The dreary economy of 2009 forced some, like me, to cinch up our already-tightened belts.
Where wines priced at $20-$25 per bottle used to make up most of our house selections, in the past year, I found myself looking more and more at wines priced in the teens or even under $10, in an effort to stretch my dwindling wine dollar.
Not that it was all doom and gloom or bad wine. On the contrary, it’s easy to buy big wines with big money. More challenging— and more fun and rewarding, for me at least—is to discover the virtues of well-made bargain wines. One of the (literally) cheap thrills in life is to wow everyone at dinner with a wine that only costs $7.99.
So, in 2009, I discovered a lot of interesting and very tasty wines priced under $20—some of them well under $20. Here are a few of my favorites from the past year of wine drinking.
Jimmy Santangelo, the wine manager/ sommelier at Donovan’s, turned me onto a yummy Spanish red this year: Hijos de Juan Gil Monastrell ($17). With a Carmenere-like nose, rich cherry color and loads of ripe fruit balanced by sturdy tannins, this is a remarkably solid wine for the price.
No wonder this is on the Donovan’s wine list; it’s a wine that beautifully complements grilled, roasted and stewed meats.
Another terrific meat-friendly wine is Clos la Coutale Cahors ($13.66). I first discovered the charms of Cahors many years ago at Tony Bourdain’s Les Halles in New York City. The bistro was two blocks from my apartment and under-the-radar Cahors was one of the few wines at Les Halles that I could afford. Clos la Coutale Cahors is 80 percent Malbec and 20 percent Merlot, made in the Southwest of France by Philippe Bernde, whose family has been making wine for six generations. You first notice the shockingly bright color of this Cahors, then a mélange of dark fruits, balanced by firm tannins and a hint of smoke. Try this bad boy with leg of lamb or a black truffle pizza.
I turned often to France in 2009 for wine. Another good Frenchy red is Domaine du Gros Pata Cotes du Rhone ($13.99), made from Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan. At first whiff, you’d swear you were drinking a strawberry daiquiri. But on the tongue, blackberry and cherry flavors rush forth. I’d drink this Ctes du Rhne with wintery roasted meats and stews or grilled game birds such as quail. Yet another great discovery from France was Chateau Pesquie Cuvee des Terrasses ($12.78), made with 70 percent Grenache and 30 percent Syrah. Characterized by loads of black fruit, this is a deep, dark, brood-worthy wine with silky tannins and a long, lovely finish.
OK, time I gave white wine aficionados some love, too. Louis Latour Montagny Premier Cru ($20) will rock the pickiest Chardonnay enthusiast. Its honeyed aro mas
first suck you in, and then more subtle apricot flavors finish the seduction—all graced with subtle mineral notes of chalk, clay and limestone. This wine was magnificent paired with papparedelle and lobster-cream sauce. Two inexpensive whites also to grab my attention from France this year were Domaine des 3 Vallees Cotes de Roussillon Grenache Gris ($11) and Domaine Lafage Cote Est ($10.92), both lovely wines worthy of your consideration.
But my single favorite discovery in 2009 was Joel Gott Winery.
In particular, Joel Gott California Sauvignon Blanc ($11) became one of the most consumed wines around my house the past few months, with its pretty watermelon and lemon notes, crisp minerality and not a hint of oak.
Here’s wishing you successful sipping in 2010!