Real Wine, Real Value

How to find Grand Cru taste on a vin-de-table budget.



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$$ is the new $$$.

At Mount Kisco Wines & Spirits, Brian Hourican works the floor and admits that customers have become more sticker-sensitive in recent months. However, he believes people are cutting back more on the price per bottle than on their overall bottle count. He encourages “trading down,” as there essentially are multiple opportunities to get more bang for your buck. Serious Italian red lovers, for example, can buy a lush, concentrated under-$20 ripasso like Masi’s Campofiorin that compares in style to $50 Amarones—and you can enjoy it right away, without cellaring. If you love big, strapping New World reds, tap the recent wave of “high-end” Argentine blends; a six-pack of these young intense reds costs less than a single bottle of Napa Valley’s Dominus. You can even find Pinot Noir for less than one might think: Hourican points to Wyatt, Mark West, and Fleur de Carneros, all bright, fruity, and balanced for under $20.

Their glut, your gain.

Wine-wise, Australia is one big mass of irony: amid years of serious drought, there is nonetheless a glut of wine. There should be plenty of excellent Shiraz-based wines (for example, Marquis Philips, Red Dust, and Penfolds’ Koonunga Hill) still reaching our shores at prices in the low teens.

In great years, stay humble. Vintage variation, while not nearly as severe as it was a couple of decades ago, is still a factor, especially in Europe. Play it smart: when a region has a phenomenal year and critics shout it loud and wide, the blue-chip labels are subject to sticker shock. Instead, dip into the basic wine of the region. Straight 2005 Bordeaux is a fine recent example. Next one to jump on is the 2007 Rhônes. A simple Côtes du Rhône, such as Delas or Jaboulet, will hit the high notes for fewer francs than the trophy wines of the Rhône Valley’s more exclusive Châteuneuf-du-Pape.

Stretch that wine.

Unfinished bottle? Don’t waste it. A Vacu Vin pump removes air from the stoppered bottle, helping preserve it. And whether or not you use any preservation device, store the opened bottle in the fridge; cold inhibits oxidation, the chemical process by which wine loses its zip.

If you really want to stretch your wine, consider three-liter “bag-in-box” containers. Don’t laugh. Not only are they more economical and environmentally copacetic than cork-finished 750 ml bottles, their serving valves let no air in, so the wine stays fresh for weeks. Boxes are now designed to fit neatly in your fridge door, and they are perfect for homes where the drinkers don’t always want the same wine. You’ll find premium juice in boxes of Killer Juice, Hardys “Stamp,” Black Box, and Boho Vineyards, proportionately about two-thirds the price of comparable wine in standard glass packaging.

Katonah-based W. R. Tish is a “recovering” wine critic who now develops wine seminars, tastings, and events through his website, wineforall.com.

 

 

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