Hard Times, Cheap Wines
Even with jobless rates as high as they’ve been in years, some Americans still have money, and some wines still move from the shelf at $700 a bottle, like the Cabernets of Screaming Eagle in the Napa Valley. Some young wineries are even entering the struggling market at price points above $100, like the brave Yarden Rom, an Israeli winery now introducing to the United States a 2006 red blend at the suggested retail price of $160. Madness? Absolutely.
Because wines as complex and food-friendly as the high-priced giants are available – and perfectly adequate for all but those most particular of dinner party guests. In fact, by my eyes, affordable good wines have become even more readily available now that the economy is in a trough and wineries wising up to reality. This is all good news for the Brokeass among us.
Concannon Vineyard, based in the Livermore Valley clearly knows how to do business; the winery was founded in 1883, long before rock star winemakers sold their bottles of juice for the price of a Vegas vacation. Recent releases from Concannon include a 2007 Central Coast Shiraz and a 2009 Central Coast Riesling. Fourth-generation winemaker John Concannon swears they bear “the structure, balance and intensity of wines twice their price point.” They could probably compete with many wines of 10 times their price, the wine business often being a game of name recognition and slick marketing. The Shiraz is smoky and leathery in smell, and it tastes of thick berry jam, dried prunes and juicy ripe fruits, balanced by earthy forest floor. The Riesling, like the best examples of the variety (“varietal,” in case you’re about to correct me, is an adjective), smells and tastes bright and beautiful, of pears, peaches, mango nectar and miscellaneous tropical fruits. A crisp acidity fortifies the wine’s delicate fruit backbone. I tend not to well-versed in white wines, and so I tend not to review them, but I do appreciate a nice Riesling.
Also high in quality and low in price are recent releases from Blackstone Winery in Sonoma. The 2008 Winemaker’s Select Merlot runs $11 and tastes as fruity as it does green – an interesting sort of herbal vegetal character. Some might suggest allowing it to age a year. I personally liked it. The Winemaker’s Select Zinfandel ($12) carries plenty of that sharp pepper and raspberry bite we all love while also bearing softer edged flavors of chocolate, vanilla and tree bark – the latter, I concede, an acquired taste of the trained wine drinker. Indeed, growing to appreciate notes of tree bark can take years. Keep sipping.