Buying good value wine isn’t a mystery. It’s an attempt to purchase a tasty product at a price that doesn’t break your bank. As with most other purchases it involves a knowledge of the terrain. Below are three wines that cost less than $6 dollar a bottle and the reasons why. Working with these reasons should help you find other good value wines.
2012 Chardonnay “Valle Central” (Viña San Pedro “Gato Negro”)
This is a clean, dry refreshing white wine made in Chile from the world’s most famous grape. It’s in the modern no-frills category of Chardonnay and is packaged in a screwcap format.
What makes it so inexpensive? Land costs are a factor. The label says it’s from the “Valle Central” which is almost like saying “California” on a label of Golden State wine: hence, you don’t know exactly where the grapes grew (and it’s probably a blend from several areas anyway). The thing to note is that the most costly vineyard land in Chile goes for about $30,000 an acre (versus $200,000 in Napa or $1,000,000 or more along the choicest sites in Burgundy). So the vineyard land for this wine probably goes for a third the national max or even less.
Yields are another reason. Although the most interesting vineyards are kept to yields like 3 tons an acre or less, Chilean grapegrowers are known for getting twice that much and more. Grape costs are another. Specifics are not available but the California analogy is again helpful. If you are a producer of Chardonnay in the Napa Valley, you are looking at an average price per ton of $2,350 (2012). Think of that versus the average price for the grape in California at $850 per ton. Further, stainless steel fermentation and “ageing” obviates the need to buy costly oak barrels. This “un-wooded” or “un-oaked” trend, which started about 10 years ago, has really caught on in this country after having been initiated by Australian and New Zealand producers. (There is also the slightly less fruity version from another Chilean producer, Concha Y Toro which they call “Frontera”: it’s about $10 for a magnum, the only size format I’ve seen for it).
NV Vino Rosso d’Italia (Tavernello)
This is a light bodied, dry and tangy red wine from Italy. Like the Chardonnay above it is a blend of wines, in this case from regions across the central and southern portions of the country. The dominant grape is the Sangiovese so it might remind you of a light Chianti. A lot of people swear off dry red wines during the hot summer months as most are too heavy and/or too tannic (bitter) for the higher temperatures. This one you could chill down a bit and have it by the grill.
What makes it affordable is the fact that it’s made in huge quantities (its importer says it is the “#1 selling wine in Italy”). It’s also made by a co-operative in Emilia-Romagna. Co-ops tend to have lower marketing costs which are obviously NOT affecting consumer as much. It is also not a wine with an appellation, or better, “denominazione” like a Barolo or a Soave. Such wines tend to be more expensive not only because there’s less made of any given one but there are fewer bureaucratic hoops to jump through. As with the Chardonnay, yields are undoubtedly higher and stainless steel is the name of the handling game. They also make a Bianco version at the same price.
2011 Ventoux (La Ferme Julien)
Ventoux is a region that is on the eastern outskirts of the classic Rhône River Valley. It is produced from the same grapes that grow in the Rhône proper – Grenache, Syrah, Carignane and Cinsaut – so it might remind you of their wines. However, Ventoux’s vineyards are at a higher elevation and that makes for a lighter style of red than your average product from the area.
Ventoux is an appellation that has been around for a relatively short time. This means its producers have not had as much time as, say Châteauneuf-du-Pape, to develop their reputation. Hence, they can’t – yet - charge the same prices as the more established appellations do.
It is also an exclusive of the Trader Joe’s chain of stores made for them by the Perrin family of Ch. de Beaucastel fame. This kind of business plan is very common in the UK and becoming increasingly more common here. Such arrangements keep advertising and other marketing costs down. It’s not been aged in small oak, but rather in vats and very large oak containers, further keeping costs down. Good value hunting!