Backing up the biggest wine bargain suprise

My recent tastings range from Chilean Carmenere, red blends, and Italian Soave.
My recent tastings range from Chilean Carmenere, red blends, and Italian Soave.

I’ve received 14 emails from readers who commented on my challenge to buy 12 bottles of quality wine for less than $100. If you followed my weekly progress, you would have learned that I completed the task with several dollars to spare.
Most comments were positive. Some readers actually tried several of the suggested wines on the list and agreed to being very satisfied for the price. There was one note, however, that amused me. It came from a woman who said, “A $4.99 French wine would never be served on my dinner table. I can’t believe that you can even suggest it to your readers. You just needed something cheap to make your ($100) goal.”
The reader was referring to one of the biggest surprises of my search — the Domaine du Prieure Pinot Chardonnay from the Languedoc region of France, which sells for $7.99 on average in U.S. markets but can be purchased at the Wine ConneXtion in North Andover for the three dollars less.
Why is it that American wine connoisseurs don’t believe there is quality and value to be found in a $5 wine?
The person who thinks he/she has to spend $40 or more to drink a good bottle of wine is both mistaken and  — please forgive me — a wine snob.
When I first went to Italy many years ago with the Wine Goddess, I was persuaded by the concierge at our hotel in Rome to pass up any bottle that had a manufactured label. “Bevi il vino vicino,” he said. Drink the nearby wine.
Naturally, I was nervous but you dip your toe in the water, right? So when the waiter offered us “vino tavola da la famiglia” — the family wine — we accepted. It arrived in an unlabeled bottle and we drank it. We drank a lot of it. That’s how good it was. One thing I’ve learned in my travels with the Wine Goddess — no one is going to offer you something they take pride in — like their own wine — if it isn’t good enough for a second glass.
The history behind the Domaine du Prieure Pinot-Chardonnay is much the same as I’ve described above. It comes from a single family estate in the Languedoc which has been producing local wines for centuries. Few people but the natives drank the wines. However, over the past four decades as the global wine market has taken off, these local winemakers also want to extend their reach. They’ve joined in the fun by finding importers who will take their products across the Atlantic and even to China. And they are shrewd. They sell so much of the stuff at a fair price that they build a steady market and make money.
The Languedoc is an up-and-coming region producing many below-the-radar wines at affordable prices. You would be wise to check them out while the prices remain incredibly affordable. New discoveries
Recent Tastings: Centro’s restaurant in downtown Lowell is offering a very satisfying Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, Los Vascos ($11 retail), which has a fresh, berry taste and a nuanced peppery finish. We enjoyed it with a sirloin steak, cut in slices, served over a superb corn relish and bacon risotto. The first course was a highly recommended watermelon salad with grape tomatoes, feta cheese, black olives, cucumbers and other delights …  Speaking of Chile … While the Montes Alpha label (winged angel) is most impressive, the wine is no less inspiring. I had the Carmenere at home with a meal of steak tips, native corn on the cob, sweet baked potato and green salad. A nice purple color in the glass, Carmenere is the signature grape of Chile and produces intense berry and spice flavors, with a smooth, dry “heat” finish that lingers. Aurelio Montes makes great wines and this one, which sells for $15, is another high-grade value … Italy’s recently released Chianti wines are making a splash and some new bottlings have received solid reviews in Sommelier magazine. The Sangiovese-based wine is produced only in Tuscany and the best are aged in French oak to create a toasty finish. For beginners, try the Donna Laura Alteo Chianti ($7.49) with Bacchus on the label before moving on to a Chianti Classico Riserva blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and barrel-aged for up to two years (Banfi, $15) … Talk about splurging, we recently enjoyed a meal of pink salmon and tortellini with a 2010 Calvarino Pieropan Soave from Verona ($33, Tutto Bene in Lowell) and were blown away by this smooth and elegant white wine. Peach and grapefruit flavors punctuated this most impressive nectar from the gods. While there are other inexpensive Soaves of good value on the market, the Pieropan is the product of four centuries of family wine-making and it costs to have the best.
Next week, I’ll tell you about a fine Greek wine that is turning heads on the local restaurant scene as well as my recent Italian wine-buying trip to … Reading, Mass.

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