Bang for the Buck

During these hard times financial advisors tell us to cut back or eliminate our variable expenses. It appears that Madisonians consider wine a necessity and have chosen to buy cheaper wine rather than eliminate the beverage.

For wine drinkers, there’s a silver lining to the recession. After a decade of often absurd price increases, many wineries are actually reducing their prices. Because consumers aren’t spending as much, inventories have swelled—so many wholesalers are offering big discounts, especially for past vintages.

The dollar is doing marginally better, too, so European wine is more affordable than it’s been in the last few years. And, of course, the quality of wine keeps getting better. The best grape varietals to look for are those that do well even if crop yields are high (keeping costs down while producing more grapes). These include Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache-based wines, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Where are the best bargains? Among whites, look to South America and Spain. For reds, Spain, central and southern Italy and Australia are the best bets for the money.

Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc South Africa, 2008, $9
Very fresh, citrus aromas with surprising body and a tang. Dry, but the wine’s fruit gives an impression of sweetness. Try with shrimp.

Bex Riesling Mosel, Germany, 2006, $9.50
Classic Mosel lime and mineral fragrance. Finely balanced sweetness and a pleasant tartness reminiscent of green apple make this a fantastic summer wine.

House Wine Washington, $9
This blend of Cabernets, Merlot and Syrah is surprisingly concentrated with deep, dark fruit, healthy tannins and a slightly roasted flavor that pairs well with roasts and mushrooms.

Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon California Collection, 2006, $8
Beringer has always excelled at less expensive Cabernets and this vintage is the most refined I’ve tasted with lovely cassis and mellow oak notes. Gentle tannins make it versatile at the table and a good match with salmon with soy flavors.

Tilia Malbec/Syrah Argentina, $9.50
Fat and ripe, with flavors of mocha and apple pie spices that pair nicely with grilled tri-tip sirloin with chimichurri sauce. The featured vintages are available at Madison’s finer wine stores. If unavailable, most purveyors will special order from their wholesalers if requested.

Michael Kwas is wine director at L’Etoile restaurant. He writes this column monthly.

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