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Ten Bucks and Under 

Grape gluts, foreign subsidies - and bargains all around

A cheap buzz is hard to come by. As wine has grown in popularity, it seems the price has skyrocketed, leaving us tunneling into the couch cushions for spare change. But some wineries aim for the cash-impaired - those of us who just want decent-tasting juice that won't chomp into the bank balance.

Land and labor costs are the true culprits. These costs have tripled over the years in wine-production states like California, Oregon and Washington, so the price of the cherished cheap bottle has crept up. As a result, we're abandoning our American roots, buying up bargains from around the world.

Australia's Yellow Tail Shiraz, for example: $10 for a 1.5 liter. To keep export prices low, the Australian government offers subsidies for production and marketing, always a hefty chunk of change. Chile's land and labor costs are still dirt cheap, although on the rise, so good deals from that South American stronghold continue to emerge.

But recently, the much-publicized glut of grapes in California has opened up a market for entrepreneurs. Armies of inexpensive wines from California have descended within the last few months, and I can barely keep up. Some of them are even worth catching.

Whatever war of the wines is going on, we benefit. You can even pick these up at the grocery store, often at lower prices than the ones quoted here. If you've got 40 quarters, you can buy yourself a good ol' buzz and brag about the bargain.

corkscrew@creativeloafing

McManis 2004 Viognier California. SW = 3. $10.
An aroma you'd gladly dive into, with fragrant honeysuckle and roses wafting up the glass. Follows with full-bodied apricot and toasted almonds.

Twin Fin 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon California. SW = 2. $10.
Easygoing and attractive like a metrosexual guy - bright raspberry and cherry steeped in strong tea, yet firm with manly tannins.

Vina La Rosa 2004 Chardonnay Cachapoal Valley. SW = 2. $8. 1/2
Medium-bodied with tropical fruit aromas of mango and peach, then tart citrusy lime and grapefruit in the mouth. Neat combo.

Hogue Cellars 2004 Gewurztraminer Columbia Valley. SW = 5. $9. 1/2
Slightly sweet and very refreshing, with lychee nut, peaches and limes combining for a wonderful addition to anyone's after-work wind-down.

Camelot 2002 Shiraz California. SW = 2. $8. 1/2
A remarkable little wine from the folks at Kendall Jackson. At this price level, boring, syrupy reds abound, but this one sports almost angry boldness with blueberry, raspberry and gutsy tannins.

Camelot 2002 Zinfandel California. SW = 3. $8. 1/2
If you like yours fun and dripping with candied raspberry, chocolate and cinnamon, reach for this bargain. It was a crowd-pleaser at a recent blind tasting. The revealed price made people gasp.

Rosemount 2003 Riesling SE Australia. SW = 3. $10. 1/2
Smell this wine and you'll dream of vacation in the islands ... mango, exotic flowers, and an inkling of tart grapefruit. Taste it and the bright fruit bathes you with memories. Has a bit of sweetness on the tongue, but finishes pretty dry.

Veramonte 2003 Chardonnay Casablanca Valley. SW = 2. $9.
An easy drink with soft lemon-lime and a dash of bitter orange — kinda like a wine spritzer with a twist.

Alice White 2004 Cabernet-Shiraz. SW = 3. $7.
An uncomplicated, fruity wine to drink without worries, mate. Juicy raspberry nose, with a large dose of spicy cherry on the tongue.

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