me style of Gavi. It's not a tight, dry wine, the type of Gavi that might compare with fine Burgundy. It's more like a burst of fruit salad, one comprised of nectarine and lemon, but also melon, pineapple and lime. Well balanced and food friendly.
87 Montresor 2002 La Colombaia Pinot Grigio (Valdadige); $13. Every value Italian roundup should include at least one Pinot Grigio, and there are many contenders. La Colombaia is a well-made, mass-appeal wine, one with flowery aromas, expressive flavors and just a hint of late-game sweetness. Some heft and zest is what pushes it past the ordinary competition that dots the Pinot Grigio landscape.
86 Antinori 2002 Campogrande (Orvieto Classico); $11. Like lightning, this wine hits you with a bolt of power. (Except this zap is acid-driven and exhilarating, not fatal.) Orvieto, made in Umbria, is often seen as a pedestrian white wine one step up from water. But not in this case. Made from early ripening grapes such as Trebbiano, Grechetto and Verdello, the wine has a nice pineapple and green apple character. If you like your whites crisp and clean, this is for you.
86 Carpineto 2001 Dogajolo (Toscana); $10. Here's a tasty, compact Sangiovese-Cabernet blend from the excellent 2001 vintage that gives pure fruit and varietal character. It's chewy and textured, definitely more so than your average Chianti, and there's some meaty rusticity and light oak to punch things up a notch. Good with grilled meats and vegetables, or with pizza. Pronounced doga-yolo.
86 Tenuta di Nozzole 2002 Le Bruniche Chardonnay (Toscana); $12. Full and aromatic, yet it holds the line on sweetness and oak flavor, something many value-priced Chardonnays fail to do. This wine is all about pear, peach and apple fruit, a modestly rich texture and a light, toasty finish. There's a solid core to this puppy, and it tastes every bit like a real white wine, not liquid candy.
85 Pasqua 2002 Vigneti Del Sole (Montepulciano d'Abruzzo); $7. Ripe and raw, but quite clean. No doubt this is a mass-market red, but still it retains an above-average level of quality from start to finish. The nose is big and bold, with rowdy berry fruit that never shies away or breaks up. Soft tannins create a soft finish as it ends with a blast of raspberry flavor. Just right for big parties and events.
By Michael Schachner
We've been writing a lot about Spain lately, and for good reason. Winemaking traditions and styles are changing faster in Spain than just about anyplace else. Fortunately, one thing that's holding the line, albeit tenuously, is the pricing of Spanish wines. Even with the weaker dollar-to-Euro ratio and inflation, values from Spain abound. Finding a half-case or more of good-to-excellent value-priced Spanish wines isn't the most difficult task, largely because almost all regions in Spain are producing solid everyday wines. To wit, our value selections hail from Spain's north (Rueda, Rioja and Navarra), center (La Mancha) and southeast (Yecla). And wines from Penedès, Jumilla and elsewhere could have made the list. Si señor, now is a good time to enjoy affordable wines from Spain.
90 Castaño 2001 Hécula (Yecla); $12. A modern-style offering from the up-and-coming region of Yecla, near Alicante. The grape used is Monastrell, a k a Mourvèdre. It's bold and packed with blackberry, pepper and other spices. It's the perfect wine to enjoy with barbecue, stews and roasts. This wine busted onto the scene just a couple of years ago, earning accolades for its full flavors and overall character. For the price, it's a big-time bargain.
89 Muga 2002 Rosé (Rioja); $9. Simple elegance defines this rosado. The color is perfect, the nose is bright, the fruit is forward…everything is in place. Isaac Muga and his sons know how to make rosé. They emphasize flashy fruit and a pure finish, while eschewing oak and weight. Every restaurant in America should serve this beauty by the glass, and every wine drinker should try it at least once. Impeccable with salads.
88 Condesa de Leganza 1999 Crianza (La Mancha); $9. If La Mancha is to be taken seriously for quality wines, this extraordinary value will help. From the heart of central Spain comes this chewy, round, berry-packed Tempranillo. For under $10 it has a lot of quality and character. Best of all, it offers a true tinto de España taste.
