Thursday, December 12, 2013

Affordable Wines - Returning to The Sub-$12 Market

Okay, that last piece on wine prices was not my proudest moment in quasi wine journalism.  Apologies.  Here are the points I was trying to get across:
  1. Generally speaking, wine prices appear to be outpacing inflation and household earnings.  By a lot.  And they have been since the tail end of the recession.
  2. Point #1 is fueled by a lot of bracket jumping.  $35 is the new $20, $18 is the new $13, and $12 is the new $8. Several varieties and regions have hopped from their previous price brackets into higher ones.  A decent Chiatni will run you $20 these days.  Tasty Spanish table wines used to be $8, but no mas.  Even some Zins are running fearlessly past the $40 mark.  (A devalued dollar can't explain that one.)
  3. There's not been a commensurate jump in quality or access to justify either points.
With that in the rear-view mirror...

In looking at the price of wines reviewed here over the past few years, there's a noticeable trend.  Part of it the sample phenom - wineries and their PR firms mostly send samples of wines that need help selling.  The higher the price, the more marketing and publicity they need.  (And these days "higher" means anything above $15 that didn't get more than 90 points from a major publication.)  But just look at your local retailers' shelves and ask for some solid recommendations for wines under $15 and there's a pretty good chance you'll get a blank stare.

So, sick and tired of routinely paying $20 for week night wines, I decided to return to the sub-$12 market to see if that's changed.  Well, as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Several brands have held pricing more or less stable, but quality is all over the map.  Brand expansion into "fast-movers", or value-priced brands, is equally uneven.

That said, evidence suggests that don't have to spend $20 to get a respectable - and enjoyable - experience from a bottle of wine.  Below are some winners and losers from this most recent foray.

2008 Columbia Crest Cabernet Columbia Valley Grand Estates $10
An outstanding wine at twice the price and then some.  The current vintage of this wine is 2010, so you may have trouble securing the 2008 anymore, but this is just fantastic.  Still in possession of elegantly structured plentiful fruit and all around appeal.  Disappeared way too fast.  Columbia Crest and the Columbia Valley in general continue to be a source of consistency and value. 
2009 Geyser Peak Cabernet Alexander Valley $12
Rewarding (finally) and at $12?!  A complete wine with nothing outlandish on either side of the quality plank. But when is the last time you saw a Cali Cab at this price that had any appellation other than plain old California? Just a straightforward, good Cab that taste like it's from Alexander Valley. And thank God for that.  
2009 Vinum Cellars Petite Sirah California  $11
Still fresh and lip smacking. The contradiction of intense fruit and savory character is intriguing especially at this price. More Syrah than Bam. 

2011 Bogle Petite Sirah $11
That it doesn't taste much like petite Sirah shouldn't bother you - unless you get hung up that sort of thing.  Fidelity and authenticity aside, this is a generically enjoyable fuller red that stands out as one that you could safely drink plenty of without feat of pre-midnight migraines. 
2012 Hess Select Chardonnay Monterey County $11
Wearing a paper-thin veneer of elegance that amounts to little more than lipstick on a pig, the heart of this wine speaks of mass production and heavy manipulation through cost-effective means.  Surprising coming from such a long-revered name plate.



2012 McManis Cabernet California $12
About four shades sweeter than I care for, but the appeal is in its warming oaky tannins and broad-shouldered structure. Shame it smacks of such residual sugar because it would otherwise be a knockout wine.

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