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Best buys in value wines

Can a $25 bottle of wine become the star of your wine list? how about a $15 bottle? We think they can. It takes some digging to find wines that you can sell in that price range, so that’s just what we did. And we found plenty that fit the bill. Not just okay wines, but great ones. A lot of them. There are 84 wines here—and each one provides both you and your customers with a quality product at a very good price.

Can a $25 bottle of wine become the star of your wine list? how about a $15 bottle? We think they can.

It takes some digging to find wines that you can sell in that price range, so that’s just what we did. And we found plenty that fit the bill. Not just okay wines, but great ones. A lot of them. There are 84 wines here—and each one provides both you and your customers with a quality product at a very good price. None will cost you more than $10 a bottle; most will run you a lot less.

At The Norton’s, Greg Norton’s restaurant in Bay City, Wisconsin, 30 to 40 percent of wines go for $25 or less. The payoff? People buy more wine. “When customers are surprised at how little our wines cost, we say, ‘If you want to spend the same amount as at some other restaurant, just order two bottles here.’”

And they do. All the time.

You may want to promote your star bottles, those trophies that look oh so prestigious on a list and can bring in a good dollar—if you sell them, that is. But what you really want is to make money off your wine list. And here’s how—by beefing up that $25 or so sweet spot.

It’s not impossible, especially not these days. A proliferation of improved agricultural techniques and modernized equipment all around the world has opened the market to more value wines than ever before.

Here are a few strategies that we used in compiling the wines featured. First and foremost, no wine costs more than $10 wholesale, some came in as low as $3.50. Of course, a value wine is only a value if those good price points are delivered to the restaurant customer. We figured a straight 2.5 times wholesale markup when choosing wines.

We also looked for the unusual—both in varietals and in regions. You won’t find many Cabernets and Chardonnays here. Grapes like Grenache, Viura, Malbec and Tempranillo make some terrific wines at outstanding values. And, while Burgundy, Bordeaux, Piedmont and Napa command all the attention—and big prices—plenty of emerging wine regions deserve attention. Regions like Navarra and Penedes in Spain, the Douro Valley in Portugal, Puglia in Southern Italy, the Western Cape in South Africa and Mendoza in Argentina.

We tried not to be too particular, either. Not in quality, but in appellation. With grapes in high-profile areas like Napa or Barossa in Australia going for such high prices, smart winemakers who can range further afield will source good grapes at good prices. That means better wines in bottles bearing just a “California” or “Southeastern Australia” appellation at a lower price.

Second labels or second vineyards also provide rich opportunities for value hunting. Often winemakers will cull otherwise good juice that just doesn’t make the cut for their top cuvees. Instead they pour it into a secondary label and sell it at a fraction of the price. Vintners, too, often have side projects besides their prestigious vineyards, and wine from those lesser known but well cared for plots can be very good buys indeed.

Like we said, it takes some digging.

Merchandising, of course, is the final piece of the puzzle. All those strange places and odd-sounding grapes mean you have to do a little handholding with customers, at least at the beginning. In the listings, we offer interesting details about the producers, grapes, vineyards or winemaking—details that can be larded throughout your list descriptions or written into scripts or tasting notes for your staff for hand selling. Those little stories can sometimes make or break a sale.

So that’s it. Pick them right, price them right, promote them right. Everybody wins.

How the rating system works

A couple of things are different about our rating system compared with those used in the wine press. First, we didn’t rank wines on a 100-point scale. Rather, we’ve chosen a 1 to 5-point scale, thinking that’s a simpler way to pick out great wines from just okay ones.

More importantly, ours is an overall value rating. It’s designed specifically for restaurateurs who want to introduce real quality—and real value—into the mid-price section of the wine list. In other words, wines are not ranked solely upon taste. We looked for the best restaurant wines, wines that go well with food and that you can make money on by pricing them moderately. Most of our top-scoring wines, in fact, fall into the $7-a-bottle wholesale range.  Wines also gained standing if they had points of interest—striking packages, unusual grapes, well-known winemakers, even stories that might help your servers sell the wines to customers. 

For tasting purposes, our evaluations were divided into 11 sections, largely determined by geographic region. Wines are ranked by a score (5 stars being the highest rating possible) within these categories, and are listed with the producer’s name, appellation, wine name and vintage on one line with the importer or winery, their website and wholesale bottle price on subsequent lines.

In addition to our tasting notes, we also offer background information about the grapes, winemaking techniques and growing regions to flesh out your list descriptions and help hand sell the selections.

How we chose the wines

To find these value wines we followed the same steps that a wine steward or buyer at an average restaurant might take: we looked at under- appreciated wine regions, grape varietals beyond Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot and second-label wines from top producers. Although we tried to avoid the obvious choices—bottles you might already have seen on a competitor’s wine list—all the selections have wide enough distribution that they can be found in most areas.

We purchased all the featured wines from retail shops on the East Coast. For pricing parameters, we calculated the retail tags as an industry standard 1.5 percent of wholesale. Our restaurant markup formula, also an industry standard, was 2.5 times wholesale—so a $10 bottle at wholesale could be sold on a restaurant’s wine list for $25 or so.


Spain

Wine buyers we spoke with uniformly agreed on one thing: today’s best values are coming out of Spain. Many of our top-scoring wines are Spanish, proof that you can find great bottles at good prices—despite the strength of the Euro. Spain’s wine business is undergoing substantial change, and for the better. Once tired and tiny viticultural areas are being revitalized by new blood (often the scions of renowned wine-making families aiming to make their own mark). The younger Spaniards are spending money on new equipment, experimenting with new growing techniques and have even taken risks by marketing non-traditional grape varietals.


Reds

4.5 stars
Artazu, Navarra, Artazuri Tinto 2002
European Cellars (europeancellars.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $8.50

Juan Carlos Lopez de la Calle is one of the hottest winemakers in Spain. You couldn’t serve his famed Riojas even if you could afford them—they’re  totally allocated. But you can get his Artazuri Tinto, made from old-vine Garnacha (Grenache) in the lesser-known region of Navarra. It’s a rich confection of dried fruit like prunes and figs and honey, with a touch of tannin on the finish. It’s the kind of red you could serve with beef, pork and game or a plate of Spanish cheeses.