88 Telmo Rodriguez 2002 Basa (Rueda); $9. One of the tastiest, best-made value whites in the world remains Basa, a blend of Verdejo, Viura and Sauvignon Blanc. Since bursting onto the wine scene in the late '90s, Basa, which means "base" or "foundation" in Spanish, has never failed to excel. In the 2002 version, winemaker Telmo Rodriguez, who began his career at his father's Remelluri estate in Rioja, has managed to capture the purest grapefruit, passion fruit and citrus flavors, all the while creating a wine with body, bracing acids and simple joy. A surefire apéritif, and also a fine bet for salads or fish.
86 Vega Sindoa 2002 Tempranillo-Merlot (Navarra); $7. Bodegas Nekeas should be proud of this wine. It's one of the best value reds going. Powerful berry aromas lead toward chewy plum and burnt-caramel flavors. A chocolaty essence enriches the finish. Try not to stretch the wine's virtues by taking it out of its element: It's made for Wednesday evenings at home and barbecues. The blend is 70-30 in favor of Tempranillo.
85 Marqués de Cáceres 2002 Blanco (Rioja); $7. Search the world over and you'll be hard-pressed to find a more pleasing low-cost white than this 100% Viura. It doesn't take an expert to appreciate the unoaked freshness of this lightweight. The seamless bouquet snaps with melon, while the palate shimmies with citrus and apple. There are no frills to this wine, just consistency and simplicity. And the cooler you serve it, the crisper it'll come across.
The Rest of Europe
By Joe Czerwinski
It's a shame in some respects to lump prodigious wine
producing countries like Germany, Austria and Portugal under the rubric "The Rest of Europe." On the other hand, it makes for a large universe of wine from which to draw some of the best values of the year.
While 2001 was the most recent vintage to put German wines back on the public's map, 2002 is shaping up to be especially good in the Rheingau; topping this short list of recommendations are two Rieslings that offer excellent quality in two different styles.
Two other whites come from Austria's best-known grape, while the reds come from Portugal and Greece. As we see the adoption of more modern winemaking equipment and philosophies in these two countries, the wines should continue to improve while still offering fertile ground for bargain-hunters.
90 Josef Leitz 2002 Rudesheimer Drachenstein Riesling QbA (Rheingau, Germany); $12. Johannes Leitz is rightfully proud of his 2002s. This is his entry-level wine, and it's gorgeous, with a touch of sweetness and slightly rounder acidity than last year's version (which, incidentally, is still going strong). It boasts copious apple, red berry and citrus flavors and a forceful, lingering finish. Sinfully easy to drink.
90 Weingut Johannishof 2002 Charta Riesling (Rheingau, Germany); $14. Smoky and intense, with peach, melon and floral aromas that burst from the glass. In line with the Charta designation, it's made in a trocken, or dry, style, yet doesn't lack for fruit or flesh. It's fairly rich and full (12% alcohol), yet boasts racy acidity for near-perfect balance.
86 Gaia 2002 Notios Agiorgitiko (Peloponnisos, Greece); $11. Among several rustic and unfriendly Greek reds tasted for this report, this offering from Nemea stood out for its clean winemaking and vibrant fruit. Aromas are slightly floral, but also feature hints of strawberries and a bass note of leather; the fruit is lively and berry-flavored. It's very easy to drink and would make a fine Beaujolais alternative. Try it with lamb burgers for an interesting match.
86 Fred Loimer 2002 Lois Grüner Veltliner (Langelois, Austria); $11. To avoid confusing American consumers, only the word "Lois" appears on the main label; the niggling details about grape variety, vintage and origin are in small print on the back. It's an attempt at creating a branded Austrian wine, which should succeed if the quality of what's in the bottle remains this high. It's light and minerally, with hints of celery stalk, underripe honeydew and green plums. Finishes tart and clean.
