This is the second of two parts looking at ways to decipher the world's wine regions without making your head hurt. The first ran May 9.
• Best $16 wine -- New Zealand. The Kiwis today make the best $16-18 sauvignon blanc in the world (around $40 in a restaurant), and their new target is $16-18 pinot noir. Don’t bet against them doing it. Their winemakers are talented, they have the money thanks to the growth of the multi-national wines, who are financing the effort. And the climate and soil aren't bad, either. Producers to watch for: Kim Crawford, Whitehaven, Spy Valley
• Best red wine value in California -- Alexander Valley. The Wine Curmudgeon goes through phases when he feels the only values on pricey wine in California are in his imagination. But then I take a deep breath, and give the Alexander Valley, about 30 minutes or so northwest of Napa in Sonoma County, the benefit of the doubt. Many of its wines are about two-thirds the price of Napa reds, and they haven't become quite as alcoholic, extracted or fruity, and some still have tannins. Producers to watch for: Geyser Peak, Robert Young
• Best California wine region you probably haven’t heard of – Lodi. The land is cheap (compared to the rest of the state, anyway) and the winemakers aren’t stuck in the cabernet-merlot mindset that afflicts the rest of California. This means interesting wines, including zinfandel, petite sirah, and blends, at $15 or so (around $33 in a restaurant). Producers to watch for: Peirano Estate, Jewel
• Best wine region in U.S. that isn’t on the West Coast – Missouri. Before Prohibition, Missouri was the leading wine producing state in the U.S. Today, it makes affordable (usually less than $15 retail) wines from grapes no one has ever heard of (the norton, the catawba), including some sweet wines that need to be tasted to be believed. Producers to watch for: Stone Hill, St. James, Augusta, Adam Puchta
• Least bang for your buck – Napa Valley. Napa is one of the world’s great wine regions, and produces some of the best wines in the world. Napa wines are also ridiculously expensive, and truly beg the metaphysical question of whether a $200 wine is 20 times better than a $10 wine. (And this doesn't even take into account what restaurants charge -- $500 is not unusual for a top Napa wine).
• Least bang for your buck, European division – Bordeaux. The French region, like Napa, makes exceptional wine. But the hype has become so overdone that 2007 Bordeaux futures – wine you’ll pay for now but not get delivery on until 2010 -- are holding steady on price despite poor reviews. Which means many hundreds of dollars for a quality label.