Executive Editor Susan Kostrzewa and Managing Editor and Tasting Director Lauren Buzzeo sit down to discuss Wine Enthusiast’s anticipated Top 100 Best Buys of 2017. They reveal how this list is compiled, who chose what, and why price does not equal quality.
This season, drink real wine with real people. Look for Collection des Anges rose at fine wine shops everywhere.
Read the full transcript for “The World’s Best Value Wines”:
Susan Kostrzewa: Ignore the fake news on Facebook. There’s no shortage of rosé wine this year. Just in case, we recommend stocking up on Collection des Anges. This provencal rosé tastes dry, fresh, and fruity, and it’s perfect poolside with friends, or paired with summer foods. Look for Collection des Anges rosé at fine wine shops everywhere, and drink real wine with real people.
Susan Kostrzewa, executive editor of Wine Enthusiast Magazine. In this episode we’ll talk about this year’s exciting Top 100 Best Buy list, doing a deep dive into 2017’s value trends, and singling out a few of our own favorite picks for gift giving and the holidays.
Lauren Buzzeo: Lauren Buzzeo, managing editor and tasting director at Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
SK: Lauren, we are here to talk about our Top 100 Best Buys list, which is our annual list. Every year it comes out and we highlight really the most exciting value wines on the market based on all the tasting that we do as a team over the year. But one of the things that ties into this list and that comes up a lot when I’m talking to people, either really wine knowledgeable people or those who are just starting to get into it, there’s always that question, “Is it true that the more expensive a wine, the better it is?”. Lauren, I’m going to put you on the spot. What do you think about that?
LB: That’s one of my favorite perceptions to try to actually break. It’s absolutely not true that just because you’re going to pay more for a bottle of wine means that it’s better, or of better quality than a comparable wine of similar varietal composition, provenance, meaning where it’s coming from. You don’t need to pay more to get high quality wine. I think that’s why this list is one of the more important lists that we put out at Wine Enthusiast. We certainly have others, and throughout the year we love to tout many different aspects of the industry, and price points to enter it at. But this Top 100 Best Buys list really again just proves that point that you can absolutely find high quality wines without going bankrupt, and anybody and everybody can and should do it.
SK: Right, and I think you made a good point earlier, which is, there’s so many elements that play into how wine is priced and really how it is valued. I think that as a consumer, obviously there are different reasons for purchasing a wine. There are collectable reasons for purchasing wines. There are your own personal reasons. If you just want to drink it, you just like it, it’s something where I think you need to keep an open mind and not be only led by the price. What qualifies a wine for this list?
LB: Beyond the score and obviously the price, since everything here has to be a Best Buy, in determining this list we absolutely take other factors into consideration as well. Most prominently I would say would probably be availability. Because that is such an important factor in this list, that we really want to promote and offer up wines that people can actually find if they go to their local wine shop.
LB: I know, right? Don’t worry, the Seller Selections list we might send you on a little bit of a treasure hunt. But for this one we want to make it a little bit easy. We really just want these to be readily available, easy to find, totally accessible, and real just happy pleasure givers. Another factor I’d say would probably be considering distribution. We really want to get a nice cross section and variety of different grapes, of different regions and countries. With that is what we like to call Buzz. What we like to say is the buzzworthiness of some of these wines.
Again, just throwing in a couple of those tidbits that are like, “Whoa, what’s that doing on there? That’s totally cool”. Or, “Oh, yeah. That makes sense. This trend is hot. Of course it’s on the list”.
SK: Are these wines generally available all over the US? Is that one of the things that you look into when you’re considering wines for these lists?
LB: Yeah. You know, this list is also a lot of fun because there are a lot of different variables and factors that we do take into consideration when culling the list down to these Top 100 wines. Just to give you an idea, we review over 22,000 wines every year. This year we actually had nearly 1400 wines that qualified as Best Buy. That is actually the most wines that we’ve had so far to date to be eligible for this list.
SK: That’s interesting. You think that’s just because more of those wines are on the market and readily available, and the producers of those wines are more interested in getting the word out? Or what changed?
LB: You know, with all of my answers there’s a variety of reasons. Honestly, a lot of that depends on certainly the wines that are being released. The vintage conditions, if we’ve had good vintages. If what’s coming out came from good years, then the quality across the board is going to be higher, which means that more of these wines are probably going to meet this quality to price ratio to be qualified as Best Buys. Availability absolutely plays a role as well, and that’s a very important factor.