4.5 stars
Castell del Remei, Costers del Segre,
Gotim Bru 2002
European Cellars (europeancellars.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $8.60

You can tell those who ask that, yes, there is indeed a castle, and you can reassure customers that the wine is made from Cabernet and Merlot—downplaying the odd Ull de Llebre grape. That it’s matured in American oak barrels might also be comforting. But what will really sell this wine is the potpourri of lilacs and rosemary in the bouquet and the rich berry fruit that goes down smooth.

4 stars
Bodegas Concavins, Proyecto 4 2000
Cabernet Corp. (cabernetcorp.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $7

Four is the magic number for this grand project: four grapes (Cabernet, Tempranillo, Mourvedre and Grenache) from four somewhat-obscure regions on the Mediterranean (Conca De Barbera, Tarragona, Jumilla and Terra Alta) and four months aging in French and American oak. The finished
project tastes of chocolate and blackberries with a hint of licorice and a firm tannin structure. The number 4 also makes it easy for customers to remember the next time they order.

3.5 stars
Borsao, Campo de Borja 2003
Tempranillo Inc. (jorgeordonez.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $5.30

Say that the tiny region of Campo de Borja is right next door to famed Rioja. Say that it’s like a fraction of the price. Although the wine is mostly Garnacha there’s a touch of Spain’s most-grown grape, Tempranillo. For such an inexpensive wine, it’s stuffed with berries, prunes, currants and herbs. Made in Spain, it’s a match for Mexican food.

3.5 stars
Almira, Campo de Borja, Los Dos 2004
Winebow (winebow.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $4.60

Los Dos (2) is another number to remember. It refers to the two grapes, mostly Grenache with a drop of Syrah, which make up this fine wine. The tiny Campo de Borja region is just below the Garnacha capital of Navarra and shares many of its qualities. Although it sees no oak, this red is complex, with a nose of lilacs and tar, and lemon, floral notes and tannin in the mouth. That’s two to remember.

3 stars
Vina Alarba, Catalunya,
Grenache Old Vines 2004

Tempranillo Inc. (jorgeordonez.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $5.50

When these guys say old vines, they mean old. These Grenache grapes are harvested from plants that are a minimum of 50 years old. The age of the vines shows in the herb and tobacco notes in the nose. On the palate there’s brambly blackberries, licorice, thyme and tobacco. Serve this old-vines wine with something young, like burgers or pizza.

1.5 stars
Bodegas Olivares,
Jumilla, Panarroz 2004

Hand Picked Selections (winemerchant.net)
Wholesale bottle price: $5.90

The fact that the grapes for this wine, Monastrell, are more familiarly known as Mourvedre, probably won’t be that comforting to customers as they likely aren’t that familiar with Mourvedre either. Nor is Jumilla that well known—yet; it promises to be a source of great reds in the near future. This example has a ways to go, but it’s a decent wine at a very fair price.


Whites

3.5 stars
Osborne, Viura, Solaz 2004
W.J. Deutsch & Sons (wjdeutsch.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $5.35

Osborne is one of Spain’s biggest and oldest (established in 1772) producers–and the best known, thanks to its black bull icon that appears on billboards all over that country, as well as on the label of this bottle. With all its resources to draw upon, it’s not surprising that this is a well-made wine at a great price. The Viura grape produces a lemony pineapple white whose slight sweetness is counterbalanced by a pleasant briney note. That briney accent means it would go well with seafood.

3.5 stars
Naia, Rueda, Verdejo 2004
Tempranillo Inc. (jorgeordonez.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $9.50

Customers will appreciate the pretty package: abstract orange patterns on the label and capsule. Rueda is a small but important white wine-growing region in north-central Spain, land of medieval villages and ancient castles. The delicious nose is forward and fruity, tropical aromas of banana and papaya. Bright lemony acid means a very food-friendly wine, especially with seafood.

3.5 stars
Las Brisas, Rueda 2004
Tempranillo Inc. (jorgeordonez.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $7.80

Translate Brisas as “breezes.” This breezy blend is made from Verdejo, Sauvignon Blanc and Viura grapes. Maybe that’s why the bouquet, though tropical, is more subdued, with mineral notes. In the mouth, it’s floral with a slight spritz and pleasing bitter finish. Serve it at the raw bar with briney oysters and shellfish.


Italy

Italy isn’t just a country, it’s one big vineyard producing tons of wines. We chose a lot of wines from Italy, in part because it exports the most selections to choose from, and also because it’s the country your patrons are most likely familiar with. Chianti, Soave, Valpolicella are all names customers have seen on red-checked tablecloths and retail shelves. Italian winemakers have also been quick to adapt international grapes—and, more importantly, display them prominently on labels.


Reds

4 stars
Bersano, Barbera d’Asti, Costalunga 2002
Five Star Importers (5starimporters.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $7.90

Piedmont, where this wine is from, is famous for its powerful–and expensive–Barolo and Barbaresco. But the bright and light Barbera grape also grows there, and Asti is a prime growing area. Its juicy raspberry is easier to swallow than those tannic monsters that need aging. The splash of berries is complemented by fresh figs, cedar and tobacco, thanks to a bit of bottle aging, and will stand up to most hearty dishes.

4 stars
Tiziano Chianti 2003
William Grant & Sons (grantusa.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.60

Explain that this is an entry-level Chianti, but tastes as good as much loftier Chiantis. The Chianti region in Tuscany is divided into seven sub-regions, of which Chianti Classico is justly the most famous. With a generic Chianti label, grapes for this wine could come from any of those seven areas–or a blend of several–and this is another case where freedom to pick and choose from a variety of grape sources is a real plus. This Sangiovese-based wine has a nose redolent of berries, toast, nuts, plums and eucalyptus. It tastes of flowers, plums and chocolate, and will impress customers with its complex flavors.

3.5 stars
Zenato Valpolicella Superiore 2001
Winebow (winebow.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $8.50

Valpolicella is the Italian wine customers know well, mainly because the northern Veneto region pumps out buckets of the stuff. This example, made mostly from Corvina grapes, is excellent. Stainless steel fermentation followed by six to eight months of barrel aging give it velvety smoothness and structure. The nose is cherries and chocolate, with plenty of cherry, citrus and almonds in the mouth. Plenty of acid and tannins on the finish; pair with red sauce or meats.

