Look Abroad for CHEAP but GOOD Wine

globeI just read a post by Tim Fish, a contributor to WineSpectator.com. He talked about the effect our expectations have on our experiences. He tells a really cute story about childhood memories that’ll make many of us think back to the wood-paneled station wagon and 8mm movie camera’s of our youth.

In wine terms, he said we expect much more from an expensive bottle than an inexpensive one, and are much more disappointed when “name” bottles and legendary vintages don’t live up to their press.

I couldn’t agree more. We live in a culture where the price tag is equated with the value, and a big-ticket car or watch or wine bestows tremendous cachet on its owner — sometimes more cachet than they deserve.

Fish says it’s a pleasure to find things that over-deliver: where the value far exceeds the price. Again, ditto. He mentions several California wines that are a great deal for the money.fuego

So here’s where I disagree: I’ve become more and more disappointed with the value of California wines. The cheap ones — i.e. under $10 — have flaws that put me right off. The whites usually have an edge of sweetness where there shouldn’t be one: I don’t want sugar in my Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay! (Watch this video to see me rant about this.) I assume they put sugar in wine to cover up the wine’s flaws, and to pander to Americans’ penchant for sweet foods (Sugar Frosted Flakes anyone?)

The reds can have way too much sweetness, to0, and not just in obvious varietals like Zinfandel: I’ve tasted cheap Cabernets that reminded me of German Dornfelder.

And I haven’t even started on the oak, or fake oak, as the case may be. In cheap California reds and whites I often get off-notes that come from fake oak in the form of oak chips, staves, even oak dust! It seems that anything that’s not an oak barrel gives this awful cinnamon-y flavor that just shouldn’t be in wine. I know those methods are used to keep costs down, but I still don’t like it.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not a wine snob. I enjoy many wines priced under $10 — they just aren’t American.

Take Spanish wines, for example. One of my favorite wines at any price is Garnacha de Fuego, which I’ve claimed in another post is the hands-down favorite for World’s Best Pizza Wine, and for under $9. Spanish whites are crisp and citrus-y, and brands such as Protocolo go for around $8. There are dozens more reds and whites in that price range, and I’ve never detected fake oak or residual sugar in any of them.

Look at Argentina, too. This South American country is blessed with absolutely perfect conditions for growing wine grapes, and they now produce amazing reds, particularly Malbec, and whites such as their signature grape, Torrontes. If you want to drink some great stuff cheap, try anything from Bodega Gougenheim or El Portillo. Besides Malbec, Both make a great Pinot Noir for under $10, with more more varietally-correct flavor than a comparably-priced American Pinot.

You can hit the value jackpot with Chilean wine, too. Castillo de Molina produces great Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon for $10 or less, and Santa Rita’s 120 line has a Sauvignon Blanc that tastes just as good as a $20 New Zealand for around $9.

So if you’re on a budget, or just want to experiment with some new varieties and regions, start looking beyond the “California” aisle at your local wine shop. I think you’ll like what you pay — and taste. Cheers!

  • Share/Bookmark

One Response to “Look Abroad for CHEAP but GOOD Wine”

Leave a Reply


Wine Accessories

Switch to our mobile site