Best Bets for the Bargain Wine Hunter
These under-the-radar regions offer excellent wines at affordable prices.
The Loire Valley
Languedoc, France: Among France's most southern-reaching wine regions and one of few to touch the Mediterranean, the Languedoc produces varieties that mirror the Rhône—Grenache, Carignane, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cinsault—though Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are also grown here, more notably on the area's western edges. The region is overwhelmingly devoted to reds that are among the world's greatest bargains.
Producers to look for: Château Saint Martin de la Garrigue, Gerard Bertrand, Laurent Miquel, Hecht & Bannier, Château des Karantes.
Loire Valley, France: Serious Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc country, this northern region stretches from near Paris to the Atlantic seaboard and is littered with the châteaux of royalty past. Though its winemaking has always been humble and affordable, the region consistently proves that, when it comes to certain varieties (light, perfectly acidic whites in particular) it can't be beat.
Producers to look for: Domaine Bailly-Reverdy, Domaine Claude Branger, Marquis de Goulaine, Remy Pannier, Serge Dagueneau.
Swartland, South Africa: Located north of the more frequented winelands of South Africa, Swartland (or "black country" after the indigenous bushes that turn dark there yearly) has a dry climate ideal for serious reds, but white wines are making a play here, too. Powerful, concentrated single-varietal Shiraz, Cabernet and Pinotage (among others) and red blends are the wines to watch here; Portstyle wines are also a solid choice. Though the wines are gaining acclaim, the region is emerging and still affordable.
Producers to watch: Sadie Family, Sebeka, Allesverloren, Swartland Winery, Kloovenberg.
Paso Robles, California: From Syrah to Petite Sirah, Paso Robles is making bold, interesting reds with chewy tannins and spice. Think barbecue and you're there. Plus, it's a fun place to drive around with inviting and low key tasting rooms. Napa stalwart Turley Wine Cellars bought the old Pesenti Winery here to further show off its (and the area's) prowess with Zinfandel.
Producers to look for: Ancient Peaks, Clayhouse Vineyard, Justin, Tablas Creek, Tobin James Cellars, Turley.
Yorkville Highlands, California: A winding strip of Mendocino County road connecting Sonoma County to the Anderson Valley, tiny Yorkville Highlands, its own AVA, is making Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Malbec and even fortified wines. Vineyards are mostly mountainous, benefiting from the Pacific's cooling influences, while soils are rocky, weathered and thin, making for wines as wildly interesting as their surroundings.
Producers to look for: Bink Wines, Maple Creek, Meyer Family Cellars, Yorkville Cellars.