85 E. & M. Berger 2002 Grüner Veltliner (Kremstal, Austria); $11/L. It's difficult to find inexpensive Austrian wines in the United States; importers (somewhat justifiably) seem to think that the demand for Austrian wines is further up-market. So it was refreshing to find this lithesome gem. It's light and fresh, with a rainwater-mineral aspect to it and a dollop of Grüner character. Fine for a springtime picnic, or as an apéritif.
85 Borges 2000 Meia Encosta (Dão, Portugal); $5. This little Portuguese red packs in a surprising amount of complexity for the price. Starts off smoky, with hints of bacon and herb layered over modest cherry fruit aromas. The fruit drops away a bit on the palate and finish, replaced by intriguing notes of herbs and spice. Serve with strongly seasoned pork, which should accentuate the wine's fruit.
By Daryna McKeand Tobey
If you're paying more than $10 for a good (83-86 points, as defined by Wine Enthusiast's rating scale) Australian wine, with few exceptions, you are paying too much. The quality-to-price ratio for Oz wines is one of the highest in the wine world. Competition is fierce. Good bottles of $8 wine are not hard to come by; good bottles of $8 Chardonnay are particularly easy to find. Many of the wines that follow, you'll see, are stars of the $6-9 genre, and are representative of lines in which the Cabernet, Chardonnay and Shiraz are all good…and all under $10. Retailers almost always have them on sale, too.
The lesson to be had from the first five wines here is, "But look what you can get for just a few bucks more." There's a Twilight Zone-like doorway at the $10 price point; you're either willing or unwilling to spend more than double digits on a bottle of wine. If you're willing to make that leap, you'll typically find a big step up in quality, unusual grape varieties or blends, and maybe even wines that speak of their terroir.
90 Wynns Coonawarra Estate 2002 Riesling (Coonawarra); $12. Well balanced and medium bodied, this isn't a biting-acids, oyster-ready sort of Riesling. Instead, it's rather feminine, with pretty sunflower, honey and peach fuzz flavors swathed in chalk. The nose has nice, waxy yellow melon and citrus notes. Delicate, easy to find, and a bargain, as are most all of Wynns' "Coonawarra"-labeled bottlings, which are all priced in the low-to-mid teens.
89 Yalumba NV Antique Tawny Port (Barossa Valley); $17/375ml. I regret that I didn't rate this wine a point or two higher when I reviewed it for the February 2003 issue. Since last winter, I've purchased nearly a case of it. It's smooth and warming, with lovely nut, beef and butterscotch flavors. I know what you're thinking: At $17, is it really such a value? Quality Port, my friends, doesn't come cheap. And when was the last time you had one from Australia?
88 Wolf Blass 2002 Red Label Shiraz-Cabernet (South Australia); $12. A fruity, balanced red from an ever-reliable producer. Firm red plum and cherry fruit has grip on the palate; it's medium-bodied, with oak and nut flavors, and ginger-nut accents on the nose. It's noticeably more sophisticated—less sweetness, less vanilla, more heft—than most Shiraz-Cabs in the under-$10 category.
87 D'Arenberg 2002 The Stump Jump Riesling-Sémillon-Marsanne (McLaren Vale); $10. More known for his Grenaches, Syrahs and Mourvèdres (and blends thereof), winemaker Chester Osbourn has a hit with this oddball white blend. Its composition changes yearly, but it's always unoaked. This vintage is fresh and lively, with zesty citrus, melon and peach on the nose. Citrus and yellow fruit, plus some minerals, come through on the palate.
87 Evans & Tate 2003 Gnangara Unwooded Chardonnay (Western Australia); $11. The first "G" is silent. Taste it blind and you'll probably think that there's some Sauvignon Blanc in here, so prevalent are the fresh grass and garden-vegetable notes on the nose and palate. Still, melon and peach fruit shines through. A clean, lean, refreshing wine, and a good bargain from Western Australia.
