As I start to write this article, for the second time, I am in an airplane for the 18-hour flight from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Washington, D.C.
This article was completed weeks ago. But a week traveling in the wine country of the Western Cape of South Africa has forced me to start from scratch again.
There has never been a better time for lovers of wine - particularly for value-priced wines, which I define as the $7 to $15 range. The selection is broad, quality is high and the sources incredibly diverse. In the past decade, Australia has dominated this category, but now wines from Argentina, Spain, Chile and South Africa are squeezing the Aussies out. The selections can be overwhelming, so find a wine merchant you trust and let them do the legwork for you; with their assistance, you can still find some bargains from Italy, Austria, France and the United States.
Following is a list of wines that I think represent great quality and value; most can be found easily in the market. I have also listed approximate retail prices. The wines are listed by country of origin.
HUGO Gruner Veltliner, $10. A delicious, dry white that is lovely to sip by itself. It is also my go-to wine for dishes containing foods such as asparagus and artichoke; it pairs well with foods that kill most wines.
Coopers Creek Sauvignon Blanc, $15. Most New Zealand wines have crept out of the value price range, but this producer gives us classic Marlborough Sauvignon at a fair price. Gorgeous aromas of gooseberry and passion fruit with zippy acidity on the finish, clean and refreshing for summer.
This was my second trip to South Africa; my previous visit in 2004 was for the Cape Wine Fair. I was blown away by the increase in quality there. When you combine the high quality with the favorable exchange rate, the bargains are obvious. Considering all these factors, I can safely say that South Africa may be the best source in the world for reasonably priced, high quality wines. I can see why the competition is getting nervous.
Buglioni Valpolicella, $15. Produced near Verona, in the Veneto region, this red wine is a blend of three grapes. It is a full-bodied example of Valpolicella and is the perfect pairing with pasta, pizza or chicken.
Los Cardos Malbec, $10. Malbec is the signature grape of Argentina, and Los Cardos does it superbly, deeply colored with black fruit, hints of leather and a bit of spice on the finish; think grilled meat. Do not miss the excellent Chardonnay and Cabernet from this producer as well.
I am sad to put the U.S. last, but in reality for price and quality the other countries mentioned are producing better value wines. There is always an exception, and here it is:
Pavilion Chardonnay, $13. A classic example of California Chardonnay at a sensible price, with ripe peach and pear fruit framed by toasty oak and a long creamy finish. Enjoy it all summer long.
This is the time to branch out and try new wines. You will be well rewarded, and the world is your wine cellar.
Story published Friday, May 1, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 3 )