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Great Wines for Hard Times
By Robert Whitley
Aug 9, 2011
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With so much troubling economic news on every front these days, it seems now would be a good time for wine enthusiasts to once again take stock of their options in the value wine market.

My definition of a value wine is a wine that over-delivers on its quality-price ratio. Simply being cheap does not qualify a wine for the value distinction. It's got to be very, very yummy, too.

Today, I've set the value bar at $20. There are a remarkable number of truly outstanding wines that will cost you less. Here are but a few:

Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux from the Languedoc region in the south of France is by far the world's best value in sparkling wine at about $13. This bubbly brut is produced near the historic village where sparkling wine was made by the monks perhaps a century before Dom Perignon carried the idea back to Champagne following a pilgrimage.

Clos de los Siete is a gorgeous red blend from Mendoza, Argentina, inspired by the masterful winemaker Michel Rolland of Bordeaux. It is one of his many projects in Argentina, a wine producing country that has held Rolland's fascination for at least two decades. Clos de los Siete is primarily a Bordeaux-style blend with a dollop of Syrah. It's a beautifully structured red that will certainly improve in the cellar, and it retails for about $19.

Zocker Paragon Vineyard Gruner Veltliner from California's Edna Valley is the finest domestic Gruner I've yet tasted. This brilliant wine from the Burgundy-born winemaking genius Christian Roguenant runs about $18. Gruner Veltliner from its native Austria is all the rage at wine bars across America, but domestic Gruner is fairly new and not very well known. There is a small amount of Gruner planted in New York, a bit more in California and a miniscule amount in Oregon. Zocker is the only one that could pass from an Austrian Gruner, with its steely structure and attractive minerality.

Bonny Doon Syrah 'Le Pousseur' is made in the earthy European style that winemaker Randall Grahm favors. It won't blow you away with ripe fruit or powerful levels of alcohol, but that's one of the aspects of this wine I appreciate most. Le Pousseur is made from grapes sourced throughout the Central Coast of California, where much of the finest domestic Syrah is grown, and it is quite literally among the best California Syrahs in production today. It carries a suggested retail tag of about $17, but I routinely find it for $15 or less.

Olivier Leflaive Chablis Les Deux Rives is a simple village Chablis that just makes it under the wire at $20. First of all, Olivier Leflaive is one of the top producers in Burgundy, and his wines always exude quality and class, regardless of price. Most important, however, is this wine's position in the small world of Chablis Villages — it is consistently one of the best, and in good vintages it is very, very good, with all of the mineral and flint characteristics of more expensive Chablis.

Banfi Chianti Classico is a relatively new project for the well regarded Castello Banfi estate of Brunello di Montalcino fame, but the early results have been spectacular. The Chianti Classico Riserva is an exceptional Chianti that retails in the $18 range. This one's good for this evening's roasted chicken with herbs, or you could lay it down in the cellar and watch it improve over the next decade or so. The more simple Chianti Classico is a smooth, juicy beauty in the $13 range, and you can drink it anytime, starting now.

Feudi di San Gregorio produces some of the finest wines made in southern Italy, including the legendary Aglianico di Taurasi, 'Serpico.' But you don't have to pay a Serpico price to get one of the great wines from this estate. Feudi di San Gregorio's Falanghina, made from grapes grown in the Sannio district of Campania, is a luscious white that exhibits notes of white flower, honey and minerals, with excellent balance, mouth-watering acidity and a long, persistent finish. It is one of my favorite whites to drink the year round, and it retails for about $15.

Eberle Winery Vineyard Selection Cabernet Sauvignon is one of Eberle's most consistent winners on the wine competition circuit. The fruit is pure Paso Robles, with some of it coming off the Eberle estate and the rest from neighboring grape growers that proprietor Gary Eberle has nurtured over the past quarter-century. Each vintage, it seems this wine picks up gold medals with the greatest of ease because of its true Cabernet character and exceptional flavor and balance. The suggested retail price is $19, but I often find it for less.

Follow Robert on Twitter @wineguru.