87 Lindemans 2002 Bin 65 Chardonnay (South Eastern Australia); $8. This recommendation is more a reader reminder than breaking news, because the Bin 65 has been Australia's hallmark value-priced white since 1985. But it is still a reliable, inexpensive choice as well as Australia's most-exported white wine. Bouncy yellow fruit on the palate is accented by spicy, gingery notes that seem a little grown-up for a wine of this price. Fat, ripe nectarines and peaches, plus some nutmeg and cream, waft from the nose. The 2002 Bin 45 Cab (85 points, $8) is also a great buy.
87 Wakefield 2002 Promised Land Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot (South Australia); $10. Vibrant blackberry aromas and flavors are swathed in dark, earthy accents. Medium-bodied, with tealike tannins, it finishes with nut and wood notes.
86 Angove's 2002 Bear Crossing Shiraz (South Australia); $7. Australian wine marketers saw Angove's success with this koala-emblazoned label, and so was born (or so goes my theory) the Cute Indigenous Animal branding we've been seeing from Australia these past couple of years (kangaroos, gekkos, wallabys—what next?). But these inexpensive wines are good—mainstream, yes, but good. Fruit is black, plummy and ripe, and heaped with char and toast. It's dark, all right, but would be just fine with a burger or barbecue. Folks who don't care as much for black beauties should try Angove's Sém-Chard (also 86 points, $7).
85 Bulletin Place 2001 Chardonnay (South Eastern Australia); $8. Crisp and refreshing in the mouth, with a light resin or fig note that is also detectable on the nose. Mellow yellow fruit rounds out the finish. This is one of Len Evans's wines, named for a restaurant he used to own.
85 McPherson 2001 Merlot (Murray Darling); $8. From Murray Darling, an area that straddles northern Victoria and New South Wales, this Merlot is an easy quaffer with bouncy plum fruit, earth and just the right amount of oak. Just one of many great McPherson's buys; their Shiraz and Chardonnay (both 87 points, $7) are also worthwhile.
85 Riverina Estate 2001 Lombard Station Sémillon-Chardonnay (South Eastern Australia); $9. This brand's Warburn and Lombard Station lines yield some good, and well-priced, selections. I like this white's minerally, powdery mouthfeel and flavors, and subtle yellow fruit. There's some cream here, which gives the wine some roundness in the mouth, plus nice vanilla and toffee aromas. It's pretty, talc-like and feminine.
85 Tyrrell's 2002 Moore's Creek Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc (Hunter Valley); $9. Fresh and citrusy, and just the ticket if a seafood dinner or prolonged porch-sitting is on your agenda. Piquant lemon-zest aromas brighten the nose, and similar flavors persist through the finish. A general word to the wise: All four of the wines in the Moore's Creek line have garnered Best Buys from Wine Enthusiast, with scores from 85 through 87 points. All retail for $9. How can you go wrong?
By Joe Czerwinski
The theme of these value selections is "any which way but red," but don't get me wrong—I like New Zealand's red wines. The problem with them is less the vegetal notes that used to characterize the wines than their price. Most good red wines are aged in barrel—and at $750 for a barrel that holds the equivalent of 300 bottles, that's an extra $2.50 per bottle in costs. Hence the dominance on this list of white wines.
But with that limitation explained, I've picked wines that represent a range of grape varieties; there's more to New Zealand white wine than Sauvignon Blanc. With the recent fall of the U.S. dollar, there are almost no New Zealand wines available for less than $10, so I've been forced to reach slightly higher to find wines worth recommending. Once you taste them, you'll forgive me.
90 Linden Estate 2002 Sauvignon Blanc (Hawke's Bay); $11. Surprisingly ripe and creamy for a Sauvignon Blanc in this price range, with stone fruit aromas and flavors backed by citrus and mild herbs. The warm, rich nature of this wine underscores the differences between most Hawke's Bay and Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs. This is not what most people think of when they think NZ Sauvignon Blanc, having been weaned on the leaner, greener versions from the South Island (if you're looking for that, try the Glazebrook, below).