3.5 stars
Cantele, Salento, Primativo 2003
Vias Imports (viaswine.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $7.85

The jury is still out on whether Primativo and Zinfandel are the same grape–or even related; still, it’s a good selling point to customers. Salento in Puglia is flanked by the Ionian and Adriatic seas, whose breezy influences moderate the hot, dry climate usual in southern Italy. Primativo is a rough and rustic grape but it’s tamed here: with an intense aroma of violets, this wine is smooth, with cherry and chocolate notes and warm spices. Would marry well with most Italian dishes, even chocolate desserts.

3.5 stars
Fattoria di Lucignano, Chianti,
Colli Fiorentini 2003

Vintner Select (800-597-1491)
Wholesale bottle price: $7.85

Colli Fiorentini, or “hill of Florence,” is just on the edge of the renowned Classico area, and this wine is very close to that quality. It’s made with 80 percent Sangiovese plus 10 percent Canaiolo and other grapes depending upon vintage. It’s velvety smooth, full of raspberries, flowers and figs. The medium-bodied wine has plenty of tannins to stand up to Italian meat sauces and pastas.

3 stars
Villa di Campobello, Chianti 2003
Opici Import Co. (opici.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.30

Here’s another wine sporting just a Chianti label, but with quality favorable to more favored areas. It’s got a meaty nose, and lots of fruit and a touch of tobacco on the palate, which is backed by acid, making it a good wine for food.

3 stars
Michele Chiarlo, Barbera d’Asti, Le Orme 2003
Kobrand Corp. (kobrandwine.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $8.50

The talking point here is that Chiarlo is a top producer of pricey Barolos and his expertise also shows in this wine. It also comes from the famed Asti region, grown on southern-exposure vineyards for optimum ripeness. Cherry and vanilla (from barrel aging) are balanced by a pleasing bitterness and tasty acid, which also makes this wine very food-friendly.

2.5 stars
Feudi di San Gregorio, Campania, Rubrato 2002
Palm Bay Imports (palmbay.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $10

Aglianico is another grape your customers have probably never heard of. It makes some tasty wines, ready to tackle zesty red sauces or hearty red meats. In southern Italy, the Aglianico grape makes black-hued big reds with chocolate and tarry notes. This example has a sweet and balanced bouquet full of jam and cinnamon. On the palate, the wine is a complex sensation of berries, cocoa and herbs.

2 stars
Librandi, Calabria, Rosso Ciro 2002
Winebow (winebow.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $7.60

This red comes from Calabria, at the “toe” of the Italian “boot.” It’s made from 100 percent Gaglioppo. Stainless steel fermentation with no oak makes a light-bodied but fruity wine with a firm tannic grip. It smells of currants and herbs and tastes of cherries.


Whites

4 stars
Botromagno Gravina 2003
Winebow (winebow)
Wholesale bottle price: $8

This comes from Puglia, which is the “heel” of the Italian “boot”–and a hot area for wine bargains. It’s made from 60 percent Greco and 40 percent Malvasia grapes, which undergo an additional malolactic fermentation to tame the acid and add a buttery quality that Americans love. The rich nose is floral. It tastes of peaches and smokey almonds with a bit of minerals. This wine would go well with seafood.

3.5 stars
Zenato, San Benedetto, Lugana 2003
Winebow (winebow.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $10

Made from 100 percent Trebbiano di Lugana grapes grown near Venice, this wine was fermented in stainless steel to retain acidity and forgo any oak. Some bottle age before release enhances complexity. Chockfull of tropical fruit and lychees, with plenty of acidity and a long finish. Full-bodied, will work with peasanty chicken dishes, even red-sauced pastas.

3.5 stars
Feudo Arancio, Grillo, Sicily 2004
Prestige Wine Imports (prestigewineimports.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $5.50

After decades of pumping out so-so wine, producers on the island of Sicily are showing their quality. Grillo is a local varietal, which here displays a lively nose of honey and lemon. The full-bodied wine tastes of flowers, apricots and more honey. It may take a bit of explaining, but once diners deign to try this white, they’ll never go back to plain old Pinot Grigio.
 
2.5 stars
Stella, Umbria, Pinot Grigio 2004
Winebow (winebow.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $5.90

Smack in the middle of the “boot,” wines from Umbria are undervalued. This Pinot Grigio is fermented in stainless steel and given three months of aging for a bit of complexity. It’s a rounded, medium-bodied white with citrusy flavors and mineral finish.

2.5 stars
Tenuta Ca’Bolani, Friuli Aquileta,
Pinot Grigio 2004

Wine Wave (winewave.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $8

The grape is known elsewhere as Pinot Gris. This wine is from the Friuli region in the north and has been fermented in stainless to preserve fruitiness. There’s citrus in the bouquet and lemon and apples in the mouth. Pair with seafood or Asian dishes.

2 stars
Santa Maria la Palma, Vermentino di Sardegna, Aragosta 2004
Frederick Wildman & Sons (frederickwildman.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $7.85

From Sardinia and made of 100 percent Vermentino. The nose is briny, with tropical fruits, the taste a mostly minerally quaff that tastes of kiwi. The wine would go well with seafood, like the lobster that’s
on the label.


France

Americans, even sophisticated ones, think French when they think of fine wine–and they want to order it at restaurants. How do you accommodate them on a budget? Despite the sky-high prices of Burgundies and Bordeaux, it is possible to find value in France, even downright bargains. One strategy is to look to under-hyped regions, like the Loire Valley, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence and the southern Rhone. The other value-winnowing tactic is to seek out second and even third labels of those regions’ top producers.

Reds

4 stars
Perrin, Cotes du Rhone, Reserve 2003
Vineyard Brands (vineyardbrands.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $7.90

Perrin may be best known for its legendary Chateauneuf du Pape, Chateau Beaucastel, but this Rhone blend contains many of the same varietals at a fraction of the cost, specifically: 60 percent Grenache, 20 percent Syrah, 10 percent Mourvedre and 10 percent Cinsault. The nose is a rich mix of plums and prunes, violets and cassis. On the palate are juicy dark red fruits, licorice and well-integrated tannins.

3.5 stars
M. Chapoutier, Cotes du Rhone, Belleruche 2003
Paterno Wines (paternowines.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $8.60

M. Chapoutier is a real Rhone Ranger, ranging all over the region, making great wines in virtually all appellations and price points. This 50/50 Syrah Grenache combo has a luscious bouquet of plums, olives and flowers. In the mouth, there’s plenty of berries, chocolate and drying tannins on the long finish. The classy label, embossed with Braille characters, will impress even the wine snob at the table.

