Welcome to our latest review of bargain wines — wines for less than $10. We have survived 2009, but most of us will still be watching the pennies through 2010. As wine lovers, can we really get quality as well as value for less than $10? Read on to find out!
As the pain of the recession continues to be felt throughout the country, wine stores are awash with promotions and deals. Last week I decided to evaluate some of these 'not to be missed' deals. Would I be pleasantly surprised or disappointed?
So, money in wallet, I set out. I bought a February promotional case from one store: 12 bottles for less than $80, which works out at less than $6.99 / bottle — as well as different single bottles from other stores ranging from $6.99 to $9.99.
I asked my husband to pour all the wines for me and I set about tasting. His reward — he would get to pick his favorite to drink with dinner.
In hindsight the 'mixed case on special promotion' was a disappointment. There were one or two wines that I would purchase again, but otherwise, I would have fared better if I had selected individual wines under $10, rather than be drawn in by the fantastic case price. Genuine price promotions do exist, but be wary of false deals (especially mixed cases), which sometimes are a mechanism for stores to off-load wines that are not selling. If you don't know the wine, and the sales assistant is not knowledgeable on it, be wary, especially if the price seems too good to be true.
Another observation was that many of the wines on promotion seemed to be new brands, with jazzy labels. These are brands perhaps created intentionally for current times to avoid having to discount and potentially damage the image of existing higher-priced brands. So, I made sure to include some of the very familiar big brands in the line-up. Aren't we supposed to revert to the tried and tested familiar names in difficult times?
Obviously with a limited budget, my investigation was not exhaustive. However, hopefully it offers some insights into what is available in the very attractive less than $10 sector of the market. See also my recent post on the great $10 value Tempra Tantrum wines from Spain.
White Wines Under $10
• 2008 Wellies Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, $9.99 (on promotion from $14.99) — At the discounted price I would say worth it. Showed typical tropical aromas of peach, passion fruit. Bright and vibrant, very drinkable and pleasant but simple. For the full price I think I could do better. (14/20)
• 2008 'L'Etoile de Rachelle, Sauvignon Blanc, AC Bordeaux, $6.99 (on promotion from $9.99) — I would buy this again. Fairly neutral nose at first that opened up with grassy and citrus notes. Certainly not complex, but correct. Dry, light bodied and easy drinking with decent fruit flavor for the price. (14/20)
• 2008 Colli Vicentini Chardonnay, IGT Veneto, Italy, $3.99 — (on promotion $6.99) This I did not like at all. Unoaked, Single note of candied pear drop. Quite viscous and a bit flabby. You can do better. (13/20)
• 2008 Jacob's Creek Chardonnay, South Eastern Australia, $6.99 (not on promotion) — For the price, this wine rocked. Just to make sure I also opened up an $30 Australian Chardonnay, which while better and more complex, highlighted even more the quality I was getting for a mere $7. Lightly oaked, this wine has balance and is packed with vibrant, juicy fruit. (16/20)
• 2009 Cape Indaba Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, $6.99 (not on promotion) — Another gem, that offers oodles of vibrant, juicy fruit — pears, apricots, clementines and floral notes. (15.5/20)
Red Wines Under $10
• 2008 Moulin de Gassac, Guilhem, VdP d'Oc, $9.99 (not on promotion) — A really lovely wine and one of my two favorites. Layered nose of ripe plums, blackberries, forest floor and earthy notes. For the price excellent fruit concentration, smooth with lingering peppery notes. (16.5/20)
• 2006 Chateau La Roselière, Premières Côtes de Blaye, Bordeaux, $9.99 — My favorite of the red line-up. It smelled like Bordeaux. Subtle nose of plums, tobacco, tea-leaf. Perfect amount of tannin to structure the fruit. Very well balanced and evolved in the glass, giving additional notes of cedar and spice. (17/20)
• 2008 Valdepablo Tinto, Spain, $5.99 (on promotion from $7.99) — Made from 70% Tempranillo and 30% Garnacha, the label just says 'Spain' , so a blend of grapes from many regions. Simple, lots of soft baked red fruit flavors, very soft tannins and a hint of vanilla. Quite drinkable. (15/20)
• 2008 Bodegas Real 'Nazares' Tempranillo, VdT de Castilla, Spain 100% Tempranillo, $5.99 (on promotion from $8.99) — Not bad. A core of ripe but juicy forest fruit flavors, spice and earthy notes. Fairly simple, but balanced, and very easy to drink. (15.5/20)
• 2008 Loggia del Conte, Chianti DOCG, Italy, $7.99 (on promotion from $9.99) tasted exactly like Chianti. Core of black cherries. Fresh and juicy. Quite smooth tannins. An honest wine, a bit rustic but held up well in the glass over an hour. (15.5/20)
• 2005 Chateau Jalousie-Beaulieu, AC Bordeaux Superior, $9.99 (on promotion from $12.99) — 70% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. A regional wine from a great vintage. Unfortunately, the fruit seemed dead and beginning to fade, while the tannins were becoming more obvious and drying. (15/20)
• 2007 Maravigna Nero d'Avola, IGT Sicilia, $8.99 (on promotion from $10.00) — Fairly typical $10 Nero d'Avola. Core of soft, very ripe cherry fruit and soft tannins. Alcohol a tad obvious on the finish, but juicy and easy drinking. (15.5/20)
• 2008 Ruffino Chianti DOCG, Italy, $9 (not on promotion) — A classic Chianti. I tasted this a while back as well. Still as good value as ever. Lots of youthful vibrant cherry-berry fruit, with hints of spice and earthy notes. Consistent over the years. (16/20)
• 2008 Ca Dia Merlot, IGT Veneto, Italy, $7.99 (on promotion from $10.99) — Not great, alcohol and over-ripe fruit prevailed in my glass. Fruit seemed over candied with intrusive toffee, butterscotch notes. Grippy tannins. (14/20)
• NV Zweigelt Falkensteiner Rieden, Austria, $6.49 for one liter (on promotion from $10.99) — Made from the indigenous Austrian grape Zweigelt. Great value, if not terribly interesting. Lots of juicy red and black fruit, soft tannins. Simple and easy drinking. Really great for a party – but for a few dollars more you could get something way better. (15/20)
• 2008 Parrillada Malbec, Bodega Vistalba, Mendoza, Argentina $6.49 (not on promotion) — Another gem worth finding. Packed with ripe bramble fruit, plums, smoke and spice – very supple tannins, generously warm but alcohol is not out of balance. (16/20)
p.s. We ended up drinking the Moulin de Gassac, my husband's favorite and my #2 red, and the Jacob's Creek, our joint favorite white.
More Cheap Wines
• How To Choose Good Cheap Wine from the Big Brands: Cabernet Sauvignon
• Cheap Wine: Best Pinot Noir Under $20
• How To Choose Good Cheap Wine from the Big Brands: Pinot Grigio
• Holiday Party Wines: $10 and Less from Trader Joe's
• Malbec: Great Value Wine from Argentina
Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She holds the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.
(Images: Wine producers; Mary Gorman)