The selection in stores is a little thin as the global economy has slowed, but plenty of great seasonal bottles are still available.
By Eric Asimov
Published July 21, 2022
Updated July 22, 2022
In the stores where I shop for wine, the shelves have looked a bit less packed than usual with intriguing bottles. I suspect I’m not the only one to notice.
Inflation, delays, supply chain problems — we’ve heard all the reasons goods are more expensive and harder to come by. Wine is subject to all these pressures.
Just the other day an importer told me the lengths he’s gone to assure a supply of wine for later in the year, ordering well in advance of his needs and paying for the wine months ahead of when he can begin to recoup his costs.
The early purchases were necessary, he said, because such a high percentage of wine sales come in the last quarter of the year. But it’s a situation favoring well-financed companies that can afford to lay out cash in advance.
It’s not that wine stores are showing a pronounced scarcity. But as I was shopping for this summer edition of 20 Under $20, I did note fewer new producers and unexpected finds than I had expected.
Instead, I bought a lot of bottles that I have gotten to know over the years. They still are great values, and, as it is summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, this list is heavier on whites and rosés than reds.
Value in wine is often a moving target. A $5 wine can be an abysmal value, and a $100 bottle a great one. Wine pricing is never a straightforward reflection of quality. Supply-and-demand, status and fame, land and labor costs — all these things affect pricing.
Regardless of the formula, it’s been my experience that the greatest concentration of values for wine can be found in the $15-to-$25 range. Does this mean that a $20 bottle will always be better than a $10 bottle? Of course not. But it means that at $20, you have a much greater probability of finding a distinctive, intriguing bottle than you would at $10.
Wines below $10 are that inexpensive generally because of economies of scale. They are farmed and made with industrial methods aimed at quantity over quality. That’s fine if you are looking for no more than an inoffensive alcohol delivery system.
Added cost comes from more conscientious, labor-intensive farming and painstaking winemaking. It comes from smaller production, often family operations, and it comes from vineyards that have something to offer. That is, they are sites chosen because of distinctive qualities transmitted in the wines.
This comes at a price, but it doesn’t have to be exorbitant. Partly, those costs can be kept low by ruling out places famous for great wine. I would be suspicious to see Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon for $15 or a $10 Chablis.
Among these 20 bottles you will find wines from lesser-known districts of France, Italy and the United States, as well as from Greece and Austria, Argentina and Spain, countries that have long traditions of wine but may still be relatively undervalued.
Not every $20 bottle is going to be good. The best way of increasing your odds is to shop at serious wine merchants, which have already done the work of cutting away a lot of mediocre stuff. Chances are, they won’t have all the bottles I’m recommending here, but they might have a few. And they certainly should be able to recommend worthwhile alternatives to the wines they do not have. You can always consult previous 20 Under $20 columns, too, even if some of those prices may have crept up a bit.
Romain Chamiot Savoie Apremont 2020, 11.5 percent, $16.96
I’ve grown to love the white wines of the Savoie, a French region in the foothills of the Alps near the border where France meets Switzerland and Italy. This wine is not complicated. It’s fresh, light and floral, made from the jacquère grape, and just right for a lunch outdoors with a salad, gazpacho or light seafood dish. (Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York)