3 stars
Le Pigeoulet en Provence,
Vin de Pays de Vaucluse 2004

Kermit Lynch (kermitlynch.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $10

The Brunier family is more notable for its renowned Chateauneuf du Pape, Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe, but this vin de pays, or “country wine,” is well made—from many of the same grapes. A soft bouquet features berry aromas accented by cocoa. Bright raspberry flavors fill the mouth.


Whites

3 stars
Domaine Pichot, Vouvray 2004
Vineyard Brands (vineyardbrands.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $8.60

Made in the Loire Valley, Vouvray is 100 percent Chenin Blanc, a varietal that does not have much of a reputation in the United States, but in this part of France it can ascend to greatness—both in quality and value. This white is pale green-gold. Pineapple aromas contain a pleasant brininess. The fruity litchee sweetness is nicely balanced by lemony acidity and gives the wine rich body. Once customers try a Chenin Blanc this good, they’ll be converts because it works so well with so many foods.

2.5 stars
Jolivet, Sauvignon Blanc, Attitude 2004
Frederick Wildman & Sons (frederickwildman.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $10

Pascal Jolivet is a specialist in Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, both great expressions of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. And his value wine, also from the Loire Valley, has plenty of attitude. The
floral-lemon bouquet also smells of the earth. Although it’s dry, big fruit gives an impression of sweetness balanced by lots of acid, traces of lemon and flowers. It would work well with fish and chicken dishes.

2.5 stars
Jean-Luc Colombo, Vin de Pays D’Oc, La Violette 2003
Palm Bay Imports (palmbayimports.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $9.50

Jean-Luc Colombo is an accomplished Rhone producer. This wine is made in the Languedoc region–a great place to look for good values–of 100 percent Viognier. The rich gold-colored wine gives off aromas of peaches, nutmeg and apricots. It tastes rich and spicy, too, with those apricots and peaches balanced by high acid.


United States

Every state in the union makes some sort of wine. Here we focus on the top two wine states– California and Washington. One big plus for buying American is that payment is in U.S. dollars, not Euros, which gives you more bang for your bucks.

Over 90 percent of the wine produced in America is made in California so there’s plenty to pick from. Here you can find big and bold bottles or restrained and elegant pours–to suit your menu and clientele. The state’s balmy climate is generally consistent from year to year, so if you find a wine you like, don’t worry about the vintage.
Napa and Sonoma are leading appellations, of course, and justly expensive. However, some of the best values are to be found under the generic California appellation, which allows savvy winemakers to range all over the vast and varied state and buy quality-yet-inexpensive grapes.

Despite a rainy reputation, Washington State makes some great wines–east of the Cascades where the near-desert land is eminently suitable for growing many types of grapes. With 350-plus wineries and over 30,000 acres under cultivation, it’s the second-largest producer of premium wine. In recent years, Washington has cultivated a reputation for producing world-class reds from Merlot and Cabernet. All that quality filters down into the bargain bin with some outstanding values.

California Reds

3 stars
Ray’s Station, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma 2001
(raysstation.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $8.60

Cabernet Sauvignon is California’s most successful varietal, and this example from Sonoma’s Alexander Valley is typical with a berry nose mingled with chocolate and rosemary. It’s stuffed with blackberries, firmed up by plenty of tannins. This Cab could wrestle with a steak or any hearty dish.

3 stars
Estrella, Pinot Noir,
Proprietor’s Reserve 2002

Bronco Wine Co. (209-538-3131)
Wholesale bottle price: $3.50

You have to have at least one Pinot Noir on your list. Why? One word: “Sideways.” That wine-touting movie has single-handedly driven the sales of the varietal by as much as 16 percent–and the phenomenon shows no signs of abating. This one’s a good example at an incredible price. The bouquet is a complex mix of dark fruits, slate and violets. In the mouth, the wine is a pleasant burst of cherries and strawberries with a touch of eucalyptus. This switch hitter will pair with both seafood and meat dishes.

2.5 stars
Camelot, Pinot Noir 2003
(camelotwines.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $5.15

Pinot Noir is notoriously difficult to grow and, as “Sideways” snob Miles discovered, a good one is hard to find. At the price points we’re considering, it’s darn near impossible. This one won’t fool a Burgundy lover, but it’s pretty good. Aging in French and American oak barrels has given this wine firm structure and pronounced vanillin notes. Strawberry is the major chord, with herbal accents. And the price is very right.

2.5 stars
Ray’s Station, Sonoma,
Merlot 2001

(raysstation.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $9.50

Merlot is still a hot request, and if you’ve got to stock one, it might as well be this one. These Sonoma-grown grapes won’t disappoint: the wine is not soft and flabby, but well structured and bursting with plums, licorice and leather. You could serve it before and during dinner.

2 stars
Four Vines, Zinfandel,
Old Vine Cuvee 2003

(fourvines.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $7.30

With nearly 15 percent alcohol, this Zin is big and bold, but a bit obvious. It has jammy fruit with briney notes. It needs to be paired with foods equally bold, such as barbecue or chili. As the California appellation indicates, grapes for this wine were gathered from five different regions, from Amador to Lodi. It’s prime for prime rib, porterhouse or sirloin.


California Whites

3.5 stars
Rock Rabbit, Central Coast, Sauvignon Blanc 2004
(rockrabbitwinery.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $9

This Sauvignon Blanc tastes like the grape should, with the characteristic hay/freshly cut grass on the nose and in the glass–instead of some insipid over-oaked Chardonnay clone. Refreshing grapefruit and melon flavors are given punch by a healthy dose of acid. A dash of the Gewurztraminer grape adds a dollop of fruitiness. Plus, the rockin’ rabbit logo is an attractive, eye-catching label.

2.5 stars
Twin Fin, Pinot Grigio,
California 2004

(twinfinwines.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $7

This screwtop bottle has a very cool, very Californian label featuring a big-finned auto and surfboard. The grapes, for this vintage anyway, were sourced from the northern San Joaquin Valley and Monterey County and fermented in 100 percent stainless steel. The wine has a keen peachy color, and an apricot floral bouquet. It’s packed with flavors of lemon, almonds and pineapple, nicely balanced by acidity. The package is perfect for a beachfront property.

