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Thursday, February 26, 2009

WINE BANTER - Value Wine - By John Haggard

Finding a Value Wine You Can Afford

As an owner of a wine store during a recession, I have noticed that we now sell twenty wines under $10 as opposed to just two four years ago. There is a huge demand for every day wines, no doubt because of the current economy.

First of all, what is value? To me, there are two key elements that make a value wine (one of them is often lacking): price, AND quality. It’s very easy to find inexpensive wines. The task, is to find inexpensive quality wines, and that makes a “value wine”.

How are some wineries able to produce a quality wine at, say, $9.99, and another, not less than $49.99. Well, there are the usual supply and demand factors involved, mixed with some regional factors. In Sonoma, for example, there are the costs of doing business in California, tied with real estate costs making the average bottle start out significantly higher than its counterpart in, say, France, Spain or Portugal, where many families may have owned the land for centuries (usually the mortgage is paid off by now…) and bottling costs and other costs associated with producing wine are significantly lower as there are rather less government restrictions on producing wine where it has been done for so long.

I am the first to always try and buy local, but it has been my experience that finding value wines from Sonoma is a task, but well worth the effort to find them. By definition, most of Sonoma’s wineries are small production and it takes large production to get lower costs. There are some you will find at supermarkets (Chateaux St. Jean chardonnay), and, of course, the Russian River’s own Korbel produces quality sparkling wines that are readily available just about anywhere. White wines are less expensive than reds on average. Bohemian Highway (actually bottling in Napa), produces some whites that are really exceptional for the price – from their Chardonnay which is lightly oaked to their Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, all retailing at about $8.99. They make a selection of reds too, but I have found their quality is consistently better on their white wines. Balletto produces a range of quality local wines that are relatively inexpensive. Their pinot gris, ($12+), has soft round fruit flavors and is a delicious sipping wine which can be paired with lighter fair such as Caesar salad, white fish and poultry. Their 2007 pinot noir, which is one of the best vintages I’ve tasted of their pinot noirs ($20-25), though youthful, will age well and can be opened now if decanted for a minimum of thirty minutes. The Balletto Zinfandel from 2006 ($19+ retail) has great structure, red and black fruit and isn’t your typical barbeque wine in this price point, and their Syrah from 2006 ($20-$25) stands up to many $40 syrahs.

Some local wineries are producing great blends. Sapphire Hill’s “The Harlot” is a blend of Russian River Zinfandel and Syrah, a big, robust, red-fruit filled dry red wine with ample new French Oak delivering a vanilla spice to the wine ($18+). Malm Cellars of Sonoma makes a “Cross-Blend” of Sonoma County Syrah and Cabernet which is broad but not tannic on the palate. Spicy red fruit, hints of vanilla, with a long finish, pairing well with foods such as a grilled rare flank steak ($18+).

Portugal and Spain produce some wonderful value wines and are easy to find locally in Sonoma. I find the tempranillo’s from Spain to be great food wines. Tempranillo is a red grape varietal and one of the top selling red table wines from Spain. The Douro and Dao regions of Northern Portugal produce excellent red value wines, many retailing under $10 here, great for sipping or pairing with food. These red wines are often soft-tannined wines with subtle mineral notes and low alcohol.

Bulk buying will bring the price down of your wine purchases. We offer mixed case discounts as do many retail stores. Wineries will offer you further discounts if you join their wine clubs. Shop local, shop around.

John Haggard is owner of Sophie’s Cellars, The Sonoma Wine & Cheese Market in Monte Rio, California. Sophie’s Cellars is open 11am – 7pm, closed only on Wednesdays.