The fact that we’re just tasting more and really trying to get to wines from any and every corner of the world, and at any price point. We really try not to discriminate at all based on any factor. Whether it’s price or provenance or case production. Whatever it may be. We are equal opportunity tasters. The fact that we actually are tasting more just gives us more to fuel this list.
SK: What were some of the surprises on the list this year for you, that you kind of didn’t expect?
LB: Going back to the discoveries, we have on this list a wine from Moldova. We have a chardonnay from Moldova. We have a red blend from Bulgaria. We have a delicious shiraz from Israel. In addition to wonderful selections that you could find from Argentina, Australia, France, Italy. You know, the classic go-tos. But we really have an opportunity, more so on this list than any other, to look beyond those classic regions and find those discovery wines. Because ultimately, a lot of the time these wines are being offered to promote sales and recognition of the regions for a more accessible price point, meaning that a lot of them will qualify for Best Buys if they meet that certain quality standard.
SK: Right. I think another thing to consider with this list is the timing going into the holidays. For me it’s really a great time to be thinking about buying these wines as gifts. One of the things that deters people from buying wine as a gift is they’re worried, “What if I don’t know the person’s exact tastes? I don’t want to go crazy spending 100 dollars on something if I’m not sure they’re going to try it”. It really does not only encourage you to discover this stuff yourself and enjoy it and experiment, but it allows you to do that with gifting as well.
LB: Definitely. Again, since we have 17 countries represented on this list, you can kind of also play to who you’re giving the gift to, right? It’s a perfect host entertaining holiday gift. Saying I’m going to your Christmas party, Sue, and I want to bring a bottle. Guess what? We’ve got a Moschofilero from Greece on the list. Knowing your affinity and love of Greece, I might pick that one up for, what is it? Maybe 12 dollars? I show up to your house, you’re going to be thrilled. We’re all going to be happy. We know the wine’s delicious, because again it’s achieved that quality for the remarkable price. It’s a win win for everybody.
SK: The other thing too is parties. These are great wines to stock up on for your parties. They’re really interesting wines. They’re definitely going to be conversation starters, and you can afford to actually stock up for your party with a lot of them, and offer kind of an education in a way for your guests based on this list.
LB: Yeah, definitely. I mean, if you pick up that number one wine, which is a lovely syrah from Washington State, which, yes, they do syrah really really well. Just like cab. You serve that. At 91 points for 12 dollars, I don’t think there’s going to be a single person that you’re going to give that to that’s going to be disappointed in the quality of that wine. Once they find out the price point on it, forget about it.
SK: I want to circle back to the idea of there being some trends on the wine scene that are reflected in this list, that really says a lot about what’s happening in the value space right now. Talk to me a little bit about that. Some of the varieties that you’re seeing coming up on this list. Regions, and your feelings about those.
LB: There’s a lot of interesting trends that you can actually see having an effect on this list, or included in this list. As an example, from a variety or varietal composition standpoint, we have over 35 different either varieties or blends appearing on this list. The diversity alone there is just remarkable and phenomenal.
SK: It’s amazing.
LB: Yeah. But from a trend perspective I’d say of note, certainly right now, still rosés are so hot.
SK: Gosh, it’s so true.
LB: I mean, I love them, but we might almost be hitting a point of over-saturation. But we’ll leave that for another podcast.
SK: I think rosé, what I will say just as a quick aside, what’s happening is, there are just more regions making it. It is a category that keeps growing, and I think keeps being interesting because of all the different expressions of different grapes that you’re finding from all over the world. I think it’s going to continue to grow, but I think it will just become more and more diverse.
LB: Yeah, I think it’s going to sort of collapse upon itself a little bit, and the quality has got to start to improve. Because there’s just too much out there. It’s going to be like beer. But anyway, so rosés. We definitely have a nice representation of rosés on the list. Again, you’re talking about high value, high quality, good value products. We have five this year, which is the most that’s ever appeared actually on the list. I know it doesn’t sound a lot, but in the context of over 22,000 wines tasted throughout the year, that’s not bad. They’re definitely coming up.
