But this is wine we are dealing with. Economics only works as far as the name on the label, and when it’s a special name, like “Napa Valley,” you can throw out your old economics textbook.
Within the past week, one of the nation’s most celebrated wine retailers, Sherry-Lehmann in New York, told the chateau owners in Bordeaux to “wake up and smell the coffee.” The message: get your pricing in line with what the market wants to pay, or continue to significantly lose market share for that high-cost juice coming out of the Medoc neighborhood. Oh, and we, Sherry-Lehmann, do not intend to bring those wines to our shelves only to let them languish there because of just-OK quality and outlandish prices.
Then there’s the continuing fallout from the movie Sideways and the pinot noir grape. Prices of pinot noir wines have escalated thanks to demand, which is the way the economic model is supposed to work. Only point is, there is now more pinot noir on the shelves than at just about any other time in recent history. We are back to that backasswards plenty-of-product and high-prices model. Glad I don’t teach economics. I would stage lectures but no questions, please.
However, lucky for you and your love of red wine, there are reds with reasonable prices, in some cases downright cheap. And, again, lucky for you, you are living in the Golden Age of Wine which means that a lot of the wine out there in a veritable sea of fermented grape juice is good stuff. Price can still be a defining qualifier but you can also get some damn good wines for under $20, even under $15. Damn good!
This meaty purple grape yields wine of strong structure and for many American wine drinkers, this is just their cup of …er…tea. Bold tannins and big alcohol seem to please the American palate, plus it does not hurt that these wines are often value-priced. I have friends who compete to see who can buy a Malbec from Argentina at the lowest price with the best quality.
Malbec is one of the prime five blending grapes used to make the great wines of Bordeaux. When the grape migrated to Argentina, local vintners there decided that it was just fine, thank you, to stand on its own. The volcanic soils and in some cases the altitude of the vineyards “softens” the grapes providing for something quite good even when enjoyed young.
The grape does inhabit one other region in France, Cahors, where it is also used solo.
Ask any winemaker why the general wine drinking public is not beating a path to Syrah’s door, and he or she will shake the head and give you a big shoulder shrug. They just don’t get it.
Universally, winemakers love Syrah, or as the Australians know the grape, Shiraz. Big berries, not prone to disease or rot, even ripening within the cluster, and yielding lovely fruit with black berry notes. What’s not to like?
Only you can answer that question as the American wine buying public has made a determination that Syrah is not a darling. Winemakers who love the spice aspects of the wine and think it goes very well with a wide variety of cuisines are using Syrah in proprietary blends. They are creating wines where the backbone and forward fruit qualities of Syrah are featured in the wine, but not on the label.
Even the rising-in-popularity GSM blend — containing Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre — buries the Syrah reference in the middle of the title. Syrah has become the Rodney Daingerfield of grape varietals, getting no respect.
The Spanish named this grape in allusion to the word, “temprano,” a reference to its habit of ripening earlier than most other red varietals. The Phoenicians were growing this grape on the Iberian Peninsula likely 1000 years before the birth of Christ.
While Tempranillo grows all over Spain, the Rioja region takes center stage with an outcome of sturdiness and ageability. Another region that can take a bow for the grape is to the west of Rioja, Ribera del Duero, where the grape is more commonly called Tinto Roriz or Aragonez. The Spanish name their grapes the way we have named streets when they cross Canal Street, same thoroughfare, different name.
Formerly, and in many cases still currently, Tempranillo wines were held back for long aging at the winery but lately we are seeing more young wines ready to be enjoyed on release.
This Italian grape, whose name means “Blood of Jove,” is used all over Tuscany in a wide variety of wines at various price points. The inner beauty of Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile de Montepulciano can also be sensed in more common wines simply labeled Chianti. All are Sangiovese-based wines.
This is a very old grape, predating the 16th century, and its rich, sometimes chocolate, strawberry and spicy characteristics make Sangiovese an ideal companion to a wide variety of foods and cuisines.
Now almost the sole provenance of Chile, this grape was once one of the classic blending grapes of Bordeaux. Today, even importing this wine into the European Union is not allowed, and so some winemakers have changed the name to Grande Vidure, an ancient reference to the esteem in which the grape was once held in Europe.
While the grape was once thought lost to the European phylloxera (vine root disease caused by a louse) epidemic of the late 1800’s, Carmenere was merely hiding under the mistaken identity of being Merlot, which it very closely resembles in all aspects of aroma and taste.
So the point is that while you should drink as well as you can afford, these grapes and the wines they make are available to you at lower prices than you might have imagined. You will be drinking well and drinking inexpensively. Gotta’ like that.