WINE REGIONS WORTH KNOWING
It's no secret among wine connoisseurs that certain regions stand out for the exceptional value of their wines. With a little bit of guidance and insider info, you too can enjoy the bounty. Cheapism.com compiled a list of regions around the world that offer the best deals on wine. Now all you need do is to scan the shelves for countries or regions whose wines deliver consistency of quality, price, and style.
This New World wine-producing country is dotted with terroirs whose yields are finding much success. Well-loved grapes such as pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot are often blended into fruity and somewhat complex red wines while chardonnay and sauvignon blanc lead in the white wine category with their fresh fruit and grassy flavors. Prices start at about $10 a bottle.
CENTRAL VALLEY, CHILE
This South American region is a cultural mixing ground for European-style grape-growing and winemaking. With their predecessors having built an industry on rootstocks originally from France, vintners today produce rich and concentrated red wines from grapes such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, and carménère that deliver all the boldness of their European counterparts -- but at lower prices. Look for stickers starting at $8.
This province in western Argentina benefitted from the influx of winemakers and wine culture from southern Europe and accounts for the majority of the country's wine output. French rootstock (primarily malbec, but also tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon) plus Old World know-how and passion have yielded full-bodied reds with similar structure and more fruit than the French versions. Prices are typically one-third that of similar quality wines from France, and start at $8 a bottle.
High quality wines made with native varietals such as touriga nacional (red), baga (red), and alvarinho (white) that easily rival the red and white styles of France and Spain are produced throughout Portugal. The best value is found in the reds, which present rich structures and earthy flavors and are often tagged at less than $10 a bottle.
Home to some very fine sherries, this magical and ancient wine region on the southern tip of Spain in Andalusia arguably produces the world's oldest wine on the market. Using a blending system that bottles only one-third of a barrel at a time, winemakers top off each barrel with younger wine, the result being bottles containing trace amounts of wine that is more than 300 years old. With complex structures and delicious flavors, these fortified wines are bargain costing as little as $12 a bottle.
A little-known region in northern Spain, Navarra produces wines of outstanding quality. The best deals here are the rich and creamy aged chardonnays, which are priced like table wines at about $13 a bottle but drink more like $40 bottles of white Burgundy or California chardonnay.
Anyone who favors crispy white wine will revel in the budget-friendly offerings from this part of Spain, just off the tip of northeast Portugal. The star grape is called verdejo, which is often blended with sauvignon blanc to make tart, refreshing wines with citrus overtones and layers of fruit. These wines range from simple to complex and start at about $9 a bottle.
Bierzo is a Denominación de Origen, which means that wines produced in this area must adhere to quality and production standards. The excellent reds, made primarily from the mencia grape, are powerful, full-bodied, earthy, elegant, and reminiscent of expensive French quaffs. Look for bottles bearing labels with the name "Bierzo" and serve alongside dinner without spending more than $15 a pop.
RHÔNE VALLEY, FRANCE
An often overlooked wine-producing region, the Rhône Valley has much to offer. Côtes du Rhône wines are the go-to choice for middle-of-the-road, easy-drinking reds that are bound to please everyone. A blended wine made largely from the grenache grape, it is often the least expensive by the glass on restaurant lists yet delivers high quality for about $10 a bottle at the store.
LOIRE VALLEY, FRANCE
The Loire Valley is overshadowed by regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy even though it produces wines of impressive quality and diversity, particularly whites. The result is a range of complex wines for low prices. Chenin blanc is the local white and cabernet franc the local red, each variety with a starting price of about $12.
Many people drink wine from the southern part of Burgundy just once a year when the “nouveau” bottling is released but then miss out on the year-round value found in Beaujolais Cru. These quality reds, made primarily with the gamay grape, feature more body and concentration than the nouveau version and reach a level of excellence when served with a chill. Bottles start at about $13.
Situated just below Bordeaux, the southwest region of France produces wines of similar quality and structure, but because of politics and limited access to a port, they haven't developed the same recognition -- or high price point. If you enjoy Bordeaux wines, those produced here from grapes such as merlot, malbec, and cabernet franc deliver the same style and charm but at one-third the price, and show up in stores for about $12 a bottle.
Given the renaissance of quality and impressive diversity coming out of Sicily, wine professionals rank it as one of the top European wine-producing regions to watch. Red, white, rosé, and sparkling wines all flow out of this southern Italian island and flaunt the underlying craft and passion. Look for starting prices of $12 or so.