Another trend, we definitely have noticed alternate packaging being hot last year. We had a red blend that was in the top five that made quite the splash. Again this year we have another one that’s in a box. Which I know is sort of counterintuitive from a quality perspective, and I think that also goes back to your question about, “Do more expensive wines necessarily translate as better wines?”. I think that there’s a perception out there that wines in box or in alternate packaging are not that good. It’s definitely not the case. A lot of times these wines are being packaged in these alternate packaging because they’re actually more eco friendly than some of these really ridiculous heavy bottles.
SK: Not to get too off topic, but alternative packaging could be a great way of preserving wine, the freshness of a wine. There are certain wines that lend themselves really well to that type of packaging. There’s eco friendly. There is the actual freshness element. There’s the portability, which I think is another thing that makes some of those types of wines really great. Take them on a picnic. You can take them on a trip. It’s easy to bring them around, and impacts the environment a little bit maybe less than some of the traditional bottles do.
LB: Definitely. When you’re talking about those bag and box, or large format box wines which have the bladder inside, yeah, you’re really talking about wines that will probably stay fresher for longer, because the bladder collapses on itself so you’re not having as much exposure to air. For wines that are in the category of the sort of every day drinking, priced to enjoy throughout the week. If you have a boxed wine that you have a glass of every night in a three liter box, that’s the equivalent of four standard bottles, you’re going to be good to go for a couple of weeks. There’s nothing wrong with that.
SK: One of the larger regions that I saw represented on the list was Eastern Europe. You talked about Moldova, Slovenia, some of these other regions. Hungary of course, very classic region for tokaji and other wines. Can you talk to me a little bit about why you think we’re seeing that?
LB: I think that we’re seeing that because, again, more of these discovery regions if you will, call them discovery, I mean some of them are more historic than a lot of the regions that we drink from prominently today. But these sort of underdog regions, we’ll call them. They don’t really have the notoriety and the perception that other regions do. Therefore from a strategic perspective, from a sales perspective, it makes more sense to price them attractively and affordably, for people to actually go ahead and make that purchase, and try these wines.
I think certainly in the case of Bulgaria, it’s kind of insane the amount of wines that we see that we taste that are priced around eight dollars, that are delicious. 85, 86, 87 points, which is all good to very good wine, for almost a five spot if you catch it on an end cap for a sale. It’s kind of ridiculous, but I mean, I’m not arguing. I don’t know many who are.
SK: Right. Exactly. Well that’s a good point. There are reasons why they’re value, and we’re happy about that. They need to be promoted, and people are discovering them. It’s a really great time to jump on some of this stuff before it does become better known. The prices might go up. I don’t know. It’s hard to say.
LB: Definitely. But just because a region has notoriety doesn’t mean that all prices are going to go up across the board and you can’t find values there. A perfect example of that would be France. First of all, France is so huge, you can really find so much diversity within the country and the different regions. But certainly for the purposes of the Top 100 Best Buys list, we often find a lot of great values across France. This year we actually have 13 different French wines on the list. You can really find great selections from the south of France. Whether it’s southwest France, or Languedoc Roussillon. As well as great regions like the Loire. Even Alsace up in the north.
Again, you’re going to get such an interesting cross section of different varieties and styles. Whether it’s a lovely Alsatian white blend, or a Riesling dominant blend from, again, Alsace. Or something a little bit more heavy and tannic from southwest France like tannat. Or a cab blend.
SK: Or even Bordeaux.
LB: Even Bordeaux.
SK: There’s some great value wines coming out of Bordeaux. Again, these regions, it’s important to think about that as well. I think the list reflects that. Don’t discount a region if you in your mind have decided, or it’s historically in the past, something’s been very pricey. You’re seeing a lot of new innovations and experimenting happening in those regions as well. Wines coming out of them are much more affordable.
LB: Yeah, definitely.
SK: I’d love to talk a little bit about some of my favorite selections from this year’s list. The first one is a little self serving, because I am the critic who chose it. I want to talk a little bit about Crete in Greece. There’s a wine, a vilana, it’s called. It’s an indigenous variety grown on Crete that I think is gaining some traction. Crete in general making some great wines. I was just recently traveling there. Really impressed with the quality, and really impressed with the price. Then along with it you get that amazing history, and knowing that these grapes have been made for thousands of years. It’s pretty cool. Vilana’s a really elegant wine. Really food friendly. That was one of the ones I was very happy to see on the list.
LB: Can’t miss an opportunity to talk about Greece, right?
