This week and last we touted a South African red that’s a great bargain but not likely to last in stores more than a few weeks due to scarcity. But the most useful recommendations – with apologies to boutique wine merchants – are the consistent values that can be found in almost any wine shop.
In contrast to the 1,000 cases of Ken Forrester Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot Western Cape Petit 2010 available nationwide, Washington State’s largest winery, Columbia Crest, makes 200,000 to 250,000 cases of its Grand Estates wines, which perennially score well with the critics, yet still routinely cost only $8 and $12 a bottle throughout the Washington area.
Though the Columbia Valley winery has expanded its Grand Estates label in recent years to include a wide range of wines from different grapes – pinot gris, riesling, syrah, moscato and even a new Bordeaux-style red blend – the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay have been consistent winners for more than a decade. And the most recent vintages are no exception.
The most recent issue of The Wine Blue Book lists 2009 Columbia Crest Chardonnay Columbia Valley Grand Estates and 2008 Columbia Crest Merlot Columbia Valley Grand Estates both as “Great Values” because both earned an average score of 88 points from the wine critics. But at $8 and $10, respectively, they cost less than one-third the price of comparably scoring West Coast chardonnays and merlots.
And even better bargain, according to the Blue Book, is the 2008 Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Estates, with an average score of 87 and a price of $8, which is just 19 percent the average cost of West Coast cabernets that scored 87 points.
All three of these great values can be found for $7.97 at Total Wine stores throughout Virginia and at their sister stores in Maryland, Corridor Wine & Spirits in Laurel and Beltway Fine Wine in Towson. They’re also on sale for $7.99 at Calvert Woodley and Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits in the District.
But the best price around town is on Capitol Hill, where Schneider’s has been running an ongoing sale on Columbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay 2009 and Merlot 2008 for $6.99 a bottle, and an even more astounding $72 for a case or just $6 a bottle. (See the slideshow for a representative sample of pricing around town.)
“Light in texture, playing caramel and tobacco flavors against lime and green apple fruit, mingling effectively on the lively finish,” wrote Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman in the July 31 issue, scoring the Chardonnay 88 points.
“The nose offers up hints of oak, pear, apple and tropical fruit aromas,” agreed Wine Advocate’s Jay Miller in the August issue, awarding the same 88-point score. “Smooth-textured, spicy, and well-balanced, this lengthy effort over-delivers in a big way.”
Steiman named the 2008 Merlot a Best Buy and scored it 89 points. “On the lighter side, this graceful red shows pretty cherry and sage flavors that linger against velvety tannins,” he wrote in the Nov. 30 issue. “Shows deft balance and a sense of harmony.”
“It displays a pleasant perfume of spicy red fruits, cherry blossom, and cassis but comes up slightly narrow on the palate,” wrote Miller, scoring the Merlot 86 points. “This wine is unlikely to be cellared by purchasers but should a bottle or two get lost and reappear in a year or two, it could well have filled out.”
The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, which Wine Blue Book called an Outstanding Value, scored 88 points from Steiman, who described it as, “Lithe and open-textured, featuring pretty red berry and cherry flavors at the center, shaded with spice and coffee notes. The finish lingers nicely.”
“Cedar, tobacco, incense, violets, spice box, black currant, and blackberry aromas inform the nose of a layered, spicy, easy-to-understand Cabernet that is nicely balanced and moderately lengthy,” Miller opined. “It is a very good value that will provide enjoyment for another 4-5 years.”
Even if you buy it by the case for $6 a bottle, we doubt it will last long enough for you to find out.
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