It's January and many of us are watching the pennies after some holiday spending last month. With that in mind I decided to check out what good red wines $10 or less would buy at a few local wine stores. My search yielded some gems — perfect for hearty winter fare.
I set myself a few rules during my search. Namely:
- To stay clear of big, well-known brands and varietal wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot
- To explore at least one off-the-beaten-track region
- And finally to take advantage of the wine sales that abound at the moment, as retailers try to shift existing stock to make room for the arrival of new vintages.
Almost every retailer I went into had some sort of wine sale. This can be a great opportunity to pick up some real bargains. However, a word of caution — be wary of older rosé wines going for a song. Unless you know that it an age-worthy example, pass, as most rosé wines should be drunk when young and very fresh. If you do decide to splurge on some of these rosé deals, drink them now — don't wait for summer 2011.
Anyway, back to the challenge of finding three or four cheap and cheerful but delicious reds. My luck was in and I scored. Among the wines tasted I particularly enjoyed the following — a bright and fresh 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau, a robust Hungarian Egri Bikaver (also known as Bull's Blood), a smooth, earthy Primitivo from Puglia and finally a vibrant, cheerful Garnacha from Cariñena in Spain. Nothing terribly complex or age-worthy here — friendly, accessible wine. While easy drinking, these four wines were well-balanced, fresh and cheerful - perfect for a winter evening's gathering with friends.
Four Cheap & Cheerful Red Wines for Winter
• 2010 Rodet Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais, France - $8 – Not sure I say it with pride or shame, but it is quite a few years since I have tasted Beaujolais Nouveau. 2010 was a particularly good vintage for these young wines, yielding firmer and more structured wines. About one third of all Beaujolais wine is actually the Nouveau style and is for consumption within about six months. This Rodet example was brimming with bright fresh raspberry and blackberry, really juicy, yet not the often-typical candied bubble-gum notes. Extremely smooth, soft tannins, yet they were undeniably there forming a nice structure around the fruit.
• 2005 Egervin Bulls Blood – Egri Bikaver, Eger, Hungary, $6.99 – I first tasted Egri Bikaver in Budapest back in 1989. Thankfully much progress has been made since to what was at the time a rather dilute, tinny, aggressive wine. Egri Bikaver comes from the wine region Eger, which is in the Northern Massif north east of the Danube river. Traditionally the wine is based on the local red variety Kadarka. Officially it must be a blend of at least three different grapes. These are typically Kadarka along with Kékfrankos (known as Blaufränkish in Austria) and Kékoportó (the Austrian Blauer Portugieser). It must also be aged for at least 12 months in barrel before release. This example, while not very deeply colored was nicely robust, chewy but not aggressive tannin, full-bodied and lots of forest floor and bramble fruit flavors.
• 2008 Soleto Primitivo IGT Salento, Puglia, Italy, $9.96 – Poor old Primitivo languished in obscurity for so long in Puglia, serving only as a blending partner to add color or alcohol. Since its relationship to Zinfandel has been established through DNA profiling it has been enjoying a new life and has become quite popular as a varietal wine. I was really impressed with this example for the price. Refreshing and bright with lots of mellow, ripe cherry flavors, with smoke, spice, licorice and some gamey notes. Very smooth texture with supple tannins.
• 2008 Castillo de Monséran Garnacha, DO Cariñena, Spain, $9.99 – South of Rioja, this small winemaking region is well known for its Garnacha (same as Grenache in France) wines. While warming, this wine tasted juicy and had a definite brightness. Aromas and flavors of baked red fruits – strawberry, plum with sweet spices and a creamy butterscotch note.
Enjoy searching out some delicious cheap red wines. Love to hear what gems you have recently found.
Until next week.
Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She hold the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.
(Images: Mary Gorman)