2 stars
Benziger, Carneros, Chardonnay 2003
(benziger.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $9.95

The Benziger family has been making wine for two decades and its portfolio includes some highly rated bottles. This Chard is its value label but still made with the same technical expertise. The wine was aged in American and French oak barrels, lending a pleasant oakiness layered with butter and vanilla. It’s a big wine, full-bodied, with butterscotch accented with nutmeg.

Washington Reds

3.5 stars
Hedges Cellars, Columbia Valley, CMS 2002
(hedgescellars.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $8.60

Explain to interested parties that CMS refers to the grapes in the blend–57 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 36 percent Merlot and 5 percent Syrah (oh yeah, there’s 2 percent Cabernet Franc in there, but it didn’t fit the neat CMS idea). You could also explain that because of its northerly location, Washington gets a couple of hours more sunlight than California, which helps to ripen grapes fully. This ripe wine has an earthy nose, with raspberries and chocolate colored by cedar accents.

3 stars
Hogue, Columbia Valley,
Cabernet Merlot 2002

(hoguecellars.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.60

This is a wine for standard Merlot lovers–it’s rich, full-bodied and goes down real smooth. The Cab adds firm tannins for structure. The inky purple wine smells of violets and tastes of blueberries, with a citrusy acid edge. Unlike straight Merlots, this blend is food-friendly and works well with steaks and burgers.

3 stars
Magnificent Wine Co.,
House Wine 2004

(magnificentwine.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $7.30

Cool name. Cool black & white label that looks homemade. This Columbia Valley blend of 70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Merlot and 5 percent Syrah could be the perfect restaurant house wine. The earthy nose is full of blackberries. It tastes of berries and chocolate, with a pleasant tannic edge, which means it can handle any hearty dish.

Washington Whites

4 stars
Snoqualmie Vineyards, Columbia Valley,
Sauvignon Blanc 2004

(snoqualmie.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $5.50

Layered over floral and melon aromas is the fresh-mown hay scent typical of this varietal. There’s also that herbaceous quality in the mouth as well as ripe peach, fig and tropical fruit flavors. Bright lemon acidity makes it very food-friendly.

3.5 stars
Hedges Cellars, Columbia Valley, CMS 2004
(hedgescellars.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $8.60

This full-bodied white blends Chardonnay (54 percent), Marsanne (2 percent) and Sauvignon Blanc (44 percent)–hence the CMS moniker–into a complex and well-balanced wine. The delicate nose exhibits lychees and lilies. Its rich and smooth character lets it stand up to spicy Mexican or Asian dishes.

3 stars
Covey Run, Sauvignon Blanc 2003
(coveyrun.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.30

Although the bulk of this wine was fermented in stainless steel, a portion was given oak treatment to add creaminess, and some Semillon and Chenin Blanc was blended in for a touch of floral sweetness. A minerally quality gives interest to a nose of peaches and flowers. Rich melon and fig flavors are nicely balanced by acid. It’s another great food wine, good with cream or cheese sauces, chicken or fish.

2 stars
Duck Pond Cellars, Colombia Valley,
Chardonnay 2002

(duckpondcellars.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.30

The sunflower color tips you off as to the bold style of this wine, made more like many of its Californian cousins. The big nose features plenty of oaky vanilla and butter. On the palate, burnt sugar balances all that oak. This Chard will please customers accustomed to the California versions, as will the portrait of a blue-winged teal on the handsome label.

South America

There’s another revolution in South America, a peaceful one, the only red flowing is wine. The first coup was in Chile, which has reinvented its wine industry, orienting itself towards exports, both in the bargain bin and the luxury line. Now Chile is a shining wine star in the Southern Hemisphere, attracting investment from foreign producers, notably from Bordeaux and the Napa Valley. Looking for these foreign influences is one way to find reliable Chilean wines.

Argentina is taking its cue from Chile but the fifth-largest wine-producing country still has a bit farther to go. The country has two cards up its sleeve: the unusual but tasty varietals Malbec and Torrontes. Malbec was imported from France, where it’s a Bordeaux blending grape; in Argentina it’s often the star in big, bold reds. Unique to Argentina and Uruguay, Torrontes produces a food-friendly white with floral notes and lots of grapefruity flavor. Prices in Argentina are still generally cheaper than neighboring Chile.

Tiny Uruguay might be the next revolutionary in South America. Although we didn’t review any in this issue, its unique Tannat grape makes some intriguing big reds.

Reds

4 stars
Calina, Maule Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenere, Reserve, Chile 2001
Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates (calina.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.80

Customers who customarily order Kendall-Jackson Cabs could be easily talked into trying this
Cab-Carmenere (60/40) blend made from K-J’s
Chilean estate. The beautiful inky-dark wine tastes like blackberries, plums and vanilla overlaid with violets and tobacco. It’s smooth with a long finish of pleasantly drying tannins. This well-made wine is big enough to accompany steaks, barbecue and burgers.

3.5 stars
2 Brothers, Colchagua,
Big Tattoo Red, Chile 2003

Billington Imports (billingtonwines.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $7

Tell them it’s for a good cause. The two brothers are really brothers. They donate 50 cents from every bottle sale to breast cancer research in memory of their late mother. The tattoo label is pretty cool, too. Made from a 50/50 Syrah/ Cabernet Sauvignon blend, the wine tastes of cedary blackberries spiced with cloves. Tastes good and it’s a good cause.

3.5 stars
Vina Montes, Colchagua, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Chile 2004
T.G.I.C. Imports (818-386-4606)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.25

Aurelio Montes is a busy guy. Besides his winery, founded in 1988, he consults for a number of top Chilean producers. He’s a cutting-edge winemaker, taking advantage of modern techniques and equipment but acute to the demands of terroir, a feeling for his homeland, especially the shoulders of the Andes where Montes wines are grown. This bottle from his second tier is full of soft ripe fruit, raspberries accented by cinnamon. It gets structure and firm tannins from American oak. American consumers will appreciate the wine’s international style.

3 stars
Altos Las Hormigas, Mendoza, Malbec,
Argentina 2004

Michael Skurnik (skurnikwines.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.60

Hormigas are “ants,” the only insects hardy enough to survive in the high-altitude vineyards, and maybe an indication of how hard they work to create this tasty and typical Malbec. A complex bouquet layers bright berry fruit with violets, cedar and rosemary. It’s a smooth, full-bodied wine with more violets and cocoa and just enough tannin for structure and the promise of age-worthiness. This Malbec is the perfect pairing for Argentinean or any other kind of beef.

