How do you find dependable cheap wine? That’s the question the Wine Curmudgeon recently discussed with Laurie Daniel, who writes for the San Jose Mercury News and is a top-flight wine judge. The result was her piece in the newspaper, which is a fine read. But it focused on California and wines that cost $20 or less, so I thought it was worth going into more detail. That comes after the jump:
The genesis for the story, said Daniel, have been the changes in the wine business over the past 15 years. Trusted cheap wine brands like Hogue and Concannon have been gobbled up by bigger companies and aren’t what they used to be. In addition, line extensions — where the big companies add new wines to an existing brand in order to grab more store shelf space — have crowded out wines made by companies without as much retail clout.
So do we need a new strategy to find dependable cheap wine? Daniel and I came up with the following (and this is only a place to start):
? If a winery makes quality expensive wine, their cheap wine should be well-made, too. I’ve written this before, including a section in the cheap wine book, but it bears repeating. Hence producers like Dry Creek, Pine Ridge, and the French St. Cosme, who make terrific $10 wines to go with their high-end stuff.
? All wine doesn’t have to be cabernet sauvigon, chardonnay, and merlot. The irony is that focusing on these grapes, called “fighting varietals” in the 1980s, began California’s rise to wine stardom. Three decades later, though, it has given us shelf after shelf of very ordinary wine. So why not riesling, chenin blanc, and sauvignon blanc — always, always undervalued by the Winestream Media — for whites, and French and Washington state syrah and Spanish tempranillo for reds?
? Rose. It is almost impossible to find a badly made dry rose for $10. I know, because I have tried.
? Blends are your friends. Call it the backlash against the fighting varietals, which has given us not only sweet reds like Apothic and Cupcake Red Velvet, but dry reds and whites, including the Pedroncelli Friends and the Little James Basket Press wines.
? Cheap wine producers with a track record, more or less national distribution, and who aren’t embarrassed by what they do. That includes long-time blog favorite Bogle; McManis, also from California; the French Chateau Bonnet; and Pedroncelli, which really seems to have stepped up its game. Daniel likes Kenwood, which I haven’t tasted in years; Tangent, from California; and Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington state. The latter, despite being one of the biggest producers in the world, makes an amazing amount of interesting wine, and its $8 riesling has rescued more than one wine drinker stuck in a chain restaurant.