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What I've Been Drinking Lately: Under $25 per Bottle and Worth Every Dime
By John Anderson
May 31, 2023
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As faithful readers know, I generally focus on value-for-the-buck wines, most of them French.  With spring about to give way to summer, I will continue in that vein since I am increasingly buying—and drinking—cool, dry summer whites.  “Cool” in more ways than one, I might add!

From the time I was a grad student, lo these many, many years ago, I have loved Rieslings, especially German Rieslings in summer.  Unfortunately, the kind of German Rieslings I grew-up with—elegant, zippy, low alcohol, and greatly underpriced—are no more.  Or at the least, very hard to find.  The one that stood out for me over the past couple months is the 2014 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese from the famous Dr. Loosen estate in the Mosel.  As soon as I poured this wine, I knew, it was going to be special—and it was.  The color is a gleaming bright yellow gold, the nose the traditional “petrol” Riesling smell, as the Brits have it.  Lovely ripe fruit, plenty of acidity to carry the wine literally for days, if not weeks, in the fridge—and low, low 8.0% stated-alcohol (very typical of the best old-fashioned Rieslings from the Mosel).  I wasn’t kidding you either:  I wound-up tasting the wine from this same bottle over some three weeks.  It was indestructible—and brilliant!  Oh, and I got it on sale for about $25.

That said, I’ve mostly been drinking Rieslings—along with Muscats, Sylvaners, and Pinot Gris—from Alsace these days.  Yes, the top names in Alsace are increasingly dizzying in price (Think:  Trimbach, whose prices launched into space after this famous old house left its longtime importer C & E some years ago)—though not in comparison with their counterparts in Bordeaux and Burgundy, which, mind you, have long since reached the stratosphere.

Much as I love Trimbach and Hugel and the other grand names, you don’t have to pay $100 a bottle to find really good Alsace wines.  Not even close.  Let’s say, instead, $25 or under.  Right off hand I could name a half-dozen terrific Alsace wines that I bought for that price or less over the past few months of 2023.  And I will too!

Sniffing around in the bargain basement, I found a very nice 2020 Sylvaner from Domaine Frédéric Mallo et Fils, located in Hunawhir—one of the top Alsace communes—for all of $14 a bottle plus tax.  The French wine authorities rather stupidly decided to dump on the poor old Sylvaner grape some decades ago at the time they were introducing the new Alsace Grand Cru system.  It was decreed then that no matter how famous the vineyard or how venerable the vines, wines made from Sylvaner could not be accorded Grand Cru status.  Well, this was totally stupid given the fact that some of the finest vineyards in Alsace had ancient Sylvaner vines that produced remarkable bottles.  The French wine authorities in question have since slightly modified their restrictions in this regard, but by no means totally so.  They need to get real and admit that they blew it way back when.

The basic Mallo Sylvaner doesn’t taste like Grand Cru, but it does taste like a really good Sylvaner—light, very dry and minerally—made by very competent growers.  And for $14+? Go get you some!

Domaine Kuentz-Bas is one of my favorite Alsace growers, and their 2017 Pinot Gris “Tradition” is a snip for about $22 (sale price).  I confess:  I bought a case.  Love it! Very dry and consistently better, IMHO, than Trimbach’s Réserve, which goes for $25-$30 and is surprisingly rich (and slightly sweet)—one of my very few non-faves from Trimbach.  Try the K-B with freshly shucked, briny Atlantic Coast oysters.  I have—many times.

The well-known Co-Op at Hunawhir—that name again!—also makes a very nice Pinot Gris.  The 2020 sells from under $20 a bottle.  Fuller bodied, a bit richer than the K-B, but a good example at a great price.

My two real steals from Alsace of the past month or so were both from the estimable Domaine Dirler-Cadé in Bergholz.  I started with the 2020 Alsace Muscat, which I bought a case of at a 20%-off sale for about $25 the bottle.  My initial note to myself:  “Minerally, elegant, DRY and long on the finish.”  Then I read the back label and discovered that, “This cuvée is made exclusively from a blend of Grand Cru Saering and Grand Cru Spiegel.”  To which I wrote:  “Wow! And, yes, it absolutely shows, indeed it shouts Grand Cru!” And from two of the best Grand Cru sites in all of Alsace, at that.

When a week or so later, the Dirler-Cadé 2018 Alsace Riesling Grand Cru Spiegel figured in a one-day Flash Sale at the same retail source for $25 a bottle, I rushed to get my order in.  Twenty-Twenty is more my kind of vintage, the ’18 being very, very ripe just about everywhere in France—perhaps a bit too ripe for a wine’s own good—but this one, I have to admit, is delicious.  Identifiably “petrolly” on the nose, both minerally and slightly saline (as is the 2020 Muscat), but also, again, elegant and understated.  Two very classy wines.  Hugely recommended.

One of my happiest wine encounters of the past few months took place at one of my local “regulars” in the Wilds of Westchester.  I had just been whining to a friend about how hard it’s become to find good dry, affordable white Graves from Bordeaux.  At the high end, the Grand Cru Classé level, all of which are from the exclusive sub-region of Pessac-Léognan, there’s a lot to choose from—at a price.  (Think $50+ and up, up, up and away!)  But here, sitting side by side in their boxes were the 2020 Château Ferran from the commune of Martillac (in Pessac-Léognan) and 2020 Château Chantegrive “Cuvée Caroline” from the broader Graves district.  Both were on sale for about $22+tax.

I grabbed a couple bottles of each and hustled home to taste that night!  I was not disappointed, at all.  Very similar wines, both beautifully balanced with a nice dash of acidity, together with the mellowing effect of the Semillon to go with the zippier Sauvignon Blanc.  Both also showed a touch (20%, maybe 30%) of new oak.  I absolutely love dry, white Graves—when it’s made right—and these were both made right.  And, like the Dirler-Cadé wines from Alsace, they were fabulous value wines which, in this case, would go brilliantly with fresh seafood of all sorts.

I have run out of time—and space—and so I propose to return to the topic again in my next column, which will focus on white Burgundy, really, really good white burgundy under $25 a bottle.  You will be surprised, perhaps astonished at how good these can be!  And, yes, they do exist.  So…stay tuned!