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Uncorking Value: Where to Find Outstanding Wines Without Breaking the Bank
By John McDermott
Feb 28, 2024
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The struggle any wine lover eventually encounters is a palate that exceeds their budget.  It happens inevitably.  Unlike beer, where quality can be found a reasonable price within almost any budget, finding quality wine at affordable prices is a true challenge.  

For $10-$15, you can get a six-pack of genuinely good, complex, and engaging beer.  You might find a wine at that price that’s acceptable, or even decent if you’re lucky, but seldom will find one that has true depth and intrigue.  That is because wine, as a product, is simply expensive to make (or at least, expensive to make well!).  There are so many cost factors–land for vines...staff to farm and pick the fruit...facilities to sort and ferment the grapes...barrels for aging...bottles...marketing...distribution, and more.  Wine costs a lot.  

So, at what price point can you find outstanding wine?  For me, I’ve found that truly quality wine can be found starting at the $20-$35 price point.  Now, granted, that is still a significant step up in price from where you can find quality beer, or even quality cocktails and spirits for that matter.  But wine is different from those drinks.  Wine gives you depth, complexity, and terrior (or a sense of place-specificity) unmatched by any beverage on earth.  It gives you a story and allows you to step back in time to a specific year when those grapes were grown under particular conditions.  It is also worth reiterating that I am not saying that drinkable–or even good–wine cannot be found for less money, but this is the range where, with some searching, you can start to reliably find great, complex, and intriguing wine.

So, where can one find these magical wines?  Below, I review some of the regions and producers that I look to when hunting for value.

Perhaps no region on earth will give you the consistent value that Rioja does.  There are tons of high-quality Rioja wines to be had for under $35.  Lopez de Heredia, La Rioja Alta, Bodegas Lan, Faustino, Monte Real, Viña Real, Cune, and more—all offer fantastic wines in this price range, with a few even dipping below $20.  A couple of my personal favorites include:

–Lopez de Heredia Viña Cubillo Crianza:  This wine can regularly be found between $22 and $30, and it will out drink most wines that cost two to three times as much.  The current release is their 2015 vintage, and you simply will not find wines with this level of age and complexity, for this price, anywhere else in the market.  

–La Rioja Alta Viña Alberdi Reserva:  This wine can regularly be found for $20 to $23 and is fantastic.  It may not have quite the age of the Vina Cubillo above (current release is 2018), but it is impeccably well balanced, showing depth of fruit character, vibrant acidity, and just the right amount of American oak.  

The next place I look to might come as a bit of a surprise:  Piedmont, Italy.  It is true that Piedmont is home to some of the world's more expensive and prestigious regions, such as Barolo and Barbaresco.  But if you look past those sites to the broader Langhe and Alba regions, you can find some stellar values.  In fact, many top producers from Barolo and Barbaresco make entry-level wines that go for a fraction of the price of their high-end offerings, including Produttori del Barbaresco, G.D. Vajra, Vietti, Pio Cesare, Sandrone, La Spinetta, and more.  Some of my favorites include:

–Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo:  “Produttori del Barbaresco" translates to “producers of Barbaresco” and is actually a cooperative of around 50 different winemaking families that pool their grapes and resources to produce some truly fantastic wines.  Their Langhe Nebbiolo utilizes the same grape (Nebbiolo) as their higher-end Barbaresco offerings, but their Langhe wine can regularly be found for around $28.  And for that price, you get a wonderful representation of Nebbiolo that shows nuance and delicacy reminiscent of Barbaresco but in a wine that is eminently approachable, even in its youth.

–G.D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo:  G.D.  Vajra is a relatively young producer by Piedmontese standards, having been founded in the 1970’s, and is now on its second generation of family owners.  With its youth, G.D. Vajra has struck a wonderful balance between preserving tradition and embracing modernity.  Their Langhe Nebbiolo is a wonderful showcase of the grape, giving off ripe cherry and floral aromas that are often associated with G.D. Vajra’s Barolos, with tannins that are softer and much less unruly in their youth.  This wine can be found for $23 - $30.

The last place that I am going to mention in this article is a bit broader:  Germany.  Specifically, I look for value in German Rieslings from regions like the Mosel and Nahe.  Riesling is a fantastic variety.  Even at lower price points, it gives complexity and depth while retaining freshness and verve.  Do not fear its potential sweetness either; good Riesling balances any sweetness with acidity and avoids becoming cloyingly sweet.  Producers such as Dönnhoff, Dr. Loosen, Selbach Oster, Maximin Grünhaus, and Bruno by Karthauserhof all make fantastic Rieslings in this range.  Two that I regularly return to are:

–Donnhoff Kreuznacher Krotenpfuhl Riesling Kabinett:  The flavor profile of this Kabinett is just as complex as its name is to pronounce.  It is bursting at the seams with notes of white flowers, minerality, ripe pear, and lemon.  There is a bit of residual sugar in this wine, but it is more than balanced out by the wine’s lightning-like acidity.  Dönnhoff is a classic German Riesling producer, whose high-end offerings can go for hundreds to thousands of dollars, but this Kabinett can regularly be found for between $25 and $30.

–Selbach Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett:  There is a wonderful richness that this wine receives from its residual sugar.  But again, it maintains this sweetness without becoming cloyingly sweet, with a vibrant pop lemony, citrus acidity that keeps the sweetness in check.  This combines with notes of ripe stone fruits and minerality to create a wine that is packed with flavor and complexity.  This wine can regularly be found for between $25 and $30.

If you know where to look, there are some amazing values to be had in wine.  The places and producers that I’ve covered above represent some of my favorites, but this list is far from exhaustive.  I hope to build on this piece in future articles, highlighting even more places to look for value in wine!              

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