Wine for Everyone
By Josh Dusick
You don’t have to be a billionaire to appreciate and enjoy fine wine! Appreciating fine wine can be intimidating at first. With the weak dollar and the world popularity of wine skyrocketing, it seems like wine is becoming more and more inaccessible. And for those of you who are new to the world of wine, you may think “what is the point?” If you can’t afford the high end wines that “wine snobs” rave about, then how will you ever build an appreciation for fire wine?
Well nothing could be further from the truth! Yes, many top wines have become more and more unreasonable to purchase and afford. Does that mean we should give up on wine? That there are no good, inexpensive wine options out there anymore? No, absolutely not! In fact, the wine world is filled with wonderful wines that are just waiting to be discovered. Most people, even billionaires, don’t drink the only rare and highly rated wines every day. There is a place for wines which are simply good and don’t have to be the best wine you have ever tasted. And you don’t have to stop there…there are wines of very high caliber which can be had for affordable prices if you know where to look. Unfortunately, in many of the most famous wine producing regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy and even California, it has become harder and harder to find great wines at an affordable price. But if you think outside the box a bit, exploring regions and producers that may be unfamiliar to the average wine drinker, there are a slew of wines out there that deserve your time and attention and will not cost you an arm and a leg.
Here are a few tips about some regions and types of wines that are capable of greatness and which so far can still be found at prices that mere mortals can afford. Whether it is an everyday pizza wine you are looking for or a world class wine with complexity you can get lost in, there are affordable options out there.
The Loire Valley
The Loire Valley, or Val de Loire, is a large wine producing region in France that ranges from nearly the center of the country, west of Burgundy, all the way to the west coast. It is a vast area encompassing many different appellations which produce all types of wines, from light-bodied whites to full-bodied reds. For some reason, besides a few notable producers this region has remained relatively invisible to the great majority of the wine world. While well versed wine enthusiasts know and love the Loire well, your average wine drinker in the United States knows little of the region.
Muscadet: From the west of the Loire, these wines are usually very inexpensive. Made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, they are light, fresh and crisp. They are great summer wines, refreshing and cold. Excellent with light seafood like shellfish.
Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé: These both produce primarily white wine from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. With more depth and body than Muscadet, these are intense mineral-imbued wines which pair well with a number of richer seafood dishes.
Savennières: This small region which produces 100% Chenin Blanc makes some of the worlds best white wines. While many years ago they were as sought after as the best white Burgundy, they are largely unknown to many wine drinkers today. In general, their prices are still very reasonable but the best producers are capable of producing a truly great dry white wine which is both intense and filled with minerals as well as full-bodied with layers of flavor. These age beautifully, intense and tight when young, they blossom into a rich, complex, honeyed goodness!
Vouvray: Also 100% Chenin Blanc, these wines can vary from dry to sweet dessert wines. While the best producers’ sweet wines can fetch a hefty price, the sec (dry) and demi-sec (off-dry) wines, even from the best producers, are still quite reasonable. Outstanding food wines, the slight sweetness of the demi-sec wines pairs nicely with some spicy Asian dishes. There are even some excellent, inexpensive sparkling wines made here which are an excellent option if you don’t want to spend the kind of money that Champagne sets you back.
Chinon, Saumur-Champigny and Bourgueil: Looking for red wine alternatives to expensive Bordeaux and California Cabernet? These villages in the Loire produce wine from primarily Cabernet Franc, a cousin of Cabernet Sauvignon. These can vary from fruity, simple wines for easy sipping to dark, rich, age-worthy, full-bodied wines. While the best producers’ prices have risen somewhat, they are still several times cheaper than their Bordeaux and California counterparts.
The Languedoc-Roussillon region is a large region in the south of France, west of Provence along the Mediterranean coast and up to the Spanish border. The region encompasses several appellations producing a large range of wines. While historically the Languedoc produced only inexpensive and largely mediocre wine, in the last few decades quality has soared here! Many small producers have taken advantage of the warm, beautiful climate to produce many wonderful wines. Because many still remain largely unknown and do not have the prestige of the better known wine producing regions, prices for the most part have stayed low. Wines vary from white to red and even great dessert wines. Many of the red wines are based on Provençal and Rhone grape varietals like Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, but some producers blend in Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet as well.
Provence is in the south of France, along the Mediterranean coast. While the eastern most part, up to the Italian border, is the French Riviera, the west is still a large wine producing region. Most widely known for the excellent Rosé wines produced, the red wines of Bandol are where quality really hits a high. Made from at least 50% Mourvedre, the wines of Bandol are rich, dark, meaty and complex. They are also capable of long-aging. Again, while the best producers prices have risen somewhat, many inexpensive options are available. These are great wines for pairing with the rich, rustic cuisine of Provence.
German wines are often overlooked by English-speaking wine drinkers because of their confusing names and labels. The long German names, often printed in confusing medieval fonts, can confuse even the most open-minded and cause them to go elsewhere. Additionally, many people think of German wines as being sweet and not good food wines. Part of that misconception comes from the fact that cheap German wines like Liebfraumilch and “Blue Nun” is a slightly sweet, poorly made wine. Great German wines, particularly those made by the noble grape Riesling, are a whole other story. Yes, they can be sweet, but the sweetness is well balanced by intense acidity and minerality which prevents the wine from being cloying. These can be truly great wines! While the best producers and particularly the dessert wines can be very expensive, lower Pradikat wines like Kabinett and Spätlese wines and even the QbA (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete) can be delicious, less expensive options. And these wines are great with food! German Riesling is one of the best wine pairings I know of for spicy Asian cuisine, such as Thai, Indian and Vietnamese dishes.
Italy is way too big a region to sum up in one brief article. However, I include it because it produces a bevy of great, inexpensive wines. While it is most famous for the wines from Tuscany and Piedmont, these wines can be quite expensive. But there are dozens of other appellations throughout Italy which produce outstanding wines which can be quite inexpensive. Regions like le Marche, Emilia-Romagna, Friuli, Umbria, Abruzzo, Campania, and others all produce dozens of excellent wines that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Don’t get stuck in a Chianti rut, explore the lesser known regions in Italy and you won’t be disappointed!
Find a local wine retailer that carries a good selection. Ask a knowledgeable salesperson to recommend some inexpensive wines from some of these regions. Don’t be afraid to experiment with producers and regions you don’t have experience with, there is only way to learn. And you may find that almost everyone can afford to drink well!
Josh Dusick is the editor of the Wine Tastings Guide at http://www.wine-tastings-guide.com where you can get information about how to host a wine tasting party, how to serve and taste wine and even about pairing wine and food.