Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wine Playoffs Are Here, Cheap Division

First, the New York Times this past weekend published an infographic in which 20 wine merchants, sommeliers and restaurateurs revealed their best buys in wine to serve at a cocktail party, pour with barbecue, pair with paella and the like. The wines were to cost $13 or less, presumably in shops and not restaurants.

Of the 20 recommended wines, not a single one was from California. France led the pack with eight choices, followed by Austria and Spain with three each. Two were from Italy, and one each was from Germany, New York, Oregon and Greece.

These results prompted wine-writer Tyler Colman to explain in his blog Dr. Vino that California wines didn't show up in the chart because "precious little" inexpensive wine is estate made in the state, and that the wine authorities surveyed for the Times "don't exactly champion tanker wine," by which he means wines "often assembled from far-flung vineyards in steel tanks so large they could double as nuclear silos."

Fair enough. Much of California's cheaper wines are from Central Valley vineyards, and processed into wines that have little to say of varietal or place; they can be cheap, but only occasionally are they exhilarating. Reader comments following Colman's remarks generally support the endorsements of the Times panel while repeating the familiar complaint that California wines tend to be overpriced and that those that are cheap are dull. An exception noted by two readers, incidentally, is the petite sirah made by Bogle Vineyards of Clarksburg, which customarily sells for $9 to $11.

Coincidental with this discussion, the Wine Enthusiast just released its 100 "best buys" for 2011, culled from the staff's tasting of more than 16,000 wines this past year. Unlike the list in the Times, the Wine Enthusiast roundup includes several wines from South America, Australia...and California. Indeed, 18 of the 100 are from California. To qualify for consideration, all the wines on the list are to carry a suggested retail price of $15 or less.

Top California Buy
Several of the California releases on the Wine Enthusiast list are no doubt "tanker wines," made with grapes not necessarily grown on a winery's estate. Nevertheless, quite a few bear specific and prestigious appellations, including Livermore Valley (Concannon 2009 Conservancy Chardonnay, $15), Dry Creek Valley (Pedroncelli 2008 Bench Vineyards Merlot, $14) and Yountville (Cameron Hughes 2007 Lot 157 Cabernet Sauvignon, $15).

Three are from the Sacramento area - No. 67, the Renwood 2008 Red Label Sierra Foothills Syrah, $12; No. 5, the Delicato 2009 Domino California Pinot Grigio, $7; and No. 3, the Bogle Vineyards 2010 California Sauvignon Blanc, $9, the highest ranked California wine in the compilation (Bogle's petite sirah, however, didn't make the cut). The No. 1 wine is the Pacific Rim Columbia Valley Riesling, $10, not to be confused with versions labeled "dry" or "sweet," but just "riesling."

At any rate, I don't seem to have much problem finding bargain wines of aesthetic merit for the column I contribute weekly to The Sacramento Bee. Today's column, for example, is on Jed Steele's Shooting Star 2010 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, an unusually vivacious and complex interpretation of the varietal, and its suggested retail price is just $12. It may not be an estate wine, but it has as much if not more authority than many sauvignon blancs that are.

Other similarly inexpensive but singularly expressive wines I've written about this year include the richly fruity and finely layered Boeger Winery Lot No. 39 El Dorado Hangtown Red ($11), the lean and lively Loredona Veineyards 2009 Lodi Viognier ($11), the frisky and supple Kirkland 2008 Amador County Old Vine Grandmere Zinfandel ($12), the sunny and snappy Shenandoah Vineyards 2010 Amador County Chenin Blanc/Viognier ($14), the bright and layered Colby Red 2009 California Red Blend ($10/$12), and, yes, the lithsome and buoyant Bogle Vineyards 2008 California Petite Sirah ($9/$11). Cheap California wines with something sharp to say of vineyard, varietal and aspiration can be found; often, they're right under our noses.


  1. Bully for the East Coast to have good Euro wines. Bully for Calif., maybe a lot of our low price wines are consumed without hitting the NYC markets.

    And curious about the estate thing. It was not mentioned as a criteria in the search, was it???

  2. Nothing in the Times infographic suggests that a wine had to be estate made, and it's difficult to tell by the brief description which are and which aren't. Tyler Colman, however, is suggesting that many of the wines in the chart are estate made, and he may know.

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