Good Value Wine Part II: Better Options
As far as finding that “good deal” is concerned, once you move away from sales and discounters, things start to get a lot more interesting, a bit more complicated – and much more fun.
Buy Local – Direct is Best
This is, obviously, an easier option if you live in or near a wine region,
or are planning on visiting one and can bring your treasures back with you. For everyone else, ordering directly and having it delivered is an excellent option, though, I realise, there are notable problems with cross-border shipping to and within some countries. The costs of shipping might remove any savings made by buying directly.
But if you can get your wine directly from the person making it, this is almost always your best bet for their wines, and you can often find smaller producers making great stuff – and charging less for it then their better-known, export-oriented neighbours. Buying at the source is not invariably cheaper, but it generally is – and more of the money goes to the producer, encouraging investment and keeping them afloat. And, naturally, the whole experience of wine is enhanced when you see who is making it and where it is coming from. Added bonus: you can almost always taste before you buy.
It can be your friend, or it can throw your dreams of enjoyable wine to the four winds. Vintage doesn’t play as significant a role in the regions of the southern hemisphere – which is not to say it plays NO role, but it isn’t enough to make this work out to much. But in the Northern Hemisphere, and particularly in areas with significant climate, and therefore vintage, variation, this is a big deal. News and reviews concerning specific vintages in all important (read famous) wine areas of the world are easy to track down, and are available long before you will see wines from these vintages on store shelves. It can really pay to do a brief scan of these reviews to help narrow your focus a bit. Here’s your chance to score good wines at a reasonable price from such famous appellations as Bordeaux, Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo, and Burgundy…just to mention some of the ones starting with ‘B’.
Good Vintages – look at the little guys
Depending how good, of course, but in vintages like 2005 or 2015 in much of Europe – and particularly Bordeaux – EVERYBODY was making reasonably good to great wines, not just the big players. So here is your chance to buy good, enjoyable wines from famous appellations for much less money, simply by buying wines made by smaller estates. They don’t have the reputation or the high prices of famous houses, so go and try a few you haven’t heard of, safe in the knowledge that it is almost certainly going to be of at least reasonable quality. I have had many Bordeaux from 2005 for less than ten Euros that were not just good, they were excellent. The flip side of this is the fact that the famous producers tend to charge more money for good vintages – sometimes a LOT more. Which brings me to…
Poor Vintages – shop for the Big Names
A bit trickier, but potentially more rewarding. In poorer vintages (too wet, too cold, etc.) the smaller producers, particularly, are hit hard. Without the capital (and reputation) of the famous estates, they usually are not financially able to use only the absolute best grapes to make their wines, as there simply won’t be enough wine made to keep them afloat. This does NOT mean the wines will be bad, necessarily.
The opportunity with poorer vintages lies with the famous estates, for a change. They can afford to – and usually do – select their grapes very strictly. Trying to maintain a style and a reputation is expensive, but they usually have more money to carry them through the bad vintages. They also won’t be able to charge as much, because the wines are not as attractive for investment. Hey, it is hard to charge a premium for a wine from a vintage that has been panned in the press. But, because of said strict grape selection, the wines are usually STILL very good, even in poor vintages. What might be a point of consideration, however, is the effect of the vintage on the longevity of the wine, which may be ready to drink either much earlier or much later than normal. Again, checking vintage charts and a few critics who specialise in the region is time well spent.
Part III: the Best Options
Coming in a few more days!