The Boston Phoenix
July 27 - August 3, 2000


| by restaurant | by cuisine | by location | hot links | food home |
| dining out archive | on the cheap archive | noshing & sipping archive | uncorked archive |

Drink smart

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 somewhat limiting.

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, year-out.)

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 and bubbles.

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 Alsatian riesling.

Thor Iverson can be reached at wine[a]

The Uncorked archive