Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Shopping for Good, Cheap Wine

The poor exchange rate hasn't made it any easier to shop for good, economical wines. Slate's Mike Steinberger went to one of those Total beverage mega-stores (this one was located in Delaware), and he looked for excellent wines that were selling below $15 a bottle.

Steinberger found that at this price point, you're better off shopping for wines from Australia or the Americas. He writes:

The French are not being beaten on price. They are being beaten on taste, and I now understand more than ever why that's the case. The Total store was filled with exuberantly fruity cabernets, Syrahs, and sauvignon blancs from Australia, Chile, South Africa, and other countries. Many of them are not to my liking — I prefer leaner, drier, more mineral-driven wines — but it's easy to see why they are so appealing, particularly relative to what was on offer from France.

There was no shortage of $15-and-under French wines, but the choices were uninspired. I liked the warm, spicy 2005 S.C.V. Castelmaure Corbières Col des Vents ($9.99), a red from a cooperative in the Languedoc, but the other French wines I tasted were decidedly limp.

There was nothing interesting from the Loire, and the Beaujolais section appeared to be composed almost entirely of Georges Duboeuf bottlings.

It is not that France doesn't produce good cheap wines; the Loire is a QPR nirvana. Ditto Beaujolais, the Languedoc, Mâcon, and the Rhône Valley. But the better ones are generally made in small quantities, and while they are readily available in New York and other big cities, they were not on the shelves in Wilmington.

E. Guigal makes some excellent wines (red and white Cote du Rhone) that sell for below $13 a bottle.

Yet Steinberger is right when he points to the availability issue. Only so much French wine makes it to the U.S. I once assumed that Rieslings and Gewurztraminers were a syrupy, one-dimensional Koolaid-of-a-wine until I drank some of these varietals in Alsace.

But these Alsatian whites are pretty hard to find outside of France. The reason? These varietals have a reputation for not traveling well, and they are produced in relatively small quantities.

No comments: