Good cheap wine or "plonk"?
But is all cheap wine "plonk"? I don't think so, or there'd be no purpose in what for many of us is an ongoing quest, the search for decent, interesting wine that's affordable for everyday enjoyment.
If we define the "budget" range for quality wine as being under $8 or £6, then, as I noted in our Sept. 20, 1999 edition, "Shopping for wine bargains," even a careful search through the bargain bins may result in only a 50 percent success rate - half the wine we find will be of interest and the rest not worth tasting.
But provided that you don't bring unrealistic expectations to the venture - we are not going to find the equivalent of great claret or ageworthy collectibles for a single-digit price - it is possible to enjoy quite decent wine for a surprisingly low cost. Don't expect a wonderful $5 Cabernet Sauvignon or White Burgundy or Margaux, but mine the bargain bins for the hearty country wines of the world's less sought-after wine regions, from Southern France to Southern Italy to Greece, and, if you have a gambler's soul, you'll enjoy frequent payoffs and an occasional jackpot.
"Plonk," after all, doesn't mean merely "cheap," but "boring." No wine should be boring, but there's no shame in a good wine being cheap. The real question - and the answer may be different for each of us - is how much you are prepared to forgive if the price is right. Both of the wines rated in this edition, for example, seem a bit light-bodied and thin. My wife, sipping the Duca Leonardo pictured below without knowing what was in her glass, mused, "It's thin. It tastes like Chianti with a little water in it." She sniffed, took another sip, and added, "But I like it. It's interesting." And that, to me, is what distinguishes good cheap wine from "plonk."
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Two good cheap wines
Dark ruby in color, with a light sour-cherry scent and tart-cherry fruit flavors. Tart with fresh-fruit acidity on the palate, on the thin side, but it's clean and snappy, and the flavors wake up when it's served with the freesh tomatoes and tangy herbs on a pizza Margherita. U.S. importer: La Gioiosa - USA, Atlanta. (Jan. 27, 2000)
FOOD MATCH: Pizza, of course!
Pepperwood Grove 1998 California Syrah ($5.99)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with a pan-grilled T-bone.
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Vol. 2, No. 2, Jan. 31, 2000