Monday, September 27, 2010

Top Ten Value Packed Wine Regions

With more producers, more grapes, and more wines available than ever before, consumers find the hunt for a great bargain both easier and more time consuming. There is plenty of good juice on the market, much of it for less than $20, but some wine-producing regions are difficult to find value in.

Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa, Sonoma, Barolo, Amarone, Rioja, Ribera del Duero and many others have created a name for themselves by making benchmark examples of a particular wine style. Because they are the standard that many compare their wines to it's often difficult to get wines from these regions for under $20. But fear not, I've put together a list of the best value wine regions around the world. These regions certainly put out a few expensive bottles, but for the most part they are regularly producing quality wine for under $20.

1. Paarl, South Africa
When it comes to South African wine regions Paarl is queen to king Stellenbosch. And while Stellenbosch produces some amazing values they are more consistently producing wines at a higher price point than Paarl. One of the reasons for this is that the Paarl region has ideal climactic conditions to produce quality juice year after year, with very little variation. Vintage (the year's weather conditions in the region) isn't a given all over the world. Regions like Burgundy in France can have terrifying weather patterns that change drastically each year resulting in a huge range in consistency from vintage to vintage (yet the price never goes down!).

Vintage variation isn't a big problem in Paarl, the region is close enough to the sea that it has the advantage of ocean breezes and rainfall, but is still tucked inland enough that they are not victim to some of the severe weather elements that can effect Stellenbosch. In addition, the soil in the region, granite, is ideal for growing high-quality grapes because it provides great drainage and makes the vines struggle, forcing them to dig deep into the soil for nutrition. Some quality-concious producers in Paarl include Glen Carlou, Fairview, Plaiser del Merle, and Graham Beck. These producers are some of the best from the region and still produce wines for under $20 a bottle.

2. Clare Valley, Australia
This next region , the Clare Valley, is the most northerly vine growing district in South Australia. Inland from the western Spencer Gulf and the southern Gulf of Saint Vincent, this region is hot - Australia hot. Usually in hot regions producers irrigate, or spray water, to keep the vines producing lots of fruit, but not in the Clare Valley. Here producers take a hands-off approach that results is a low-yielding crop (less grapes per vine) and ultimately better quality fruit because the vine doesn't get overworked. Think of the Octomom versus a mom with only one child. But just because the vine isn't overworked doesn't necessarily mean the wine is going to be good. It takes skilled winemakers to bring out the full potential of the fruit.

The winemakers in the Clare Valley are some of the most innovative and creative in the world. The Clare Valley was the first region in Australia to mandate that all of the wines produced there must be bottled and closed with a screw top, or Stelvin closure. The region makes reds, but is best known for their outstanding dry whites made from the Riesling grape. Most of the wineries here produce clean, refreshing, food-friendly whites that have a profile closer to Sauvignon Blanc than what many believe Riesling to be. You haven't lived until you have tried a dry Riesling from the Clare Valley. Some quality-conscious producers include Leasingham, Pikes, Cardinham Estate, Eldridge, and Knappstein.

3. Languedoc-Roussillion, France
France can be a daunting country for consumers. With a huge range in consistency and price, many steer clear and stick with wines with a furry creature on the label. But the Langeudoc-Roussillion region produces surprisingly consistent, high-quality wines for the price. Much of that quality has come within the last 20 years and is a result of skilled Australian "flying winemakers." Land was inexpensive in the region, and many motivated Aussie winemakers would travel to the South of France in the off-season to lend a hand. You see, the northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere are on opposite growing season schedules. So while vines are budding in the north, they are going dormant in the south.

The Languedoc-Roussillion region of France has a Mediterranean-influenced climate providing warm days often cooled off by the cold, sometimes violent, Mistral wind. The soils are alluvial-rich, providing producers the ability to grow almost any grape variety. From big, rich Chards to fruity Pinot Noirs, the region makes a lot of juice, usually for less than $20. Some producers to look out for are Tortoise Creek (PGI d'OC), Penedesses, and Gaillard just to name a few. PGI d'Oc (Protected Geographical Indication) in particular, formerly Vin de Pays d'Oc, can produce some remarkable wines for under $20.

4. La Mancha, Spain
I highlighted the La Manch region of Spain in La Mancha, No More Stinky Shoe! Since the post readers have sent in dozens of wine suggestions and continue to rave about the region's quality for the price. The La Mancha region is found in the heart of Spain, which means it's hot. Heat usually means ripe fruit. Ripe fruit results in big wines that are full of bold fruit flavors and aromas. Since this is a market preference in the US, the big, bold wines, of La Mancha make for a good fit stateside. Prices stay low because the area is so large (La Mancha produces over 40% of Spain's total wine production), producers don't use much oak, and they aren't as well-known. In fact, much of the juice from the region costs consumers less than $10 a bottle. But beware, not all producers from La Mancha make high-quality wines. Look for producers like Opera Prima, Julian Santos, Torres Filoso, and El Vinculo.