SK: I’ve got to do it. I’ve got to do it. Hey, the wines are fabulous. I mean that. Anyway, the other one that I thought was kind of fun and interesting was, there’s a Pinot Gris from the Pfalz region of Germany. I love pinot gris anyway, but I think it’s great to see an alternative variety to Riesling. That’s an exciting trend coming out of Germany. You’re seeing Gewürztraminer, Silvaner, other wines. It just offers you a variety, and maybe a little better price. Those are two of my favorites. What about yours, Lauren?
LB: Well let me just say, I love your Greece pick. I’ll say that because I love you. But I also love your German pick because I think that, yeah, there’s so much excitement behind the other varieties of Germany. That it’s not just all about Riesling, which is that automatic association that so many people have with German wines. Actually discovering some of those other varieties and seeing people really latch onto that.
But from my perspective, I guess I have to say the number 10 selection, which is a chenin blanc from South Africa.
SK: Okay, so you are a very well known lover of chenin and South Africa. I will agree, I love the chenin blancs coming out of South Africa. It’s not a new thing, that they’ve been making great chinins. But they’re great value. They’re food friendly. They’re ageable. I’m talking over you. I’ll let you say something.
LB: I mean, it’s great. I don’t need to say anything. You’re 100 percent correct. Thank-you very much. No, they’re beautiful wines across so many different styles and price points. This selection is so widely available, and it’s so perfect, like you said, for any occasion. Whether it’s pairing with a meal, drinking on its own. Warm weather. Cold weather. It’s just a beautiful wine. That selection.
But also, I’d have to say probably my other favorite right now would be the number 81 selection, which is actually a lambrusco coming out of Italy. Which I know kind of has a reputation that a lot of people, either they have a pre-conceived notion that it’s not very good from some of the older stuff that populated the shelves, or they really just don’t have a strong association with it at all. I think that it’s a really exciting time in the US market, and with current consumers, to rediscover lambrusco. Again, it is such a versatile food friendly approachable delicious beautiful wine.
SK: Lauren, tell me more about lambrusco, just in case they don’t know where it’s from or what it is.
LB: Lambrusco is typically from the Emilia Romagna region within Italy. This particular selection is a Lambrusco di Sorbara. There are other appalachians that make other lambruscos using different clones of the lambrusco grape. But this selection, again, is just so vibrant and forward and expressive. It’s a slightly sparkling wine, and it’s typically either a pale salmon or brilliant sort of ruby garnet color, depending on the style or the producer. It’s just a beautiful pour that, again, for holiday time.
SK: Yeah, I was going to say. Holiday foods, turkeys. It’s not overpowering, but it has enough structure and fruit to hold up to some of those dishes. It’s a great choice.
LB: Turkey? Forget turkey. Just get a breadstick. Get some prosciutto. Wrap it around and have it with lambrusco.
SK: Says the Italian woman.
LB: You’ll be happy as anything.
SK: Since California does represent so much of the wine that we drink in the US, I think it’s important for us to talk about what’s on the list, and some of the great values coming out of California. The great quality wines that are affordable.
LB: Yeah. California definitely is the biggest player on the list. There are so many quality wines for accessible, attractive price points, that are available to us here in the States. But also because the quality overall in that 10 to 15 dollar price range, again depending on vintage, overall has just been increasing year over year. We have classics from cabernet and pinot noir to chardonnay from across the state. A lot of them are labeled just California, but you can really find a lot of beautiful values in Paso, especially on a red blend front. But also in the north, Lodi. I think a really cool wine we have on the list is actually a chenin blanc from Clarksburg. That is, I think 15 dollars. It’s 90 or 91 points. It’s a beautiful wine.
There’s a lot of really interesting, diverse, different things that you can pick up from within that state that’s either going to cater to your classic tendencies, whether it’s cab or pinot or whatnot, or something a little different and outside the box, which we’re always promoting.
SK: There is some great experimentation going on in California beyond all of the really known varieties. I think it’s great that those are being represented in the magazine, but also in the list itself. That’s exciting. I think there’s more to come from the domestic production of wine as far as values go, and more to be seen. Should be a really fun list to keep building each year as the category keeps growing.
All righty then. I think with all this talk of all the value wine, I need to start getting ready to buy some of this, and stocking my cellar and getting ready for gift giving. Lauren, thank-you so much.
LB: A pleasure as always. Can’t wait for next year.
SK: Oh, and you can find this list online at winemag.com. You’ll have access to everything on the list. We hope you enjoy. Thanks.
LB: Happy drinking.
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