2.5 stars
High Altitude Malbec-Cabernet Sauvignon, Argentina 2004
Pasternak Wine Imports (pasternakwine.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.30

As the name suggests, grapes for this 65/35 blend were grown at high altitude (3,100 ft.) in the mountainous Mendoza district. Cool nights allow the grapes to fully ripen, when they are picked by hand because the terrain is too steep for mechanized harvesters. The chocolate-and-cherry-tasting wine has lots of tannins with tobacco on the finish. This light-bodied red would work well with the Italian dishes Argentina is famous for.

2 stars
Enrique Foster, Malbec, Mendoza, Ique, Argentina 2004
Signature Imports (signatureimports.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $7.30

With its dark hue and earthy nose, this is an old school version of Malbec; rough-edged blackberries with cedar and tobacco notes. There’s a considerable amount of tannins, especially on the finish.


Whites

4 stars
Tittarelli, Mendoza, Torrontes, Reserve,
Argentina 2005

Don Cano Wines (doncanowines.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.60

Torrontes is a distinctive grape that flourishes in Argentina. Tell customers they have to try it to believe it. People who like fruity, floral wines will love Torrontes. It’s a round, full-bodied white, chockfull of grapefruit and mandarin orange flavors, with a slightly bitter edge that adds complexity. It might be hard to match this wine to food, but it would be a perfect aperitif, and go well with some spicy dishes, perhaps even dessert.

4 stars
Veramonte, Casablanca Valley,
Sauvignon Blanc, Chile 2005

Franciscan Estate Selections (cbrands.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.60

Here’s a “green” wine–the company contributes a portion of its profits toward preserving the wild lands of Chile, a laudable project that your customers might be interested in contributing to. This well-made white comes from a state-of-the-art winery opened in 1998. An interesting bouquet mixes the traditional herbaceousness of Sauvignon Blanc with tropical fruits like banana and pineapple. It’s a tropical fruit bomb on the palate, too, nicely balanced by minerals. It would go with beans & rice and fried plantains, or just about any Latin dish.

2.5 stars
Familia Rutini, Tupungato, Trumpeter Chardonnay, Argentina 2004
Billington Imports (billingtonwines.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.60

Established in Argentina in the 19th century, the old-world (Italian) Rutini family has crafted this white in a new world style, fermenting both in stainless steel to emphasize fruit and oak barrels for roundness. Vanilla on the nose announces the creamy body and oaky pear-apple and tropical fruit flavors that will be familiar to regular drinkers of California Chards.


South Africa

The wines of South Africa have suffered along with the country’s tumultuous history. It’s still climbing out of the shadow of apartheid. The viticulture industry, though, has a long history, and its products–so far, anyway–aren’t clones of the global fashion but have a style of their own.

This region, ranked the ninth biggest producer, was often mentioned by wine directors as a promising area for bargains, and these picks certainly demonstrate that.

South Africa grows a full complement of red grapes, notably Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Pinot Noir. But also check out Pinotage, a grape that’s a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut; unique to the country, it makes fruity yet age-worthy reds. Chenin Blanc (here called Steen), Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are South Africa’s most important white grapes.


Reds

4 stars
Excelsior, Shiraz, Paddock 2004
Cape Classics (capeclassics.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $8

The DeWets have been making wine here since 1697, and the lime-soil vineyard was once a paddock, or corral for horses–hence the intriguing name. This big red has a big nose of blackberry, cedar, cocoa and burnt sugar. Burnt sugar is also found in the taste, underlying lots of bright berry flavors and tobacco on the finish. A touch of tannin gives this full-bodied wine structure and age-worthiness. Prime rib, steak, all sorts of hearty dishes would fit the bill here.

3.5 stars
Graham Beck, Cabernet Sauvignon,
Railroad Red Reserve 2003

GBW, llc. (grahambeckwines.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $7

Railroad Red Reserve is a catchy name that should catch customers’ attention. This wine has a nose full of berries, violets and chocolate. That chocolate, bittersweet, is also found in the taste along with raspberries and a bit of tannin. This red would work well with red meats, strong cheeses, and even, I think, chocolate desserts.

3 stars
KWV, Western Cape,
Roodeberg 2003

57 Main Street Imports (57mainstreet.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $7.90

Here’s a little language lesson: “roodeberg” means red mountain in Afrikaans, and maybe that’s why this wine is such a bright crimson color. KWV makes a number of value wines in both white and red but this four-grape Bordeaux-style blend is its flagship. This red features aromas of plums and cedar. Violets and tobacco add interest to berry fruit.


Whites

3 stars
Indaba, Chenin Blanc 2004
Cape Classics (capeclassics.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.00

Tell diners that Indaba is a Zulu word for cooperation and sharing ideas. Then share with them the idea that sales from this wine fund an Indaba scholarship to open doors to a new generation of South African winemakers. Once they try this round wine of bananas, pineapple and litchees with a honied finish, they’ll be sold.

3 stars
Man Vintners, Sauvignon Blanc 2005
Vineyard Brands (vineyardbrands.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $8.00

Here’s the story: three buddies got together to make this wine, and to placate their “wine widow” wives, they named the final product after them, taking a letter from each woman’s first name– Marie, Anette and Nicky. The neon-blue screwtop’s pretty cool, too, as is the “man” icon holding a grape on the label. The wine itself has that grassy nose typical of Sauvignon Blanc and tastes of tropical fruits and herbs.

2 stars
Southern Right Cellars,
Sauvignon Blanc 2004

Vineyard Brands (vineyardbrands.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $8

Everybody loves whales, and who wouldn’t want to help out the world’s largest mammals? This vineyard is just three kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean where Southern Right Whales often gather, and the winery contributes a portion of every bottle sold to conservation efforts–a good talking point when hand-selling. The wine features rich vanilla and butterscotch aromas with none of the herbaceousness typical of the Sauvignon Blanc grape, and the wine tastes of grapefruit. It could use a bit more acid.


Portugal

To most of your diners, Portugal means Port. That’s because the glories of that rich, fortified wine have long eclipsed Portuguese table wines. But that’s changing–and fast. These underrated and undervalued wines are made from blends of that small country’s over 200 varietals–most of them as-yet unknown to American consumers. Modern equipment and techniques have made a world of difference over the past few decades in vineyards that have been making wine for centuries.

