Usually when purchasing wine, you get what you pay for. Yes, a $100 bottle of wine bought at a good wine shop should taste like a $100 bottle of wine. The quality, the complexity and the balance should be superb whether it is a red or white. Still, on my hamburger budget, a $100 bottle is a very rare purchase and reserved for very private celebratory occasions. Instead, I enjoy finding wines that taste like they cost $100 yet are purchased for 10 times less. I’m a big $10 to $20 a bottle person. It’s fascinating how many good quality wines can be had for short money. I will step up to the $20 to $40 range for one purpose only, and that is when I have found an extremely select value in which I can obtain a well-received wine that is selling below market price, sometimes as an introductory offer. This happens quite a lot. If you could get a $60 wine, rated 90 points or better, for half the cost would you buy it? That’s value, because now you have $30 in your pocket to make another purchase or two. 3 bottles is better than 1 in my book.
Anyway, I have found that it takes some legwork and research to locate the best buys. When it doubt, I go to the “experts” — the local wine merchant who makes a living buying and selling wines. They are very helpful people, and if they can get a hard-to-find wine for you, they will. Sometimes you may have to purchase up to 6 bottles, but if you can get a deal, why not? The local guy wants your business. He wants you to come back for more business, so most times they are all too willing to contact out-of-state wine distributors to get what you want.
I’ve made a list of 5 white and 5 reds that were rated by Wine Enthusiast magazine experts as 90 points or better and cost $20 or less. They are some of the 30 different wines listed in the February and March issues at that price point and rating. They are spectacular bargains and worth hunting down at local stores.
The White List (All 90 points or better)
1. LaZarre 2009 Savignon Blanc (Edna Valley). Touch of oak on dry wine. $18.
2. Courtney Benham 2010 Reserve Chardonnay (Edna Valley). Ripe pineapple, lemon flavors. $18.
3. Foris 2008 Dry Gewurtztraminer (Rogue Valley). Long, complex, floral scented. $14.
4. Firestead 2008 Riesling (Oregon). Dry with the body of a Chardonnay. $12.
5. Uvaggio 2010 Vermentino (Lodi) Alternative layered white, sweet peach. $14.
The Red List (All 90 points or better)
1. Liberty School 2009 Cabernet (Paso Robles). The best vintage at this price. $12
2. Sebastiani 2009 Pinot Noir (Sonoma County). Dry, rich, spicy flavor. $18
3. Kilikanoon 2008 Killermen’s Run Cabernet (South Australia). Velvety tannins, luscious. $20.
4. Dunham 2009 Three Legged Red (Columbia Valley). Bowl of cherries aromas. $16
5. Hogue 2008 Red Table Wine (Columbia Valley). Cab/Merlot/Syrah blend. $7
I’ve had four wines on this list, and I am working to get the rest. Two of my recent “finds” are Chateau St. Jean 2009 Fume Blanc, $11, and La Crema Pinot Noir, $20, both from Sonoma, that are rated 90 points or better and are delightfully expressive, top quality, and inexpensive.