89 Huia Vineyards 2002 Riesling (Marlborough); $15. Coming in just at my self-imposed $15 limit is this beauty of a Riesling. The aromas are a refined blend of peaches, pears and citrus fruits, but they don't adequately prepare the taster for the bold, striking flavors that follow. Despite being relatively light-bodied, tropical fruits, stone fruits and citrus cascade across the palate, finishing a touch soft. If more structure becomes apparent as its baby fat recedes, this wine's rating may prove conservative.
88 Esk Valley 2002 Chardonnay (Hawke's Bay); $15. This Hawke's Bay Chardonnay shows the warmer climate of that region in its ripe, plump flavors of stone fruits backed by hints of honey and smoke. There's wood used in this wine, but it's done judiciously, so as not to overwhelm the fruit. It's a pleasingly harmonious rendition of Chardonnay from a region known more for its red wines.
88 Glazebrook 2002 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough); $13. This is typical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc done in a racy style, with lime-like acidity on the finish that's complemented by aromas of less-than-fully-ripe nectarines and a dash of leafy green herbs. Flavors are melon and stone fruits, along with a helping of green pepper. It's ironic that a winery based in Hawke's Bay would make one of the best-value Marlborough Sauvignons on the market.
88 Omaka Springs 2002 Pinot Gris (Marlborough); $15. Pinot Gris is quickly becoming the hot white grape in New Zealand, and this is a fine example. Ripe, honeyed pear and apple fruit provides plenty of weight, but there's also crisp acidity to provide balance. Going by taste alone, it may have a touch of residual sugar to help round out the mouthfeel and counter the zesty acids, but the hint of sweetness will only make it partner even better with many Asian dishes.
87 Babich 2002 Unwooded Chardonnay (Hawkes Bay); $11. Tasted blind, this would confuse many Chardonnay drinkers used to the oaked-up, caramel-flavored concoctions typically associated with the variety. The fruit comes through vibrant and pure, with lots of tart apple and pear flavors buttressed by a healthy squirt of citrus. Long and clean on the finish, perfect with shrimp cocktail.
By Michael Schachner
Unless Brazil and Uruguay raise their winemaking game, South America will be defined entirely by Argentina and Chile. From both sides of the Andes, a plethora of value wines continues to come our way.
Most Argentinean wine is made in Mendoza, where the combination of high-altitude vineyards (up to 3,500 feet above sea level) and a bone-dry climate allows for full fruit expression. Among reds, Malbec is king. The white partner to Malbec is Chardonnay—although on occasion we've found a nice Torrontés, a sweeter-style white with Spanish origins.
In Chile, a country that's almost synonymous with value, good whites hail from the cool Casablanca Valley, while much of the rest of the country fares best with red wines. Happy hunting.
88 Altos Las Hormigas 2001 Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina); $9. On the nose, smooth berry aromas turn chocolaty courtesy of the high-toast barrels used. In the mouth, the plump fruit seems up to the oak. There's raspberry and raisin, and some blueberry, too. For the curious, Altos de Medrano is the winery and hormigas, in Spanish, are ants. Fortunately, I've seen no such critters at the winery.
88 Casa Lapostolle 2001 Chardonnay (Casablanca Valley, Chile); $10. This round, fresh and stylish Chardonnay from the Casablanca Valley is a step up from the middling 2000 version. The bouquet yields ample pear, almond and coconut aromas, while the palate is loaded with pear fruit and a hint of oak-driven smoke. Classy and concise, and better made than almost every other similarly priced Chardonnay.
87 Concha y Toro 2002 Xplorador Merlot (Rapel Valley, Chile); $7. This Merlot shows a high level of fruit quality. The bouquet exudes plum, chocolate and some creaminess, while the palate bursts with blackberry, bitter chocolate and espresso. Round and satisfying, with enough structure to last until the next vintage comes around. At $7, there's nothing not to like.
87 El Grano 2001 Carmenère (Rapel Valley, Chile); $10. A single sniff tells all; there's spicy pepper and funky red fruit. That's followed by sweet plum and clove flavors. It's soft, yet it has some blueberry and chocolate character, like Zin.
