My top wine values of 2004
The international wine glut eased, the Euro grew stronger against the dollar, demand for fine wines stayed strong. Blame politics or blame the traditional supply-and-demand equation; either way, 2004 was not an outstanding year for bargain-conscious wine consumers.
This is not to say that it has become impossible for serious wine enthusiasts who watch our budgets (most of the time, anyway) to enjoy good wine on a daily basis. But the prices of many European wines in export are going up, and I've seen little evidence of any enthusiasm by U.S. and other producers outside Europe to voluntarily nudge prices down to capture the economy-seeking market.
To be blunt, the days of excellent wine for $10 or less are fading.
But my annual year-end review of the best value wines I've rated during the past 12 months reveals that such bargains can still be found. And a closer statistical look at the wines I judged the year's top values reveals a few trends that canny consumers might want to consider as we make up our wine-shopping lists.
Now, more than ever, my standard budget-shopping advice makes cents ... and dollars: If you seek value for cost - the equation that online wine "geeks" call "Quality-Price Ratio" or "QPR" for short - avoid the "usual suspects" and seek the less sought-after wine regions and grapes.
Let's take a quick look at what sportscasters call "the tale of the tape." Of my 26 top-rated wines of the year that I purchased at retail for $10 or less, five came from Spain (which thus repeats for the second year in a row as winner of the low-end QPR sweepstakes), and four from Argentina.
Italy and California made it a close race with four top-value wines each, with the important footnote that none of those wines came from the more sought-after, and thus more pricey, regions. My Italian picks came from Puglia and Sicily in the South, Marche in Central Italy, and Monteregio di Massa Marittima, which is technically in upscale Tuscany but typically draws blank stares from points-seekers. Three of the four top California picks were from the statewide appellation; the fourth was broadly labeled "North Coast."
Wrapping it up, the rest of my top-value, low-cost selections featured two from Hungary and one each from Chile, South Africa and Turkey. France, whose wines I love with my heart but not my wallet, managed to squeak just two top value wines into the under-$10 category: A Burgundy and a Bordeaux, but both from the broad, generic appellation.
The second half of my annual list, which contains 37 wines of very good value for price ("QPR") at retail prices over $10, isn't all that different. France comes strongly back into play, leading the way with 10 wines. But here, too, regional selectivity was an important element in my quest for value, with four picks from the Loire, only one each from the Rhone and Alsace, and four very carefully chosen and relatively affordable beauties - I couldn't help myself - from Burgundy.
Italy shows more strongly in the upper-price competition, too, though again it's the off-the-beaten-path wine regions that dominate the value list: Two each from Campania and Sicily, one from Puglia, and just one each from Piemonte and Tuscany.
Then, in a surprising development that may say something about the gradual development of a very serious wine industry in the rest of the U.S., states outside California nudged out the Golden State with four value wines (two from Virginia and one each from New Mexico and Oregon) to three.
Portugal also placed three items on the good-buy list - all Ports of good value. Then came Argentina, Chile and Austria with two value wines each in the over-$10 range, followed by singletons from Germany, Australia, Uruguay and Lebanon, whose fabled Chateau Musar white was the priciest item on my top value list for 2004 at $30.
Here are the 27 best-value wines for $10 or less that I tasted during 2004, ranked in order of the actual retail price that I paid. You may click each link to view a more detailed tasting note in our standard "shelf-hanger" format. In virtually all instances, I purchased these wines from retail shops in and around Louisville, Ky. For your shopping convenience, I have added specific links for each wine to the databases at Wine-Searcher.com to help you compare prices and check availability at selected vendors online.
Wines retailing for $10 or less
Kavaklidere 2002 "Yakut" Oküzgözü d'Elazig (Turkey), $4.99. (Find it at Wine-Searcher.com)
To view my additional list of 37 top-value wines of 2004 retailing for more than $10, see our QPR Digest,
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This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy:
Words About Port: Madeira's Sweet Nectars
QPRwines: Vintage and Non-Vintage Port
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Keeping wine overnight (Dec. 31, 2004)
Wine, chocolate and your health (Dec. 29, 2004)
Silver spoon (Dec. 27, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Prime rib for two (Dec. 30, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Jan. 3, 2005