Shoulda Been My Name
'Cause You Can Look Right Through Me
Walk Right By Me
And Never Know I'm There..."
-Mr. Cellophane, Ebb/Kander
One of the sad, sad things you witness once you start to get a little more familiar with the wine business is that hype, influential marketing and advertising, and ill-informed consumer & retailer word of mouth contributes to so much of what is available widely...and perhaps more notably, what is not available widely.
Why is it that you can find Apothic in all its extensions absolutely everywhere but it's hard to find a nice sub-$20 red from the Douro Valley or a nice Riesling Kabinett, sometimes, anywhere. I already know the answer, but have you ever thought about that?
If wine is supposed to be rare in order to be valuable (read: expensive) and of high quality, why is it that you can find Cakebread & Caymus almost anywhere, but it's often hard to find a quality Rioja Gran Reserva in even some decent shops? I know the answer to this one, too. Have you ever considered this?
I'm going to take you through 3 of my favourite and under-appreciated wine regions and explain why you are automatically on the right side of the cost-benefit analysis of the transaction when you buy one of these wines.
1.) Riesling from Germany
The fact is that...well, shit, I don't really know what the fact is. But the fact is that if you want to drink some of the finest wine in the world and spend less than $100 (sometimes and often less than $50), then you should begin developing your taste for German Riesling STAT. Why is this category so undervalued? I don't really know. If you want to try and absolutely blow your wad and buy the most expensive bottle of German Riesling you can find, it is almost guaranteed to be worth every penny as far as its depth and the actual flavour it delivers to you. There's a reason sommeliers are obsessed with Riesling. If you love fresh, perfectly ripe orchard fruit, there is no reason you should not love Riesling. People who say they can't handle sweet wines are like people who say they don't like sweet fruit...wait, nobody says that. Exactly. Because it would be ridiculous to say that you rejected sweetness while consuming a fucking product made of fruit. This isn't just the table sugar you get in your Barefoot™. This is real, concentrated sweetness of the pure earth from which it comes. Sugar is a vehicle for character in these wines, not a confectionary trick. This isn't your high school (or college, for that matter) grad party. Get with it.
You've got comparable heritage, history, and know-how to Bordeaux & Tuscany, plus the added common winemaking technique of utilizing American oak in a more generous manner (say what you will, if it's good enough for Ridge, it's good enough for me). Haters hate on American oak but the truth is that it's generous and delicious. Did I mention there's more consistency in the wines from year-to-year as a warmer and less dicey climate region than Bordeaux as well? So, why the lack of hype? Why do the wines from even the larger producers in Rioja still taste prettay, prettayy, prettayyy good? Why can you buy 10 & 20 year-old Gran Reservas in phenomenal condition from decent producers for like $35 coming straight from the winery? Spain has more land planted to vines than anywhere else in the world. They know what the hell they're doing as a wine nation. If I had a house wine, it would be from Rioja. They have a new-world climate with an old-world style. It's an ideal combination for the consumer. It should be worth more. Go get a bottle of Muga. Or something from Bordón. Or Marques de Riscal. These are all fairly widely available. Get a friggin' bottle of Beronia if all of those fail you. You'll be able to find it. And you'll like it.
3.) Shiraz & Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia
It's amazing how powerful the herd mentality is: for better, and for worse. And it's amazing how two things that might seem related are merely falsely conflated to the detriment of one. It seems almost unfair that a couple of these herding trends that have significantly shaped the perspective of many consumers have come out of Australia. That anything-but-chardonnay club (that I have a hard time tolerating)? Largely influenced by the extremely oak-chip/dust tainted super-ripe commercial chardonnay that came out of the nation's big wine companies en masse in the 1990s. Then there was YellowTail. And a sea of other faceless, chintzy, cheap, and shitty wines with cutesy animal sketches on their labels that came over what seemed to be the entire world and slowly degraded the noble, full-bodied reds from all over the country. The mistake most consumers make when thinking about Australia is that they think of it as a single wine region. What they forget is that Australia itself is pretty much the size of Western Europe, and their production spans along its southern coast lines from west to east, sea-to-shining-sea, you might say. I don't see anybody making generalizations about European wines that include Rioja & the Mosel Valley in the same sentiment. And the reds are exceptional throughout. I don't understand how consumers can be obsessed with Californian red wines that don't really get interesting until at least the $35-$40 price range (maybe...) and so often are overly-manipulated and underwhelming. I'm not saying Australian wines are never manipulated. But I have sat in a room with John Duval, former winemaker of Penfolds Grange, and he's been asked the question about manipulating colour in wines, and he point blank told me that, at least in his own wines, it wasn't a thing, and that a lot of high-quality Aussie Shiraz literally flows from crush in that natural, deep, inky hue. Goddammit I am getting thirsty for some juicy, rich, spicy, prickly, brambly, luscious Barossa Valley Shiraz. Or Heathcote Shiraz. Or Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon. Or something else from somewhere else. You can score for $25 and often get a beautifully aged wine (I've seen some nice options from 2012 or so in my local shops), and to boot, it will be under screwcap, so no fear of taint. These wines honestly knock the shit out of Napa without the shiny showroom, branded Tesla, and egotistical and real-estate loan-burdened price tag.