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Avoid the Bargain Bin, Drink Great Wine and Save Money, too!
By Robert Whitley
May 20, 2008
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As luck would have it, and while we are on the topic of the high price of wine, I have recently taken stock, making note of wines that are not only ready to drink now, but affordable in the sense that I can serve them on an everyday basis without fear that I am depleting a precious commodity or paving my way to the poor house. I'm from the camp that says everyday wines need not be the swill of the bargain bin.

I was reminded of this recently as I watched the New Zealand winery Nobilo sweep the Best of Show white wine award at the 2008 San Diego International Wine Competition with an inexpensive ($13) Pinot Gris. Though I had not been familiar with Nobilo's Pinot Gris, I've long been a fan of the Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc. Retail price: $12. So I was far from shocked that a $13 wine could dazzle a room full of demanding wine professionals.

Of course, I realize that one man's value wine is another's splurge, so I've compiled some thoughts on wineries that currently deliver exceptional quality in a range of prices from $8 to $12. If that's your price niche, I have great news for you. This is the sweet spot, for you can serve good quality on a regular basis without wrecking the budget.

I have recommended a handful of wineries from my short list, in my order of preference, but encourage you to look around on your own and experiment because I'm barely scratching the surface here. As the year goes on and I taste more wines I am confident I will discover a plethora of wonderful wines at good prices.

My criteria are that the winery offer a good range of quality wines at $15 or less and distribute nationally. And I've thrown in a few 'Best Buys' priced at $10 or less.

Husch Vineyards - A family run winery located in Mendocino County's Anderson Valley, Husch is a perennial favorite because of its consistently high quality. Not all of Husch's offerings fall within the price parameter (that said, the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir at $23 is a steal for those so inclined) but those that do - an exceptional 2007 Chenin Blanc ($11), the 2006 Mendocino Chardonnay ($15) and the 2006 Gewurztraminer ($14) - are terrific value wines.

Nobilo - I've already given Nobilo quite a bit of love, but I would add that its triumph at the San Diego Competition was in no way a fluke. I've enjoyed the Nobilo wines for years and believe we have benefited immensely due to the kind exchange rate between the U.S. and New Zealand dollars, though it no longer favors the U.S. buyer as much as it once did. For a few dollars more, Nobilo's Icon wines, which would be the equivalent of reserve wines, are very classy.

Ventana Vineyards - Under new management that is determined to raise the profile of this heretofore sleepy Monterey County winery, I expect the Ventana prices to soar in a few years as its fame spreads, much the same as the neighboring Hahn Estates Winery (Hahn would have been at the top of the list at one time) has raised its prices on the strength of continuing success and growing demand. For now, however, Ventana is one of California's best-kept secrets despite the fact it's Syrah and Riesling have taken major prizes on the wine competition circuit this year. I've cheated a bit with the inclusion of Ventana, for many of its wines that I enjoy carry a suggested retail price of $18 (the Rhone blend Rubystone, the 2007 Riesling, 2005 Syrah and 2006 Gold Stripe Chardonnay) but I am well aware that all of them can be found for around $15 by a savvy shopper. But whether you get the great deal or not, you can count on one thing: Ventana rocks!

Bonterra Vineyards - This winery is the wonder of value wines. For one thing, it's organic. If you've been to Whole Foods lately, you know what that means. Yet Bonterra has held the line on prices despite a string of successful vintages that should be the envy of vintners everywhere. It's 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 Merlot, 2006 Chardonnay and 2006 Zinfandel are wines you won't want to miss and all come in at less than $15 per bottle. I'm not sure how they do it, but they do and that's all that counts. Invariably all of the Bonterra wines are well balanced and extremely compatible with food - even fine dining.

Best Buys

Banrock Station is a producer in Australia that maintains high standards despite huge volumes. It took Gold medals at the San Diego Competition with a Merlot and Chardonnay priced at $7.

Big House was started by Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon, who sold the brand a couple of years ago, but the Big House Red, Big House White and Big House Pink that retail for $9.99 remain consistently good. The Red and White are eclectic blends that lean to the Rhone varietals, and all come with a convenient screwcap. Don't fall into the trap of thinking the screwcap translates to inferior quality.

Bogle Vineyards can dazzle you with a 2006 Chardonnay, a 2006 Merlot or a 2006 Sauvignon Blanc for $9. Say that again three times. Then stock up. Hey, if you buy it by the case you might even get a discount!

Michel Picard is a negociant house in Burgundy that specializes in regional French wines at bargain prices. And they are pretty good. So who says you can't drink French on a budget? Bargains to look for from Burgundy include the 2006 Macon-Villages Chardonnay ($9.99) and the 2006 Beaujolais-Villages ($8.99) and a lovely 2006 Vouvray ($9.99) from the Loire Valley.


Email Robert at whitleyonwine@yahoo.com.