5. Douro, Portugal
I've said it before and I will say it again, the Douro region of Portugal is producing remarkable wines for under $20. I highlighted the region's new-found quality and value in Top Ten Up & Coming Wine Regions. As I highlighted in that blog, the region is famous for their dessert wines, but the innovative and quality-conscious winemaking techniques being applied to their table wines are landing them in a variety of top ten lists. Producers to look out for include Quinta de Alorna, Bright Brothers, Nieport, and Sogrape.

6. Pfalz, Germany
The Pfalz (pronounced FAHLTS) is Germany's rising star. While it has always been capable of producing world-class wines, the recent trend in quality-conscious producers has resulted in a wave of delicious wine, usually under $20 a bottle. Almost 80% of the wine made in the region is white, and half of that is dry. The best winemakers from the region produce rich, powerful, spicy wines that are closer in style to the wines of Alsace France than Germany. Keep an eye out for producers like Josef Biffar, Reichsrat von Buhl, Darting, and A. Diehl.

7. Sicily, Italy
Our last European top-tenner makes enough wine to fill the Mediterranean. Producing over 210 million gallons, the island of Sicily makes more wine than all of Chile. While plenty of below-average wine exists, there has been a surge of quality in the region. Sicily's newest claim to fame is the Nero d'Avola grape, a red grape variety that produces robust, juicy wines. If you pick up a bottle of Nero d'Avola from a producer like Cusumano, MandraRossa, or Villa Pozzi, you will not be disappointed.

8. Central Valley, Chile
The Central Valley is the oldest, most traditional wine producing region in Chile. Within the delimitation are four wine districts that encompass seven growing regions. The four districts are: Curico Valley, Maipo Valley, Maule,Valley, and the Rapel Valley. In the last decade Chile has become a major player in the value wine market here in the United States, with imports to America accounting for almost $200 million. Water is free, labor is cheap, and the climate conditions are consistently good resulting in value-packed wines year after year. Some producers to check out are Concha Y Toro, Miguel Torres, Montes, and Montgras. The region's flagship varietal is Carmenere, often referred to as the "lost Bordeaux grape," but they are also making some fine examples of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. After the earthquake (click here to learn more) I was a bit wary, but they have rebounded quite nicely and the 2010 vintage should be par for the course.

9. Mendoza, Argentina
Jumping across the Andes, this next wine region is doing EVERYTHING right. Mendoza in Argentina has become widely prized for their high-quality red wines made from the Malbec grape. Malbec, traditionally a blending grape used in the Bordeaux region of France to add color and mid palate texture, has been perfected by the Argentinians. Here the grape produces dark purple wines with structure and balance, perfect for anything off the grill. Mendoza's elevation in the mountains has provided a perfect growing season for ripening this hearty varietal. Some producers to watch out for are Enrique Foster (the IQUE), Dona Paula, Terrazas, and Elsa by Bianchi. These wines costing less than $20 will blow your mind!

10. Columbia Valley, Washington
This last region on the top ten list has been making a bold statement with their quality wines at a remarkable price. When people think Washington state they think rain and clouds, but in the Columbia Valley, this couldn't be further from the truth. The Cascade mountain range in the east blocks the wet weather creating an almost desert-like growing conditions. Within a degree or two, producers can predict the temperature and weather patterns in the region. This consistency in climate makes for high-quality wines year after year. So whether it's and '09 or an '03, you can rest assured the wines of the Columbia Valley are going to be a good bang for the buck. The list of my favorite producers includes Hedges, Dusted Valley Vineyards (Boom Town label), Columbia Crest and Novelty Hill. The dominant grape varietals in the region are Riesling, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, but a few winemakers are producing some breathtaking Chardonnays.

Well, there you have it, a list of the top ten value wine regions. While there are a few that didn't make the list rest assured they received consideration. There is so much quality juice on the market for less than $20 that consumers can often be fooled by retail end-caps and cute labels. Stick to these quality regions, and I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

I hope you have a chance to try a few wines from these value-packed regions. If there is one you think should be on the top ten list or a wine you tried and liked please feel free to drop me a line via email, facebook, or by posting a comment here on the blog.

Until next time thanks for reading and make sure to check out Cru Wine Online's new member services chock-full of daily wine and recipe pairings complete with entertaining videos.


Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director

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