The Under-$10 Bottle

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The New York Sun

The Holy Grail of wine buying today is the under-$10 bottle. Time was, of course, that the bar was set at under $5, but times change.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem so difficult to find a really good bottle of wine for less than 10 bucks. After all, there’s a newly formed glut of wine from Australia, courtesy of a classic wine economics boom-and-bust cycle of strong demand followed by massive overplanting of vines. It takes three years for vines to bear fruit.This past year saw most of Australia’s new vineyards bearing fruit, creating far more grapes than even the huge Australian wineries can absorb and sell.

A reported 1 billion liters of wine are in storage across Australia. What’s more, thousands of tons of grapes were left unharvested because of unprofitably low prices offered to growers. This wave of cheaper Australian wine has yet to reach our shores, but it surely will. And then there are all of those new vineyards coming online in Chile, Argentina, Romania, South Africa, and countries some of us couldn’t even find on a map.


Nevertheless, the nature of the wine business is such that, by the time you count all of the mercantile fingerprints on a bottle — importer, wholesaler, retailer — it increasingly difficult to find something genuinely fine that limbos under the $10 bar. But it is possible.

The test is taste.The wines listed be low meet the following standard: If didn’t know the price, I would have thought them significantly more expen sive than they are. In one case, a Span ish garnacha, the price is so low that very nearly wriggles under the five buck bar.



CASTILLO DE MONSÉRAN GARNACHA 2004 You may recall reading recently about the collapse of negotiations of a world trade agreement. The vexing issue of farm subsi dies torpedoed the talks. You probably never thought there was anything in it for you. Not so. This delicious bottle of Spanish garnacha or grenache) is your chance to benefit.

One of the fascinations of Spain is the al most incomprehensible amount of wine that the nation produces. We always think, quite rightly, about Italy and France as gushers and guzzlers) of wine. Yet Spain is right up there with them. In fact, it actually has as many, if not more, acres of vines than either France or Spain. But Spain’s yields are low er, often because the vines are older, so its total wine production is less than that France or Italy.

Spain does, however, share in the Euro pean Union’s famously generous farm sub sidies, which benefit growers who sell their grapes to winegrowers’ cooperatives.


Castillo de Monséran is from just such cooperative: Bodegas San Valero, which was founded in 1945 and now has about 60 members. It’s located in the small but awash-with-wine Cariñena district north east of Madrid, which has some 45,000 acres of vines (the same amount as in Napa Valley). Most of these grapes are destined for local winegrowers’ cooperatives.

The interesting twist is that, subsidies or not, these winegrowers’ cooperatives still feel the competitive winds of the world market. Previously lackluster quality standards have, in the last decade, given way to a newly competitive standard.

This helps explain just why Castillo de Monséran Garnacha 2004 is so improbably good. The Cariñena district is recognized as a good spot for growing better-than-average grenache. And like so many other vineyard areas in Spain, these vines are old, which tends to lend character to the grapes.

This is terrific, bursting-with-fruit grenache (the label, by the way, is marketsavvy: It declares both grenache and garnacha). It’s silky red wine that slides down the gullet without a catch and is mercifully free of any oakiness.

Throw a steak on the grill, pop the cork from this bottle, and declare, “Life is good.” Because it is when you can find a wine this good at a price this low: $5.95 a bottle. If there’s a better red for this kind of money on the market right now, I haven’t tasted it. (Note to retailers: the distributor is Opici Wine Company.)

CETAMURA ROSATO “TOSCANA” 2005, COLTIBUONO The hunt for great rosé continues. And the pace has increased markedly with the appearance of this superb rosé (or rosa to, in Italian) from Tuscany.

Composed of a blend of Tuscany’s great native red grapes, sangiovese (80%) and canaiolo (20%), Cetamura Rosato 2005 is the creation of the Stucchi Prinetti family, who own the famous Chianti estate Badia a Coltibuono.

Cetamura wines are made from purchased grapes and wine from various sources, hence the more general designation “Toscana,” or Tuscany. But the Stucchi Prinettis know what they’re doing. This is really lovely rosé and, thanks to the relatively unusual (for American rosé drinkers anyway) use of sangiovese and canaiolo, it’s also a distinctively different rosé.

The hue of this wine is almost like that of an old-fashioned rose, which is to say pink with a faint raspberry cast. Also, there’s a distinctive and pleasing earthy note to the scent. Where most rosés trade on a pure berry scent, here you get a sense of soil allied to the fruit scents of berries, rose petals and a twist of citrus. This is a rosé that can take on substantive foods such as chicken and pork, rather than be confined to the role of a sunset sipper.

With many quality rosés now asking $15 to $20 a bottle, this wine is a standout deal at $9.95.

The New York Sun

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