Some prestigious Port houses have also gotten into the picture; the Douro Valley, home to Port, is an important table-wine region. Other areas to look for bargains are Minho (where the famous vinho verdes are made), Dao, Bairrada and Alentejo. The Portuguese are said to eat more seafood than any European country; probably that’s why virtually all these wines–both red and white–go well with fish dishes.


Reds

4 stars
Ramos Pinto, Douro,
Duas Quintas 2001

Maisons Marques & Domains USA (mmdusa.net)
Wholesale bottle price: $7

This brand might already be familiar to your customers because Ramos Pinto is a respected Port house, established way back in 1880. Port comes from the Douro River Valley, where this fine wine comes from and it’s made from the same grapes (60 percent Tinta Roriz and 40 percent Touriga Nacional) from two (“duas”) vineyards (“quintas”)–Ervamoira and Dos Bon Ares. The dense purple wine has a full bouquet of cedar, lilacs and blueberries. Like Port, it’s velvety smooth, tasting of plums and other dark fruits, with a tannic finish.

3 stars
Quinta de Ventozelo, Douro,
Cister da Ribeira 2000

Supreme Wines & Spirits (646-452-5657)
Wholesale bottle price: $6

According to legend, this wine was first made by Cistercian monks back in the 13th century–which is a great story to lure diners into trying this delicious wine, also from the Port region. Made from Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roiz, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Barroca grapes, it’s a bright cherry red, with a bouquet of olives, violets and licorice. Cherries are a big part of its flavor, with currants and a healthy dose of tannins and lively acidity. As those Cistercian monks would tell you, this wine would marry well with aged cheeses as well as pastas and light meat dishes.


Whites

4 stars
Jose Maria da Fonseca, Terres do Sado, Vinhos Joao Pires 2003
Signature Imports (signatureimports.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $8.60

Jose Maria da Fonseca is one of Portugal’s largest producers with a wide-ranging portfolio, but it’s best known in this country for Lancers. However, this is not your father’s Portuguese quaff. This pale gold-hued white, made from the Muscat grape, offers a complex bouquet of honey, lemon, rosemary and vanilla. On the palate is rosemary as well, with grapefruit and minerals. This delicious full-bodied wine has a long finish.

3 stars
Arca Nova, Vinho Verde 2004
Frontier Wine Imports (frontierwineimports.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $4

You can see it in the glass. The verde refers to the wine’s color, as well as the idea that Vinho Verdes should be drunk young when they’re fresh. Made from a blend of Loureiro and Pederna grapes, a brininess overlays the scent of cantaloupe on the nose. The taste is refreshing green apples and plenty of acid with a minerally touch on the finish. This wine would work well with any seafood dish.

2.5 stars
Aveleda Casal Garcia,
Vinho Verde 2005

Tri-Vin Imports (tri-vin.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $4.50

This striking slender blue-glass bottle’s label graphically features the delicate lace that Portugal is famous for. The wine is delicate too, a bouquet of roses and lemon. Made from a blend of Trajadura, Loureiro, Arinto and Azal grapes, the clean, light-bodied wine exhibits a typical spritz in the mouth and grapefruit flavors. Of course it pairs perfectly with Iberian dishes, but try serving this wine with Asian foods as well.

Australia

The Land Down Under has been a source for inexpensive wines for over a decade. Your customers are probably familiar with brands like Yellow Tail, Rosemount and Black Swan, so try some of these less familiar labels that still deliver that jammy flavor they love in Aussie reds. And Australia also makes gallons of good Chardonnays in the global style that won’t disappoint customers accustomed to ones from California.

Reds

3 stars
Cockatoo Ridge, South Australia, Cabernet-Merlot 2002
Davies & Company (davieswine.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $5

This ought to captivate Cabernet lovers (it’s 80 percent Cab) as well as those who favor Merlot. It’s an inky purple and has a berry nose overlaid with green olives and violets. The wine has that typical jammy fruit with chocolate and grape notes. Besides the usual red meat suggestions, this might be nice with cheese–or even dessert.
 
2 stars
Buckeley’s, South Australia, Cabernet-Shiraz 2002
Click Imports (clickimports.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.60

Maybe you can’t tell a wine by its label, but you might be able to catch some attention with this striking image of birds on a wire. Aged 10 months in French oak, this blend is a lively crimson in the glass with aromas of cherry, berry and vanilla–from the oak. There’s less fruit in the mouth, but with cinnamon/clove notes, and it’s light in body but with acid on the finish that made it go well with the lasagne I tasted it with. That’s because the Cabernet gives the wine structure to balance the jammy fruit of the Shiraz.

2 stars
Wishing Tree, Shiraz 2004
USA Wine West (usawinewest.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.60

Servers won’t have to wrestle with the cork–this Aussie’s got a screwtop. This garnet-colored wine had a green veggie-asparagus in the aroma with berry underneath. Jam was the major note in flavor with hints of cocoa. But it also had an unfortunate Concord
grape flavor.


Whites

4.5 stars
McWilliam’s Southeastern Australia Riesling, Hanwood Estate 2004
McWilliam’s Hanwood Estate (mcwilliamswines.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $7.35

Riesling isn’t a varietal that’s thought of as an Australian grape, but they make some good ones Down Under. This is a great example, which could stand comparison to German Rieslings. It’s got a bouquet of flowers and gravel. The taste is steely and austere, with a complex lemon-apple flavor. Like its German cousins, this is a great food wine at a reasonable price.

4 stars
Penfolds, Southeastern Australia, Semillon Chardonnay,
Koonunga Hill 2004

PWG Vintners (559-458-2400)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.00

For customers who know Aussie wines, many of the grapes for this white were sourced from the famous Barossa Valley. Chardonnay lovers will appreciate it as well; the Semillon (a Bordeaux white grape) adds a fruity smoothness to the blend. In the glass, the wine is intense yellow; on the nose, there’s gravel and pineapples. It’s full and round on the palate, predominately apples, with plenty of acid. This wine would pair well with pastas, cream sauces and chicken.

2 stars
Wishing Tree, Chardonnay 2004
USA Wine West (usawinewest)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.60

The name comes from the legend about a tree that makes wishes come true. That’s a nice romantic story for hand-selling the wine. This unoaked Chardonnay boasts a burst of tropical fruit and melon flavors in the mouth. It also has good body and linger acid for food-friendliness. The screwtop means it’s also waiter-friendly.


