Finding Great Wine Values Means Understanding Your Options
It’s very possible to drink amazing wines for under $15, as long as you know how to identify them. Many of the best wine values are hiding plainly in site. For some, the issue is that the grape variety is implied, meaning that when you see a bottle of Cote Rotie, you can assume that the bottle contains the syrah grape. Other wines are undervalued because they are from less-marketed regions. This autumn, I challenge you to zero in on seasonally-correct “richer wines” that are extremely economical because you’re in the know about these treasures. Here is your fall vino roadmap:
1. Chenin Blanc, The Incognito Grape
This disguised varietal is highly respected by those who can spot it. Many of us have tasted Chenin Blanc without realizing it, since it is rarely labeled as such (examples are Vouvray, Savennieres, Anjou, Montlouis). To add to the mystery, Chenin comes in all guises—fresh and young, distinctly aged, downright sweet, and even sparkling. Each possesses durable acid and has a distinct oily texture that sets it apart. The aromatics cry out for fall foods like chicken & sweet potato stew.
Try this South African Chenin Blanc, traditionally called Steen down there, for a treat - Raats Family Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, 2007. $14
2. What’s A Weissburgunder?
Sporting many names, Weissburgunder (also known as Pinot Blanc) is an unsung hero of white grape varieties. Beautiful examples of Pinot Blanc are found in Italy as Pinot Bianco, in Alsace as Pinot Blanc, and in Germany and Austria as Weissburgunder. Dry, nutty, and full-bodied, this varietal often gets passed over for the familiar Pinot Grigio. But its diplomatic acid level is perfect to marry with “fatter foods,” and its weight stands up to mouth-coating preparations. It’s what I crave when eating hearty fall fare like sausage with polenta and broccoli rabe. I call it the red wine drinker’s white.
Sip this steal, and thank me later: Domaines Schlumberger, Pinot Blanc, “Les Princes Abbes,” Alsace, 2007. $15
3. Blaufrankisch! Gesundheit
Found in Austria and Hungary as well as in New York and Washington State (where it’s called Lemberger), Blaufrankisch has mesmerizing aromas of cherry, smoke, and autumn leaves. Tasting it is another story. Blaufrankish goes to extremes, from elegantly Pinot Noir-esque, to huskily Zinfandel-like in weight. Its acidity makes it quite food-friendly. Whatever the meal, enjoy the plush tannins of this rustic-style varietal.
Tap into a domestic bottling: Shooting Star, Blue Franc Lemberger, Washington, 2008. $13.50
4. Monastrell: The Other Red Grape
Also known as Mourvedre and Mataro, Monastrell is the second-most planted red grape in Spain after Tempranillo. It’s also grown prominently in France, where it can be brawnier, and more balanced when blended with grapes like Grenache and Syrah. But under the Spanish sun, the thick-skinned Monastrell ripens to maturity with a brambly, blackberry-ish nose with notable funky, meaty characters that remind me of fall.
Try: Olivares “Altos de la Hoya” Monastrell , Jumilla, 2008. $12, with leg of lamb for your next gathering.