The best wine for the money
by Thor Iverson
Just three letters can change the way you buy wine: QPR.
This stands for "quality/price ratio," and it represents the
most sensible way to budget your wine spending. The idea is this: when we pay
more money, we expect higher quality. When we don't get it, we feel that we've
wasted our money. Conversely, finding killer wine at a bargain price is like
finding a $20 bill between the cushions of your sofa.
Although everyone has an absolute wine budget (how much money they can actually
afford to spend), in the long run buying by QPR is more satisfying. When we
focus too much on our absolute budget, we tend to go for quantity: the highest
number of decent bottles we can afford to buy. There's nothing wrong with this
(and, indeed, low-priced bottles will always form the bulk of most people's
wine consumption), but as a way to explore the vast world of wine, it's
Even for the most indifferent of wine drinkers, there are times when something
a little better is called for. A special date, dinner with the in-laws,
entertaining the boss . . . an everyday chugger is probably not the
best wine for these occasions. On the other hand, no one wants to take out a
second mortgage just to have an extra-special wine with dinner. A savvy wine
buyer will have access to a stash of wines that all perform a little (or a lot)
above their price range, wines that will impress once by their quality, and
impress a second time when everyone finds out how much they cost.
And that's what this column is about: high-QPR wines. They're not all cheap,
but they're not all expensive either. What they all have in common is
extraordinary quality for the money. (Price ranges are given, since cost
differs from store to store, but vintages are not; these are reliable year-in,
Seaview Brut ($7-$10). An Australian sparkler that's a nearly
unbelievable value. You won't mistake it for fine Champagne, but as a festive
accompaniment to any gathering, it's a marvelous and delicious bundle of fruit
Bodegas Nekeas "Vega Sindoa" Cabernet Sauvignon/Tempranillo ($7-$10). A
simple, uncomplicated Spanish red that delivers all the delicious power one
expects from a cabernet, with the intriguing spice of a tempranillo (the
principal grape of Rioja). Nearly all the wines in the "Vega Sindoa" line are
good quaffing values, but this is often the tastiest of the lot. Drink it
young, with broiled (not grilled) red meats or vegetable tarts.
Clos Roche Blanche Sauvignon Touraine ($7-$12). This is an incredible
discovery, a sauvignon blanc from an area of the Loire Valley that's not
exactly internationally renowned for the grape. This has classic citrus and
grass sauvignon character, but there's a richness here that only the best
Sancerres from the best vineyards can usually achieve. Absolutely killer wine,
to go with river fish in a beurre blanc sauce today or in five years.
Prunotto Barbera d'Asti "Fuilot" ($10-$15). A lot of barbera, one of
Piedmont's two "friendly" grapes (along with dolcetto, and in contrast to the
long-aging nebbiolo that makes Barolo and Barbaresco) is fattened and oaked up
to compete on the international market. This wine is made in a more
authentically regional style, with tart flavors of cherry, raspberry, and apple
surfing on a wave of zingy acidity. Serve it with acidic sauces; alongside
pizza with tomato sauce, it's electrifying.
Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva ($10-$15). A bracing,
spice-and-bubblegum red (bubblegum is a classic indicator of wine made from
grenache, which the Sardinians call cannonau) that's heavy enough to battle
meat, but light enough to go with just about any kind of seafood. The kind of
versatile wine that all restaurants should carry, but few do. It's just as
useful at home.
Yalumba Museum Muscat or Old Sweet White ($18-$22/375ml). Two
fortified, long-aged sweet wines with a complexity and a richness beyond what
you're probably used to in a dessert wine. The caramelized, spiced-oak flavors
of both coat the tongue and leave the impression of an almost endless finish.
Delicious with most desserts, though they're best sipped by themselves.
Ridge Geyserville ($24-$30). Paul Draper at Ridge may very well be
America's best winemaker, and either this or his cabernet sauvignon from Monte
Bello is America's best wine. But this zinfandel-based blend is clearly the
quintessential American wine, big and explosively fruity in youth, but
with surprising reserves of power and complexity when put to the test (that is:
aged). Geyserville never, ever disappoints, and that's why it's what I always
choose when pouring a California wine for someone who's never tried one. Great
with all hearty meats, especially grilled, and cheeses.
Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Émile
($27-$39). The mid-range wine from Alsace's foremost producer of bone-dry
riesling, and thought by many to be the second-best riesling in France (the
first is Trimbach's Clos Ste-Hune, at around $80). Prices have crept up over
the years, and seem to be higher in this market than just about anywhere else,
but the wine is still an extraordinary accomplishment. Steely and brooding when
young, it really shines after five to 15 years in the cellar. Serve this
majestic white with an onion tart, with simply cooked pork, chicken, mushrooms,
veal, or whitefish, or with a coq au vin made with a less expensive
Thor Iverson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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