top sommeliers recommend ... 

The experts suggest wines for drinking on the cheap

Even in today's economy, there's a lot I can do with 10 bucks. Buy a pair of cute pink flip-flops at Target; get a really tasty, grass-fed flank steak at Wild Oats (Whole Foods); purchase one movie ticket (well, matinee maybe); or ... even get a great bottle of wine. This last category is definitely a bitch, but to help me in my quest to find a worthy $10 gem, I enlisted the opinions of restaurant sommeliers (som-uhl-YAY) from across the Southeast. Here's their scoop.

Perrine Prieur, the very French and friendly sommelier at Joel in Atlanta, took over the wine reins from the storied likes of Chantelle Grilhot and Philippe Buttin 11 months ago. Perrine recommends the Crios de Susana Balbos Torrontes from Argentina ($13), which falls in the slightly higher-than-$10 category, but we'll let that one pass. She describes it as "easy to drink and aromatic." A red she enjoys is NOBUL Red Tempranillo ($10), produced by Bodegas Castejon, located southeast of Madrid.

She also suggests a Rhone Valley white blend of roussanne/marsanne/viognier called Les Figuieres Cotes du Rhone Blanc ($11). The winemaker, Jean-Luc Colombo, has been hailed as part of the new French generation that (finally) embraces modern technologies.

On the other side of Atlanta is Daniel Rudiger, sommelier at Bacchanalia and Floataway Café. His picks offer great value (both retail at $10) as well as that "deliciousness factor." Condesa de Lananza 2006 Tempranillo Rosé (Spanish) – "very dry and refreshing with bright red fruits, and strawberries." A French selection is Perrin Cotes-du-Rhone Blanc 2006 – "a medium- to fuller-bodied wine with a round mouthfeel, flavors of baked apples and pears. This wine would appeal to California chardonnay drinkers."

Chad Munsey at the Grotto in Jacksonville says Spain is the ideal area to find "ultra tasty" and inexpensive wines, especially those from Campo de Borja region. He recommends Borsao Grenache-Tempranillo Campo de Borja ($8) but also suggests wines such as Australia's Barossa Valley Estates Spires Shiraz ($8), and Man Vintners Chenin Blanc from coastal South Africa ($9).

Marguerita Dager, sommelier for Las Ramblas Café in Charlotte, definitely agrees about the deals from Spain, seeing as how her Spanish tapas restaurant serves a lot of them. She endorses the bargains from Martin Codax, a winery producing both in the Rias Baixas region as well as Rioja, which has excellent albarino and tempranillo (both around $14). Other wines she recommends are the fragrant Torres Vina Esmeralda ($10), a white blend of gewürztraminer and muscatel, and Bodegas Pirineos Mesache Blanco ($10), an intriguing combination of gewürztraminer, chardonnay and the indigenous macabeo grape (aka viura).

Craig Dean, wine director at Wine Exchange in Tampa, recommends any of respected importer Robert Kacher's rosé selections, such as Mas Guiot, Chateau Grande Cassagne and Petite Cassagne (all $10-$11). And he remarks there's a wealth of chenin blancs from South Africa that hit the mark, such as Kanu Chenin Blanc ($10).

John Dengerud, sommelier at Mise en Place in Tampa, gushes over the second label from New Mexico's Gruet, called Domaine Saint Vincent ($10): "awesome sparkling [wine] for the price ... a host of apples and lemon zest with a bit o' bread, yummy stuff." He also mentioned Hermanos del Villar Ipsum from Rueda, Spain – a white viura and verdelho blend that is "light and aromatic ... a lot in the glass for $8.99." Altos las Hormigas Malbec from Argentina ($10) – "it's like Sugar Ray Leonard light but packs a powerful, pepperful punch." French red Chateau D'Oupia 'Heretiques' (southern France) "sources from 70-year-old carignan and syrah vines to [create] an herbaceous and full fruit wine that's REALLY hard to beat at $8.99." And from California he still likes the Bogle and Cline zins, petite sirah and mouvedres: "Yeah, they're mass-produced and you can find them at Publix, but for the money it's the best damn grocery-store wine you can buy."

'Nuff said.


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