I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Drinkable inexpensive wines are harder to come by these days but not impossible. The exchange rate against the euro has not helped, but southern Europe still has a lot of drinkable plonk.
I’m going to recommend a few wines, but first, if you cannot find these, look for wines from these regions, as theytend to have a pretty high success rate.
If you dig wines with elevated alcohol and ripe-fruit tendencies, check out the wines from Alicante, Jumilla and Yecla. Monastrell, aka mourvèdre, is the main grape grown in these areas, though garnacha, tempranillo, syrah, cabernet sauvignon and merlot are also quite common. Look for: Bodegas Antonio Candela Carro Tinto, 2006 ($11). Candela’s other wines are a little bit more expensive but worth it, and this wine, with its combination of jammy fruit and spice, is eminently quaffable. Caracol Serrano, 2005 ($10) from Jumilla is another treasure. Fifty percent of the wine is made from 40-year-old monastrell vines, giving it unexpected concentration. The addition of cabernet sauvignon and syrah adds a multiplicity of blueberry, cassis and chocolate flavors.
From the Côtes du Rhône to the Pyrenees, France has a plethora of pleasant Vin de Pays and even some AOC wines that are easy on the wallet. I tasted the Le Pas de la Beaume Côtes du Rhône Villages, 2005, the other day for the first time and was more impressed than I have been with a Côtes du Rhône in a while. It has everything you could want from Côtes du Rhône, solidly made with spice and berries, without pretense. Château D’Aussieres-Les Domaine Baron Rothchild, Lafite Rothschild’s property in Corbieres, makes a Vin de Pays called Aussieres Rouge ($12) that is rockin’ good. As it has cabernet franc and merlot in the blend, it cannot wear the Corbieres AOC label, but it still has the spicy, bacon type of wine from this appellation and a mound of cherry, blackberry fruit.
Although there are now a lot of expensive wines from Campagnia, Puglia, Sicily and other areas in southern Italy, it is still possible to find bargains. As a rule, Italian reds, even in hot climates, have a slight astringency and as such, scream for food. That said, a simple piece of Pecorino cheese to cut through the acid and tannin will suffice. The Cantele Primitivo, 2004 ($11) from Puglia is the ultimate pizza wine in the best sense, with meat, pepper and earthy overtones on a bed of rich black fruit. Another favorite, if you can find it, is the Cantina Sociale du Copertino Societa Cooperativa Agricola Copertino Reserva, 2003 ($12). Concentrated with dense earthy, tar- and tobacco-tinged fruit of black cherry, this wine is one of Italy’s best-kept secrets.
Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.