87 Montes 2002 Sauvignon Blanc-Fumé Blanc (Curicó Valley, Chile); $10. The telltale passion fruit character of this wine may not be as pure as it was on the splendid 2001 vintage, but it's unmistakably there. What I love about this wine is the zesty acidity and depth of flavor. If other Chilean Sauvignon Blancs have seemed unexciting, this partially barrel-fermented example may change your opinion.
85 Santa Julia 2002 Torrontés (Mendoza, Argentina); $8. After Chardonnay, Torrontés is Argentina's other white. This one is light and semisweet, with nice acids, a pretty floral bouquet and simple but clean melon, kiwi and lychee flavors. Once the white grape of 16th-century Spanish missionaries, Torrontés has adapted well to Argentina, just about the only place it's grown these days.
By Kristen Fogg
South Africa's national motto, "A World in One Country," was never truer than when applied to the country's diverse grape varieties, wine styles and solid value offerings. Wine producers are heating up international interest with modern vineyard management, world-class winemaking and better brand marketing. This adds up to improved wines and, in time, better access to them. As the Magic 8-Ball says, "All signs point to yes" for the future of South African wines in the U.S., and there is no better time to experience the vintage-by-vintage improvements than now. Here's a quality six-pack that's easy on the wallet and the palate.
89 KWV 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon (Western Cape); $10. The accessible, global style of this wine shows why KWV is a smart bet for everyday dining and casual entertaining. This vintage is no exception, displaying a lovely nose of toast, cinnamon and vanilla with intriguing notes of cardamom, black olives and baking chocolate. The deep currant flavors mix with pepper notes and firm tannins. This will suit a range of foods, from hamburgers and pizza to pepper steak and phutu.
87 Laborie 2002 Sauvignon Blanc (Paarl); $11. KWV purchased Laborie in 1972, and the estate and its restaurant have since become well-known Cape wine country destinations because of their proximity to Paarl Mountain. The plantings are primarily red varieties, but this Sauvignon Blanc is a light and easy offering, showcasing bright yellow stone fruit and clean lemon flavors tempered with grassiness. Zippy acidity makes this a natural with fresh oysters.
87 Lammershoek 2001 Barrique Chenin Blanc (Coastal Region); $10. Austrians Paul and Anna Kretzel co-own this winery with the Stephan family from
Germany. The best fruit from their 600-ton production launches a fleet of proprietary wines. This flagship white is barrel- fermented in French oak, which produces a strong whiff of buttered wheat toast at the start. The flavors of dried pineapple, sweet basil and white pepper are supported by good acidity. Try this with a summery fruit salad.
87 Positively Zinful 2001 Dessert Wine (Coastal Region); $10. Not your father's Porto, this ruby-style, fortified wine is made of 100% Zinfandel at Lammershoek Winery. The low-yielding bush vines produce just enough to make this hedonistic delight. Strong Zin hallmarks of loamy earth, dried figs and pepper all support the shameless cinnamon candy flavors. Although this is primarily a sweet tooth's delight, the acidity prevents it from becoming too cloying. Only 200 cases imported to the U.S.
86 Du Preez Estate 1999 Hanepoot (South Africa); $10. This family winery's fortified wine is made every year, but only 200 cases make it to the U.S. What is a hanepoot? This "honey pot" of a wine is made from Muscat d'Alexandria, or Muscatel to some. In the bottle, it is full of complex flavors. Notes of luscious honey, candied lemon peel, dried pineapple, papaya and mango all vie for center stage. Extremely viscous and rich, this might benefit from a touch more acidity.
86 Slanghoek 2002 Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (South Africa); $11. Its recent plantings of Touriga Nacional, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Barbera give every indication that this winery's new offerings will be worth watching. In the meantime, this wine is a fine everyday white with firm, yellow stone fruit and crisp citrus flavors rounded out by hints of vanillin, toast and hay. There is a certain leanness to the herbal notes and just-right acidity. Drink young, with goat cheeses and chicken dishes.