Thursday, April 15, 2010
It's no exaggeration to say that it has been at least 15 years since I've seen such a deluge of fine wines coming into the marketplace at truly affordable prices.
All the statistics point to wine sales falling off a cliff at prices above $20 a bottle, and wineries and importers are quickly adjusting to this new reality.
If you can spend $15 or even $10 you can treat yourself to first-rate juice.
By that I mean wines that have depth and concentration, that show the particular strengths of a certain place and that stand apart from the crowd.
That said, you'll find even better values from places that are a bit obscure, or perhaps have just fallen out of fashion.
Here are some exceptional offerings from two large wine-producing regions that may have slipped off your radar. Both are worth a serious look.
The Loire Valley of France has never been in the spotlight, though I love the wines.
From steely muscadets on the coast, to the thrilling dry chenin blancs of savennieres, the juicy off-dry chenins of Vouvray, and the mineral-soaked sauvignons of Sancerre and the Touraine, the white wines of the Loire are among the most terroir-driven in the world.
There are fewer reds -- a little pinot noir and some earthy, tannic cabernet francs in particular -- but they are fascinating, unique and distinctive wines.
At these prices, why not experiment?
Touraine 2008 Le Grand St. Vincent Sauvignon; $9. Sancerre without the minerality; just plenty of juicy citrus and herb.
Vouvray 2008 Rosnay; $15. Flowers, citrus and light tropical fruits in a lovely, off-dry white wine perfect for spring.
Moulin de Ferrand 2009 Rose; $8. Bone dry and smelling of fresh strawberries, this sippable rose is a Bordeaux blend of merlot and cabernet franc.
Saumur Rouge 2008 Les Epinats; $10. Single-vineyard cabernet franc, loaded with mushroom scents and flavors, light and tannic, perfect for flank steak.
All of the above wines are distributed by Grape Expectations.
You probably don't think of Australia when choosing your riesling, but I would urge you to give it a try.
Australian rieslings are quite dry, loaded with petrol and mineral accents, wonderfully age-worthy and flexible with a variety of foods.
Australia also deserves credit for launching the trend toward unoaked chardonnay.
The country knocks out some very fine, dense, dark cabernets, often with a strong herbal streak reminiscent of Bordeaux.
And for old-vine blends of grenache, shiraz and mourvedre, you won't find better wines in the new world.
Leeuwin Estate 2006 Margaret River Riesling; $17. Leeuwin Estate is the premier winery in western Australia, and this is world-class, bone-dry riesling.
Kilikanoon 2007 Killerman's Run Cabernet Sauvignon; $19. Astonishing fragrance and fruit, annotated with iron and smoky charcoal notes. Dark and deep, it lingers in the mouth for minutes.
Kilikanoon 2007 Killerman's Run Shiraz/Grenache; $19. Zin lovers should give this a try. Bright briary berries and light toast from American oak barrels.
Last but not least are two from John Duval, which also makes the Sequel syrahs for Long Shadows here in Washington.
For the price -- about $38 -- these wines compare with others costing well over $100. A splurge to be sure . . . But somebody must have a birthday coming up.
John Duval 2006 Entity' Shiraz; $38. Barossa fruit, satiny and laced with vanilla, tobacco and licorice. From the man who made Penfolds Grange.
John Duval 2007 Plexus GSM; $38. Extraordinary richness, with layers of raspberry compote, blackberry, cassis, smoke, toast and toffee.
Big but graceful, and for all its power it keeps the alcohol in check at 14.5 percent.
All the Australian wines are imported by Old Bridge Cellars and distributed by P&S.
Paul Gregutt is the author of "Washington Wines & Wineries.'' Find him at www.paulgregutt.com or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.