- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

With wine, as with real estate, value is determined in large measure by location. Much as when buying a house, what you end up paying for a bottle has a lot to do with where the grapes were grown.

Some of this is simple economics. Land prices in the world’s most famous wine regions — Champagne, for example, and the Napa Valley — are very high. To pay the mortgage, vintners have to charge top dollar for their wares.

Of course, not everyone in Champagne or Napa has a mortgage, but if your neighbor who has one charges (and gets) $100 a bottle, you’d be a fool to ask $10 for your wine, especially if it tastes just as good. As a result, top wines from the most renowned regions are invariably quite expensive.

But not all high-quality grape-growing regions are that famous.

Just as every city or town has a neighborhood or two in which the houses cost less but are intrinsically just as nice as those in the fancier districts, the world of fine wine has regions that produce extremely high-quality wines for more affordable prices.

Sometimes high quality without a high price tag comes as the result of history: vineyards in a certain area having been neglected in the past. At other times, it’s a matter of fashion: the grapes that grow in one location simply not being as trendy as those cultivated in another. But because fashions shift and history evolves, some locales may be teetering on the brink of fame. The trick is to find out about them before everyone else does.

Savvy wine drinkers try to do just that. They care about location as much as the shrewdest real estate agent, but they don’t restrict themselves to shopping in only the most coveted neighborhoods.

Here are profiles of four spots that produce superior wines (two white, two red) but are not all that well-known, and there are recommendations of specific wines to try. Each is undervalued for its own reason, and each is well worth exploring.

RIAS BAIXAS IN GALICIA, SPAIN

Rex Harrison had it wrong. The rain in Spain doesn’t fall mainly on the plain, the flat interior of the country being dry and dusty. Instead, it falls on the coast, particularly the northwest region of Galicia, sometimes called “green Spain” because of its landscape.

Vintners in the subregion Rias Baixas long have grown grapes and made wine, but their wares were essentially unknown beyond Galicia until about a decade ago. Then, thanks to modern grape-growing and winemaking technology, the wines improved and began to be discovered.

This is white-wine country, the grape of choice being a local one called albarino (alvarinho farther south in Portugal). When not allowed to grow too vigorously, it produces wonderfully fragrant wines — full of the scent of apricots and white peaches, with hints of honeysuckle and spring flowers. It’s medium-bodied, so it is not heavy or bitter; good examples pair effortlessly with all sorts of seafood.

A bevy of new plantings renders the quality uneven, but there are a number of reasonably priced, quite exciting wines on the market. Three that have impressed me recently are Vionta 2002 ($16), Paza San Mauro 2002 ($20) and the especially luscious Morgadio 2002 ($22.50).

SAVENNIERES IN FRANCE’S LOIRE VALLEY

If the 19 producers in the tiny appellation of Savennieres grew chardonnay, their wines would be priced in the stratosphere.

As it is, their top wines are as complete and complex as the finest white Burgundies but cost far less. The explanation is that they’re made with chenin blanc, a grape nowhere near as fashionable.

Many chenin blanc wines are sweet. Unless identified otherwise on the label, these are not.

Marked by apple and pear flavors, an almost nutty bouquet, and all sorts of intriguing mineral-tinged undertones, they are fantastic dinner wines — dry, balanced, and wonderfully nuanced.

Chateau D’Epire Cuvee Speciale 2000 ($18) tastes simultaneously rich and refined — a delectable combination. And if you are looking for a real treat, try Domaine des Baumard “Trie Speciale” 2000 ($34). Astonishingly subtle, it has a wealth of layered aromas and flavors. A bottle of Burgundy this complex would cost three times as much.

MACEDONIA, NORTHERN GREECE

Greek wine as a whole has long been undervalued, and for good reason: Until recently, most examples tasted coarse and rough.

Greece, however, is in the midst of a wine renaissance, with more exciting bottlings being produced every year.

Some new-style Greek wines are made with familiar international grapes — chardonnay, cabernet, merlot and the like — but others are fashioned with indigenous varieties, grapes that grow nowhere else and, so, yield wines with truly distinctive flavors.

One of the most intriguing Greek grapes goes by the unwieldy (in English) name of xynomavro.

Native to the Macedonia region, it is dark-skinned and tannic, and it produces full-bodied, long-lived red wines.

The best examples have a haunting floral note in the bouquet and satisfying dark fruit flavors enhanced by hints of pepper and spice.

They are not unlike nebbiolo-based Barolos and barbarescos from Piedmont in Italy, but they cost far less. The well-known firm Boutari makes a fine xynomavro wine from the subregion Naoussa. The medium-weight Boutari Naoussa 2001 ($13) tastes lithe and spicy. Kir-Yianni Raminista 1999 ($20) is a deeper, richer rendition, with multilayered flavors and a firm structure. Tasty now, it should improve notably with additional time in bottle.

MORELLINO DI SCANSANO, TUSCANY

The trendiest wine region in Italy these days is Bolgheri, from an area of Tuscany called Maremma. This is the home of the chic super-Tuscans, wines such as Sassicaia, Ornellaia and Paleo Rosso, all of which sport three-figure price tags.

Farther south in the Maremma, near the town of Scansano, the wines cost less and taste almost as good, but beware:

Money is pouring into the area, with new vineyards being planted by many of the top producers in Italy. Scansano surely is an example of a neighborhood about to become extremely fashionable.

For now, though, some excellent values come from wines labeled Morellino, that being the local name for sangiovese. They all contain at least 85 percent of that grape, and like top Chiantis, tend to taste of cherries, with a herbal undertone.

The Cantina del Morellino di Scansano’s “Benefizio” 1999 ($19) is a good example, as is Cecchi’s “Val delle Rose” 2002 ($16). The same producer’s “Val delle Rose” 2000 Riserva ($20) tastes even richer. It has supple tannins, a long, satisfying finish, and unmistakable Italian flair.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide