There is no question that tough times are upon us for grape growers, wineries and retailers. But for consumers, there are more outstanding value wines than I’ve seen in a decade or more.
Here in Washington, some wineries are offering discounts of up to 50 percent. Many are dramatically cutting their case production of expensive wines and ramping up production of their budget bottles – often using the same grapes that would previously have gone into the high-priced stuff.
The November issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine – for which I am the Pacific Northwest reviewer – focuses on the Best Buys of 2009 from around the world. On the cover is the headline “100 Wines Under $15 – Best Buys 2009.” These 100 wines are culled from literally thousands of reviews submitted by the global tasting panel during the past year, representing wineries around the world. Given that Washington produces maybe a tenth as much wine as California (never mind the rest of the world), it’s amazing to see that 15 of the top 100 wines are from this state.
Included in the list are widely-available, very well made wines such as Pacific Rim 2008 Organic Riesling, Kungfu Girl 2008 Riesling, Arbor Crest 2006 Merlot, Milbrandt Vineyards 2006 Traditions Cabernet Sauvignon, Hogue 2006 Cabernet/Merlot, Chateau Ste. Michelle 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Snoqualmie 2007 Chardonnay, Covey Run 2006 Reserve Chardonnay, Hedges Cellars 2007 C.M.S. Red and Columbia Crest 2007 Two Vines Gewurztraminer.
Given that this list includes quite a few wines that were released a year or so ago, I have taken a look at some of my most recent tasting notes to see what might be available in the wine shops and grocery stores right now. These are some of the wines – from both Oregon and Washington – that may turn up on the Best Buys list in 2010.
From A to Z Wineworks comes a wild red called Chemin de Terre ($15). Southern Oregon grapes – merlot, cabernet, syrah, sangiovese and more go into the blend, which somehow avoids tasting generic. The mix of fruit, herb and tannin seems perfect for autumn meals.
King Estate has a new brand called Acrobat, with a juicy, ripe and spicy 2008 Pinot Gris ($12). Along with the value price, you get slightly more residual sugar (.66 percent) and less alcohol (12.2 percent) than the regular King Estate bottling.
For just a few dollars more, you can step up to the winery that virtually invented pinot gris in the U.S. In 1970, Eyrie’s David Lett made pinot gris for the first time anywhere in America. The Eyrie Vineyards 2007 Pinot Gris ($16) is his 38th and final vintage, with a symphony of flavors from citrus to stone fruit to tropical. It’s a fine tribute to a Northwest pioneer.
Since pinot gris is such a fine turkey wine, I’ll give you one more: Willamette Valley Vineyards 2008 Pinot Gris ($15) is loaded with flavors of pineapples and pears; it’s a fine food wine, clean, crisp and varietal.
Hogue’s 2007 Cabernet-Merlot ($11) is just as good as the 2006 – a dense, muscular cab-merlot blend with flavors of ripe cherries and black currants.
Snoqualmie’s lineup of Naked wines – all from organically grown grapes – includes several winners. The 2008 Naked Riesling, 2008 Naked Chardonnay, and 2007 Naked Merlot are all selling for around $12, and ready to drink. Even better values are the Columbia Valley wines from Snoqualmie, including a very fine 2008 Chardonnay ($10) with a nice splash of viognier in the blend.
Among the new releases from sister winery Chateau Ste. Michelle is one of my favorite sauvignon blancs. The Chateau Ste. Michelle 2008 Horse Heaven Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($15) is 100 percent varietal, herbaceous and spicy. Another vineyard designate – the Chateau Ste. Michelle 2008 Cold Creek Vineyard Riesling ($15) – brings together peach, pear, honey, caramel, tea, and acacia; a lovely bottle.
From Columbia Crest there are decent wines in the Two Vines group (all $8), but you’ll find some gems a step or two up the price ladder. Among the Grand Estates offerings, the one to look for is the Columbia Crest Grand Estates 2006 Merlot ($11). It has to be considered one of the best – if not the best – budget merlots in the world. The 2006 blend includes 7 percent syrah, 5 percent cabernet franc, and 3 percent cabernet sauvignon.
The newest tier – named H3 – uses fruit exclusively from the Horse Heaven Hills. The Columbia Crest 2007 H3 Merlot, Columbia Crest 2007 H3 Cabernet Sauvignon, and Columbia Crest 2007 H3 Les Chevaux Red Wine (all about $15) are highly recommended.