Tempranillo, garnacha and albariño. You’ve heard these bargain buzzwords whispered before. They’re the Spanish wines already synonymous with good value. But as their popularity continues to rise, they’re slowly disappearing from the bargain category. And finding an enjoyable one priced under $10 has become nearly impossible.
Luckily, there are still a few corners of Spain where you can easily discover pockets of great deals — like the places that grow monastrell. Although not exactly a household name like tempranilllo or garnacha, monastrell is quickly redefining what value means in Spain. Forget the Spanish wines you already know — it’s time for you and your wallet to get acquainted with this native grape.
You probably don’t even need a full introduction to monastrell. In countries outside of Spain, it wears another hat and goes by the better-known alias, mourvèdre. It’s with this different name that monastrell has achieved its greatest fame. The grape is most famously grown in France, where it’s used to make pretty rosés in Provence and powerful Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines in the Rhône Valley, home to the esteemed “GSM” blend. The prominent “M” part of the blend, winemakers in regions all over the world blend mourvèdre with grenache and syrah to make wines that are both juicy and savory.
I am hopeful that Portuguese wines will take off in the United States one day and I eagerly await the meteoric rise of Portugal’s great-value reds, either from a famed region like the Douro Valley or from lesser-known regions such as the Alentejo or Dão or Setúbal. My wait has been very much in the vein of Waiting for Godot, and it has been going on two decades now. I remain patiently optimistic.
I’m always speaking with people who are fixated on a quixotic quest to find that “great bottle under $10.” I often get frustrated with this mythical idea of the under-$10 bottle, because it’s actually so rare to find one that offers quality and drinkability, let alone complexity. I’m almost always advocating that people bump up at least a few bucks into the $12 to $15 range. A $9.99 wine can just as easily offer bad value as a $29.99 wine can.
Portugal, however, is one big exception, one country that actually produces wines under $10 that offer honest-to-goodness value. Which is why their lack of presence in the U.S. continues to surprise me. MORE
Despite the premise of this column, finding a white wine under $10 isn’t all that difficult. Honestly. Plenty of regions make cheap wines: Mass-produced bottles from California line the bottom shelves, there’s enough Italian pinot grigio and Australian chardonnay to last generations of ladies’ nights, and cheap sauvignon blanc is as plentiful as lemonade.
Yes, friends, most of the world’s white wine is inexpensive. Finding interesting white wines on the bargain shelves, however, is another story. It’s a struggle to find the combination together in any aisle, but nowhere is the dilemma more prevalent than in the South African wine section.
If you’ve ever spent time browsing the shelves of zinfandel, you’ve probably noticed the term “old vines” before. It adorns most labels like a stamp of approval, instantly suggesting the notion that the wine inside is better than other bottles. What’s even crazier is that we’re expected to admire and value them like we’re expected to always respect our elders—with no questions asked.
We often believe things improve with age. When cooking, an older cast-iron skillet is far superior to a worn non-stick frying pan. Antiques and collectibles are usually worth more than their shiny new replacements and even sex is rumored to get better with time. Things are no different when it comes to wine. We all know collectors pay outrageous amounts for bottles from legendary vintages. MORE
By now, the secret is out: Everyone knows Spain is a reliable source of good value and high quality wines. Store shelves everywhere are stocked full of them: Crisp, refreshing whites like albariño and big bold reds, as well as sparkling cava that is far cheaper than Champagne.
If you already know a thing or two about red wines from Spain, you’re probably most familiar with tempranillo, the great indigenous Iberian grape. By far the most high-profile Spanish wine in the U.S., tempranillo yields huge and intensely flavored wines, often with a good deal of oak aging. Earthy, rich leather and fresh tobacco leaves are typical aromas of these often-tannic wines. If you’re even more of a wine hipster, you’ve surely sipped some in-the-know reds from Bierzo, Ribeira Sacra, or Priorat. MORE