Let the celebrations begin!
The holidays are a time for festivities with family, friends and coworkers, along with the merriment of food, wine and giving. This also can be the most expensive time of year, which is daunting for many.
We all wonder how much to spend and how to find the best possible wines for the least amount of money.
In terms of value, certain wine regions outperform others. As a California native, it is painful for me to say that California is perhaps the worst value when it comes to wines under $20. California has some of the country’s most expensive real estate, which affects the cost of living and thus the cost of wine.
Given that 90 percent of wines are purchased at retail cost less than $20 per bottle, it is important to consider the factors that make European wines a great value.
First, Europe has a surplus of wine, largely a result of younger generations fancying other beverages. Second, the European wine industry is subsidized by the European Union. Together, these factors result in some amazing wines under $20.
To navigate the shelves at your local retailer or the wine list at your favorite restaurant, first you must identify what pleases your palate. Spain, Italy and France receive the bulk of the subsidies, and each country has its own style and appeals to different tastes.
Spain receives the most subsidies, and its products appeal most to those who like full-bodied wines and oak. The wines of La Rioja are always ripe, oaky, bold and lush. Even better values can be found from La Mancha, Calatayud and Campo de Borja. The most common varieties are tempranillo, garnacha, Cariñena and monastrell. Spanish whites are minimally oaked, if at all, and are full of minerals. They pair well with seafood.
Italy usually caters to fans of lighter and juicier red wines with minimal oak influence. Pinot noir drinkers usually enjoy the vibrant, juicy acidity and silky finish of Italian reds.
Varietals like barbera and dolcetto from the Piedmont region are great everyday wines to enjoy alone or with lighter meals.
Italy’s white wines are always crisp, clean, aromatic and without oak. Very little chardonnay can be found in Italy, but Italian chardonnays are truly delicious, if you should stumble upon one.
France is an anomaly, with amazing value wines in addition to the world’s most prestigious and expensive wines.
The best values come from the southern Rhone Valley and the Languedoc region. The southern Rhone Valley is responsible for the ripe, fruity and rich wines of France – always blends in which grenache dominates. These wines work great as cocktail wines, and Cotes du Rhones, with their ripe fruit, bright acids, light tannins and earthiness, make excellent food wines.
For softer wines, look south to the warmer Mediterranean climate of Languedoc. Here, carignan and grenache dominate the landscape. Clean, crisp and mineral-driven whites can be found from Bordeaux, Macon, Rhone and Touraine.
Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.