FMN – November 2023 – Pre-holiday Wallet Friendly Wines

I always subscribed to the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially when it comes to finances. With the impending holidays, this has immediate applicability if you wish to prevent that January regret when looking back at your holiday expenditures. Being self-aware helps me realize that I will splurge a bit on my beverage selections throughout the season. For that reason, I seek out wines that I can enjoy leading up to the holidays while leaving some well-needed flash money in my wallet.

“Declassified” Wines

One way you can save a bit is looking for producers sourcing grapes that cross those invisible borders of wine appellations. Drinking these “regional” wines can still offer you high quality but the pricing reflects the inability to name that specific sought-after region on their label. I have done this for years in areas like the Rhone Valley or Tuscany, saving 30 – 50% while potentially only compromising slightly on quality.

There are, however, a few pitfalls and caveat emptor situations that one should take into consideration. First, there are some big box stores that take advantage of the bulk wine market by purchasing wine made from grapes sourced from varying areas. The stores put their own label on this wine and offer it for a very reasonable price. This can sometimes be a great value but it can also be a complete dud. It really is a shot in the dark. So, buying these wines from a reputable regional producer can save you much regret.

Along the same thread are wines from a quality producer that have to be declassified (demoted by name to a regional wine) due to grapes, techniques or a style that is not permitted within the appellation rules. This is the exact reason that the “Super Tuscans” were initially labeled as table wines. I love finding these wines as they are usually done as a pet project of the winemaker and worked out so well that they increased production.  Much to our benefit, these outcasts can sometimes show amazing quality as a statement of protest by the winemaker against appellation wine law.

New Brands of Well-Known Producers

Another surefire way to find some quality value wines is when a well-known producer opens a new line of affordable wines under a different brand. This happens both domestically and abroad as they and their marketing people realize that most cannot afford to drink those higher tier wines every night. The answer is to launch some wines made with the same care but aren’t quite to the quality level of their main brand. These producers are not going to damage the integrity of their brand by putting out swill with this “second label”, so we often get great value here. They are also aware that when you have those special times you wish to trade up to a more expensive wine, you are more likely to stay within their brand family.

Neglected Regions Reinventing Themselves

The final strategy is, admittedly, a bit more of a gamble but I have painstakingly done the leg work for you. I taste through new or reinvented regions to determine if any are pushing out juice that meets our criteria of drinking above their retail price points. Although there are some quality producers that are ahead of their regional neighbors, some areas seem to have a quality and inventiveness at every turn.

When I think of domestic areas some like Upstate New York, Virginia, North Carolina and even Texas instantly come to mind. I honestly was quite pleasantly surprised when I found an area of California that has won a slew of awards but still somehow remains under-promoted and under-appreciated. Just from my initial superficial tastings through Lake County, I can make the bold statement that you can drink Napa Valley quality at an affordable price.

I hope some of these tactics assist you in keeping your wine shelves filled while maintaining some fiscal responsibility. There is the option to refrain completely and fall into some self-prescribed temperance milieu. In my opinion, finding some inexpensive choices remains the better route as we are months away from breaking ill-promised resolutions.

Wine Suggestions:

20,000 Leguas Orange Wine 2021 ($25)

Our first suggestion falls into two of the aforementioned value categories. The wine is a regional, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, and declassified mainly due to style. The vineyard is located in the province of Cuenca in central Spain about a half mile above sea level and the wine composed of organically farmed Chardonnay, Viognier and Viura (Macabeo) grapes.

The so-called orange wines are name for their color resulting from white wines with skin contact, in this case for three weeks. Although these wines have an interesting texture and aromas, they can be an acquired taste. For this reason, I chose a wine that displays all the characteristics typical of this style but not overtly so.

The wine has aromas of tropical melon rind, dried tangerine skin, and hazelnut which carry through on the palate along with a slight apple, minerality and a floral finish. The palate is dry with a bright citric-like acid structure and an interesting textured feel. Pair this vegan wine with Indian curry (turmeric, cardamom), roasted cauliflower, tahini or grilled octopus.

Hopler Pannonica Rosé 2022      Burgenland, Austria        ($16)

This 40% Pinot Noir, 35% St. Laurent, and 25% Blaufrankisch rosé represents the Pannonica line of wines made by the well-known Höpler. The name is a homage to the Roman province where the vineyards reside today. This brand is meant as an introduction to some of the indigenous Austrian grape varieties while keeping the quality high and the price affordable.

This vibrant almost “electric” pink shows aromas of red fruit (strawberry, cherry), orchard fruit (pear, apple), cherry blossom. The palate is bone dry with bright crunchy acidity, medium body, barely perceptible tannin, and a temperate 12.5% abv. The palate leans more barley ripe red fruit, and a slight citrus note (blood orange). A great food rosé that has structure and interest. Pair with soft cheeses (brie, got), cured meats and a good time.

Dancing Crow Sauvignon Blanc 2022 ($16)

Founded in 2013 and located in the Big Valley District of Lake County California, we find the family owned and operated Dancing Crow Vineyards. Their 50 acres of sustainable vines, including our Sauvignon Blanc, are gown at 1400 feet elevation near the base of a dormant volcano, Mount Konocti.

This Sauvignon Blanc is an amalgam of New Zealand and American styles with aromas of tropical citrus (grapefruit), stone fruit (peach), and a pleasant pungency. The palate is dry, acid-driven with a slight glycerol note. There are flavors of grapefruit, lime pith, pear skin, lemongrass and a hint of minerality. Refreshingly, the alcohol comes in at a modest 12.5%, something many California producers seem to have difficulty with. Pair this wine with pickled shrimp, lemon chicken or grilled trout.

Obsidian Ridge Volcanic Estate 2021 ($36)

Representing Red Hills AVA in Lake County, Obsidian Ridge is appropriately named with its red volcanic soils shot with black obsidian. This area was originally a walnut orchard but now consists of their estate vineyards planted mainly to Cabernet Sauvignon across three climate zones ranging from 2,300 to 2,640 feet. These grapes are harvested in dozens of different blocks, fermented individually and later blended.

A unique attribute is their use of Hungarian oak, Quercus Petraea (sessile oak), specifically grown in Northern Tokai. These barrels are low in vanillin and tannin while high in eugenol, adding interesting baking spice components (clove, cinnamon, nutmeg).

This wine is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Malbec, 3% Petite Sirah, 2% Petit Verdot, and 2% Syrah and aged in this Kádár oak (40% new) for 15 months. There are haunting aromas of black cherry, blackberry, blueberry, currant, tobacco in a cedar box, dried herbs (dill, oregano) and spice (cinnamon, nutmeg). The palate is dry with rich ripe fruit (mirroring the nose), well-integrated alcohol and a firm acid backbone giving a freshness to this wine. The tannins are ripe, resolving, and gritty suggesting this wine, although lovely now, could go another few years in bottle. Pair with grilled ribeye, duck breast with currant sauce, tagine lamb dishes.