Germany

German whites (very little red is made) are the food-friendliest wines bar none, but they haven’t gotten the attention they deserve in this country, especially in restaurant settings. That should change. Those baroque labels were redesigned and are easier to decipher and prettier to look at. Plus, more and more producers are making dryer wines for Americans who might equate sweet with cheap (which is definitely not the case with German Rieslings). All these wines are light in alcohol, too, about 10 percent or less, which might make it easier to sell a second bottle.

3.5 stars
Saint M, Pfalz, Riesling 2004
Chateau Ste. Michelle importer (ste-michelle.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.60

Crafted by Riesling expert Dr. Ernst Loosen, this screwtopped, high quality wine has a forward bouquet of spice, pears and apricots. The warm Pfalz region shows in the medium-dry taste of ripe tropical fruits and citrusy acidity. It’s a great food wine your customers will enjoy matched to a range of dishes, from Asian food to roast chicken.

3 stars
Selbach, Piesporter Michelsberg, Riesling Kabinett 2003
Michael Skurnik Wines (skurnikwines.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $9.30

Tell customers that this Riesling is less sweet than most. It’s got a slight spritz on the tongue and a mouthful of litchee, flowers and lemon and a nice mineral accent. It too would pair well with Asian food as well as spicy dishes.

2 stars
Bloom, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Riesling 2004
Precept Brands (preceptbrands.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $4.75

The striking look of the bottle might sell itself, with a simple pink and green bloom on the label and a shocking pink screwtop. The wine is a pretty gold color with a floral bouquet of pear and pineapple. The taste is big and sweet pineapply. The wine is lightly likeable.


Roses

In this country, roses have been dismissed as “blush” wine. And, if you’re just offering a white Zin, then you’re missing out on some prime wines for food. Besides being great summer quaffs, good with picnics, roses are so versatile that they can be fairly well paired with a wide variety of foods–perfect for that deuce ordering both fish and red sauced pasta–and even some lighter meat dishes. The roses we tasted exhibited an amazing range of hues, from near-cherry red, through salmon-colored to bright pink.

4 stars
L’Estandon Rose, Cotes de Provence, France 2003
Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines (diageowines.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $6

Provence is the land of roses and this salmon-colored beauty is a classic example. The bouquet is full of roses and melon. It’s a mouthful of flowers as well, with a long minerally finish. A perfect food wine.

3.5 stars
Torres De Casta, Penedes, Spain, Rosado 2004
Dreyfus Ashby & Co. (dreyfusashby.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.60

The Torres family has been making wine since the 17th century and is one of the biggest producers in Spain. This blend of Grenache and Carinena is a pretty cherry red–no blushing reticence here. Fermented on the skins for a full 24 hours, this iconoclastic rose tastes nearly like a red, with a touch of drying tannin on the finish. In the glass is a refreshing mix of strawberries and minerals with a pleasant bitterness. The wine is sturdy enough to substitute as a light red.

2.5 stars
The Little Penguin, Southeastern Australia, White Shiraz 2005
PWG Vintners (southcorp.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $5.90

This wine unblushingly calls itself a “blush wine,” and it should be easy to upsell white Zin customers to a white shiraz, especially given the cute penguins on the label and the shocking-pink capsule. The wine is the color of watermelon juice, and the nose smells of candied strawberries and cassis. The taste is pretty much one brief bit of fruit.

2 stars
Routas, Coteaux Varois, Rouviere,
France 2004

Routas USA (routas.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $7.50

Here’s another rose from Provence. The salmon-colored wine is made from 40 percent Grenache and 30 percent each Syrah and Cinsault. With a nice nose of strawberries and melon, the flavor is a bit strawberry with not much body or finish.


Sparklers

Champagne is what customers want—or what they say they want. That legendary sparkler is made only in northern France, but most folks call anything that bubbles Champagne. If the real thing doesn’t fit the budget, suggest some of these alternatives from wine regions around the world—including France.

3.5 stars
Saint-Hilaire, Blanc de Blancs Brut,
Blanquette de Limoux, France 2002

Jack Poust & Co. (jackpoust.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $7.60

This sparkler sports a French pedigree, which should charm customers. And it’s made in the same labor-intensive method as Champagne. But it’s from that hotbed of value wines, the Languedoc-Roussillon down south. Although this sparkler is made from the Mauzac grape instead of Chardonnay, it smells and tastes amazingly like the real stuff, with a yeasty and toasty nose and creamy citrusy flavors. And if that doesn’t close the deal, legend says this sparkler has been made by the Benedictine monks for 450 years–or a hundred years before Dom Perignon ever saw stars.

3.5 stars
Domaine Saint Vincent, Brut,
New Mexico NV

Gruet Winery (gruetwinery.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $7

Wine from New Mexico? Yep, and a good one. That ought to catch customers’ attention. This is a “second label” made by the Gruet family, descendants of the French Champagne house, which has been producing delightful sparklers under that name for years. This medium-bodied wine has yeasty, hazelnut aromas, and toasty apple and citrus flavors. It can stand comparison favorably with bubbly made just about anywhere in the world. And compare that price to French Euros.

2.5 stars
Zardetto Prosecco Brut, Italy NV
Winebow (winebow.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $8

Thanks to marketing campaigns, Italian Prosecco is currently trendy and this is a fine example. For aficionados, it’s got a touch of Chardonnay, but mostly made with the Prosecco grape. The glass is full of bubbles and the nose is floral and candy. The wine is light-bodied, crisp and refreshing with tropical fruits. You could sell this as a festive aperitif.

2 stars
Jaume Serra, Cristalino Cava,
Spain NV

CIV Importers (civusa.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $6

Spanish cavas have long been a reliable substitute for Champagne. And the name Cristalino sounds classy, no? This cava is golden-hued and full of bubbles. The bouquet shows toast and minerals. The wine tastes of apples and thanks to ample acid, it’s good with many foods.

1.5 stars
Brut Dargent, Blanc de Blancs Brut, France NV
Les Grands Chais de France (lgcf.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $7

Another from France, but from Jura not Champagne. It’s well made by one of the largest producers in France. The nose has a flinty character, but there’s not much on the palate except some fruity sweetness. It’s not very bubbly, but the price is right.

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