In a pandemic era, when traveling is largely out of the question, these wines, good values all, can take you on a trip around the globe.
By Eric Asimov
Jan. 28, 2021
Good wine has the power to transport. As we now approach a full year locked in pandemic freeze-frame, with many people largely confined within their national borders, wine still provides an opportunity to taste the world.
In January, shopping digitally at Manhattan wine shops, I selected 20 bottles priced at less than $20, wines that not only offer great value but also convey the flavor of the places that produced them.
These 20 bottles come from 11 countries. Each of the wine regions does things its own way, using different sets of grapes, say, or techniques and sensibilities that have been traditional in its part of the world. Natural conditions — climates and soils, for example — vary as well.
The world is far more homogenized than it used to be. Television, the internet and easy international travel have all seen to that. But some things remain local, even under the pressures of globalization. Good wine is one of them.
Not all wines express the character of a place, however. Plenty of bottles, if not most, are mass-processed. These wines could come from anywhere, as they depend more on interchangeable production techniques than they do on specific places and cultures.
Those sorts of wines are often less expensive as well, as automation and additives are cheaper alternatives to more conscientious, labor-intensive agriculture and winemaking. That’s why I have long contended that the best values in wine fall into the $15-to-$25 range. That’s where many small farmers can work traditionally and still earn enough to sustain their businesses.
This guideline comes with a few qualifications. You will not find wines from areas that are in demand or that are highly esteemed. The cost of doing business in those places shoots up, as does the cost of the wines. In less-exalted wine regions, it’s still possible to find bottles at these prices.
I want to be clear that I am not dealing in absolutes. Some big producers work meticulously, and make excellent wines. Some small producers may work traditionally but are not particularly skillful at what they do. I try a lot of wines that do not make the cut.
It’s also possible to find bottles under $15 that fit my criteria and are wonderful. But the odds of finding such wines go up exponentially in the $15-to-$25 range.
These 20 bottles represent just a cross-section of the kaleidoscopic choices presented to consumers. Other parts of the country, and the world, may offer entirely different selections.
My best advice, if you cannot find these bottles (and few people will be able to find all of them), is to patronize the best wine shop available to you, with a staff dedicated to wine, rather than supermarkets without knowledgeable help. If they don’t have these wines, or those in past 20 Under $20 columns, ask for similar bottles. They may have some great suggestions.
Otherwise, please enjoy these wines and what they represent about their places of origin. Close your eyes, see the world and, if you remember, send me a postcard.
Grosjean Vallée d’Aoste Torrette 2019 $19.96
I’m always intrigued by the wines of the Vallée d’Aoste, a hilly, Alpine region that sits on the border of Italy and France. I especially like those from Grosjean, an excellent organic producer year in and year out. The Torrette is a lively red, with good acidity befitting its high-altitude site, and classic Italian dry red fruit flavors. It’s 80 percent petit rouge, with the remainder made up of other local grapes, like fumin, mayolet and Doucet. If you like this one, look for other Grosjean varietal wines made of the cornalin and fumin grapes. (Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York)
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