In every issue, I find and share great wines under $25. But some people ask, what makes a great-value $50 wine? Or is there even such a thing as a great-value $100 wine?
Buying expensive wine for a special occasion can be stressful because the stakes are higher when you are spending more money and even at high prices, you’ll find duds. Not every expensive wine is good wine.
It all comes down to three factors.
Terroir. A piece of land in Napa can cost 100 times the same quality piece of land, in say, Chile. Rarer, south facing, higher elevation land, can cost even more. In Burgundy and Bordeaux the top vineyards sell for millions. We all pay for this when buying expensive wine. Expensive wines also come from lower yielding plants, meaning less grapes per hectare, but more intense flavours in each bottle.
Barrels. Buying oak barrels is not for the faint of heart. A good French oak barrel will cost at least $1,000. American oak is less pricey, but still expensive. If you are buying a wine that has spent time in a barrel you are paying for that barrel.
Vintners give many affordable wines an oak treatment from oak chips. That $12 Cabernet has never been near an oak barrel.
Good barrels give wine flavours like vanilla, spice, smoke, and caramel. Barrels also allow oxygen in, which can soften the harsh tannins of red wines and acidity of whites.
Time. Just like the rest of life, time is money in the wine business. Many expensive wines age in barrels for between two and five years. And then they can sit in bottles for another one to two years before wineries release them. That all factors into the price.
Unless you’re wealthier than most of us, you’ll do most of your wine shopping in the $15 to $25 range. To find value at this price level, attend wine tastings like the Savour Food & Wine Show. There you can taste lots of different wines and find values on your own. You will also find values at in-store wine tastings.
Also do homework online based on the above clues. Pick a country but avoid the most expensive regions. In France, the southern regions offer great value. In California, avoid more expensive Napa and Sonoma, and try Lodi, or even the Lakes region. Nova Scotia also has some great wines in this price range including the Tidal Bay wines.
You can find great values in the up-and-coming wine countries, or in ones that many are avoiding. This includes Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Spain, Portugal, and southern Italy.
When your budget moves into the $25 to $50 range, you have the world to play. Never be shy about asking for expert advice at your store. In this price range try Chianti Classico and Chianti Reserva, or Ripasso from Italy.
Syrah from the Rhone Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma, California, Pinot Noir from New Zealand, and Reserva wines from Rioja Spain. It’s hard to go wrong with any wine from Chile in this price range, but I usually stick with Cabernet and Chardonnay.
When moving over $50 per bottle you can find something great from most wine regions in the world, so why not go with a proven and well known producer and buy a wine you would never usually purchase? Here is where you can find great Bordeaux by buying a second label from a well known winery. Or a beautiful Village wine from Burgundy. How about a top Shiraz from Australia, or a NV Champagne to celebrate a special occasion?
The under-$25 wine review
Bouchard Macon–Lugny Saint-Peirre Vin de Bourgogne 2015
France, $23.99, NSLC
Want to try a French white Burgundy (AKA Chardonnay)? Look for Vin de Bourgogne on the label. This defines the regional wines, which are more affordable, and therefore a great introduction in price and style. Lovely aromas of peach blossoms and mango. Flavours are riper than I expected, with toasty notes of vanilla bean and tropical fruit, cloves, and smoke. Tasty introduction to Burgundy. Pair with scallops in a cream sauce. 90/100
Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Chile, $19.99, NSLC
I say again: Chile makes great-value Cabernet Sauvignon. Black fruits, with cherry and blackberry, and minty chocolate flavours coat the palate. Soft tannins keep the fruit flavours from being cloying. A great full-bodied wine. Pair with grilled lamb kebabs. 92/100
80–84: A great sipper, good value.
85–89: Won’t last long, great value.
90–94: Brag to your friends and buy a case—fantastic.
95–100: A classic, run to the store, extremely rare.