Bargain Wines

The Price Is Right

Local experts select bargain bottlings

By Bob Johnson

WHILE the “laws” of supply and demand play a pivotal role in determining price points on Sonoma County’s most famous product–wine–several other factors also contribute to the ever escalating tariffs.

Among those factors: the increasing value of suitable vineyard land, more stringent controls on hillside vine planting, and competition among out-of-county wineries for Sonoma-grown grapes.

As a result, a growing number of county bottlings are joining their Napa Valley cousins in a price category largely restricted to the affluent.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s still possible to purchase a quality case of wine here for less than a hundred bucks–if you don’t mind that a majority of the dozen bottles are made by out-of-county (and in a couple of instances, out-of-country) wineries.

Finding bargain bottlings can be a time-consuming challenge even for those immersed in winedom. But since daily life consists of numerous activities other than shopping for wine, the assistance of a knowledgeable vino merchant can be tremendously helpful.

Fortunately, Sonoma County has no shortage of in-the-know retailers, among them Dan Noreen of the Wine Exchange of Sonoma, Michael Pinsky of Premier Wine & Spirits in Santa Rosa, Bruce Emmons of Santa Rosa’s Bottle Barn, and Paul Root of Root & Eastwood Wine & Spirits in Healdsburg.

We challenged each of these savvy shopkeepers to suggest a pair of wines, available in their store, that together averaged no more than $8.33 in price. We then tossed in four selections of our own to fill out the case. The result: 12 top-quality bottles of wine that would return $2.26 in change from your $100 bill (not counting the donation made to our friends in Sacramento).

Drum roll, please . . .

Presenting the Independent‘s Under-$100 Case of Wine, No. 1:

Mont. Pellier 1998 Viognier, California. Noreen says this wine has “loads of tropical fruit with lovely floral nuances. It’s lush on the palate, with just the right balancing acidity.”$5.99 at Wine Exchange of Sonoma.

Mont. Pellier 1997 Syrah, California. “There’s ripe blackberry, plum, smoke, and white pepper in the nose,” says Noreen, “and the wine is round, rich, and smoky on the palate.” $5.99 at the Wine Exchange.

Banrock Station 1998 Shiraz. Pinsky describes this Aussie offering as “a surprising wine, with nice, soft, plummy fruit. Hints of violets add a gentle complexity.” $6.99 at Premier Wine & Spirits.

Paraiso Springs 1997 Chardon-nay, Monterey. Enthuses Emmons: “This is a $20 wine for eight bucks.” Or less: $7.99 at the Bottle Barn.

Canyon Road 1998 Merlot, California. This wine has a smoked meat nose, racy acidity, and varietal bell pepper, cherry, and plum flavors. Wine Lines rating: 2.5 corks. Suggested retail price: $8.

Marietta Old Vine Lot #23. Root describes this non-vintage red blend as “incredibly delicious,” and notes that past lots have consistently been rated outstanding values. $8.10 per bottle (by the case) at Root & Eastwood Wine & Spirits.

Taft Street 1998 Sauvignon Blanc. A wine with “vibrant fruitiness and a clean, delicious finish,” according to Root. $8.10 per bottle (by the case) at Root & Eastwood.

Alderbrook 1998 GewŸrztra-miner, Russian River Valley. Winner of the white wine sweepstakes award at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair. $8.59 at the Bottle Barn.

Pope Valley 1993 Zinfandel, Napa Valley. Yes, you read that correctly; here’s a rare opportunity to taste a well-aged zin. The winery’s former owners shut down the operation just as this wine was about to be released, so it sat in storage for a total of five years until new owners reopened the facility. Time has been kind to this bottling, which possesses aromas and flavors of spicy root beer, cherry, assorted berries, and pepper. Wine Lines rating: 3.5 corks. Suggested retail price: $9.

Chateau St. Jean 1998 Fume Blanc, Sonoma County. A wine with aromas and flavors of ripe stone fruit, grapefruit, fig, mild spice, and hints of minerals. Wine Lines rating: 3 corks. Suggested retail price: $9.

Caves des Papes 1996 Cotes du Rhone. “This [French] wine is smooth, with round flavors and a light, peppery finish,” says Pinsky. “It’s perfect for grilled foods.” $8.99 at Premier.

Mark West 1998 Gewurztra-miner, Russian River Valley. Bright and floral, with lychee nut, peach, papaya, mango, and woodspice components. The creamy finish screams “papaya.” Wine Lines rating: 3.5 corks. Suggested retail price: $10.

There you have it: Six red wines, six white wines, a wide spectrum of flavors, and, best of all, tremendous value. The choice is yours: a single bottle of trendy Napa Valley cabernet or 12 bottles of well-selected wines recommended by local experts. As far as we’re concerned, this is the ultimate no-brainer.

Cork ratings: 1, commercially sound; 2, good; 3, very good; 4, outstanding.

From the October 7-13, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

Previous article‘Yellow Submarine’
Next articleJack Kerouac
Sonoma County Library