The question always arises… where and what do you buy for value in the Vinous world? This question could automatically be the lead for a question from my side: “What is your perception of value? For some individuals $12 is their threshold. For others who have wines worth $100’s of dollars in their cellar, $25 bottles are their Monday night house wine, so that becomes their “value” wine for the week.
I will, instead, answer the question in a slightly different way, namely focusing on wines which punch above their weight at a number of price points. You can drink a very good $15 wine and that could be a great value, or, conversely, you could invest $30 and buy a wine which holds up favorably to a $60 wine, making this a great buy as well.
I believe the first thing that wine lovers will have to get through their heads is that there is no direct correlation between the prices on pays for their bottles, and the quality of the wine therein. For example a $40 bottle is not twice as good as a $20 wine. The prices that are set for certain wines by the producers sometimes do not reflect of the quality of the wines. A classic example of this has always been Napa Valley; this region has been notorious in overpricing most of its wines for more then the last decade.
This was because the wines were big, exuberant examples of a fruit driven, highly alcoholic style, which scored well in blind tastings, were easy to understand by consumers who were relatively new to wines and were easy to pronounce at the shrines of North American hospitality.
As such, demand was high but supply was initially finite, causing prices to become increasingly unrealistic. After you add winery one-upmanship
(My wine is better/bigger than your wine, so we will sell it for $120, instead of our competitor x at $100) things increasingly spiraled out of control. It has to be said, though, that because of the current economic climate the pricing for all California wines has become a lot more civilized. And that is especially apparent for the higher end Napa Valleys labels.
So if the above is definitely not undervalued, then what is? Well, one region which is definitely not overpriced is the region of Beaujolais, in the eastern part of central France. No, I am not talking of Beaujolais Noveau, which was conceived as a marketing gimmick in the 1950’s by the largest local producer. But, instead, one should support serious wines made from the Gamay grape from the best sites, using traditional vinification in a good year. That could mean wine from one of the 10 Cru’s, such as Morgon, Moulin a Vent etc. in 2009, one of the best vintages ever for that region.
But even in an average vintage the Beaujolais Cru wines make lovely light to medium bodied drinking wines that go perfectly well with a variety of foods. Contrary to their Noveau cousins they can stand to age for a few years (up to 10) in a cool cellar, emerging thereafter to become replicas for pricey Burgundian Pinot Noirs at double the price. The price of admission for these wines is $ 15-25, which given their quality is most definitely undervalued.
Another region, or, country in this case, which is producing wines that are of relative value, is Portugal. The country was a relative backwater of even decent wines in the 70’s and 80’s but, since then, it has made huge steps in producing great wines made with indigenous grape varieties at very fair prices. One caveat - and this is an issue that a lot of countries that are going through a vinous learning curve are going through: some producers’ ambitious use of new oak barrels is sometimes totally construing the real flavour and nuances of the wine. If the bouquet of the wine smells like a vanilla milkshake, then what is the use of promoting your own, very special grape varieties, like Touriga National if one can buy Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile or wherever, that smells exactly like that?
However, there are a number of great wines coming out of the Dao or Douro regions of Portugal which are not over extracted and over oaked. These wines are made with old vines of local grape varietals which have been grown in ancient vineyards for 100’s of years. Some of these wines are made with field blends, jumbled vines which are not found in neat little rows of single grape varietals. Over the years these vineyards have been replanted randomly, as vines die off or become unproductive resulting in a mishmash of grape varieties such as Touriga National, Touriga Franca, Jaen and Tinta Roriz(which some might know to be Tempranillo the most famous Spanish grape) all in the same vineyard rows. Wines produced from these vineyards almost always result in complex and interesting blends, where all of the grape varieties play an important role within the confines of the final result.
Portuguese red wines typically are of medium to full body, with a little acidity and sometimes a fine streak of tannin. They sometimes remind me of Italian wines, so they definitely reward the consumption alongside food. The prices paid for a majority of these wines is very reasonable, given a direct comparison with their Italian cousins (this of course cannot be a straight up comparison between the actual grape varieties… but rather an intrinsic assessment of the fruit, body and balance of a wine). If I were to generalize, a $15 bottle from Dao, an ancient predominately red wine region in central Portugal, a lot of times equals a $25 bottle from Tuscany.
The secret, really, to finding your own values in the big world of wine is going out there and being adventurous, but here I have given you a good start.