Best wine values of 2006
Another year has passed into history, another vintage has been harvested, and we've tasted a lot more wine since my last annual New Year's report.
As I do every year at this time, I've processed all my wine-tasting reports of the past 12 months, sorting out the best wines and, more important, the best <I>values</I> - the wines at all levels that show exceptional value for their price tag, that elusive characteristic that online wine enthusiasts call "Quality-Price Ratio" or "QPR" for short.
It's also a time to pull back for a broader view over the world of wine and look for developing trends and issues. Some of those issues have been thoroughly covered in the wine-news media, including grape "gluts" and supply-and-demand issues, and changing social norms that see high-end wine prices rising under affluent buyer demand at one end of the spectrum, while younger people show declining interest in wine, raising the spectre of an aging and eventually shrinking market.
Two more emerging developments have received less media attention:
* The U.S. Supreme Court's May 2005 decision on wine-shipping to consumers, initially hailed as opening up broader American markets by removing a bar to consumers buying directly from wineries, is turning out to be more complicated than anticipated. As the 50 states revise beverage-control laws to meet the new standard, many of them - under lobbying pressure from the wine and liquor wholesale industry - are responding by making it <i>more</i> difficult for consumers to purchase wine by mail-order and online. While shipping remains easy in a few states with strong wine industries - California and now New York among them - many legislatures have responded, to the wholesalers' glee, by barring most or all direct sales, protecting the so-called "three-tier" system and the wholesaler monopoly that it fosters. Even the group of states that had formerly declared wine-shipping "reciprocity" among themselves had to alter their laws - often against consumer choice - to comply with the court ruling.
* Thanks to a gift from nature - two relatively "normal" vintages in Europe in 2004 and 2005 following the bizarre hot vintage of 2003 with its massive, overripe wines from much of the Continent - it appears that at least some wine enthusiasts are becoming increasingly skeptical of ratings from the major U.S. wine publications. After Robert M. Parker Jr.'s <I>Wine Advocate</i> and <I>Wine Spectator</i> praised the 2003 "blockbusters" as great wines, a non-trivial share of wine lovers who prefer minerality, subtlety and complexity over overripe fruit and powerful alcohol in wine began to question whether the usual suspects' ratings remain in synch with our tastes. Judging from your E-mail and discussions on our forums, this corps of skeptics includes quite a few of you.
Now, let's take a quick look at my top value wines of 2006. I've queried my tasting-notes databases to find the 60 wines that I rated most highly for value. Five of them sold for more than $20, with 25 in the mid-range of $12 to $20, and - good news for bargain-hunters - 30 were $12 or less, of which 16 were $10 or below.
Broken down by country of origin, my QPR list includes 21 wines from France and 15 from Italy, followed by Austria and the U.S. with seven each (five of the U.S. wines were from California and one each from Oregon and New York); five from Spain, perhaps the best source of low-end wines of value; three dry wines from Portugal, and one each from Chile and South Africa.
Somewhat surprisingly, considering my avowed preference for red wines, my list this year was almost evenly between reds (28 wines) and whites (25 wines), plus six sparkling or frizzante wines and one dessert wine. Only one Champagne made the list, and no Ports or Sauternes: These are tremendously enjoyable wines but not contenders in the QPR sweepstakes. For similar reasons, no wines from Australia or New Zealand made my QPR list this year. This is no slam on these fine wines other than to note that, among the wines easily available to me, I'm more inclined to look to Europe and then the U.S. when cherry-picking for value. Germany didn't make this year's list, partly because of rising prices and partly, I fear, because the noble Riesling grape is a bit of a blind spot for me. I'll have to work on that.
To whet your appetite, here's a random, international selection of a half-dozen winners from my QPR list:
Domaine Grand Veneur 2004 Côtes du Rhône Villages "Les Champauvins" Vieilles Vignes
(France), $18.99. (Find it on Wine-Searcher.com
Henry Estate 2004 Pinot Noir
(U.S., Oregon), $16. (Find it on Wine-Searcher.com
Renato Keber 2003 Collio Pinot Grigio
(Italy), $16. (Find it on Wine-Searcher.com
Nigl 2005 Kremser Freiheit Kremstal Grüner Veltliner
(Austria), $15.49. (Find it on Wine-Searcher.com
Quinta do Feital 2005 "Auratus" Alvarinho - Trajadura Vinho Regional Minho
(Portugal), $14. (Find it on Wine-Searcher.com
Jean-Paul Brun 2005 "Terres Dorees" Beaujolais "L'Ancien" Vieilles Vignes
(France), $12.49. (Find it on Wine-Searcher.com
Clua 2004 "Mas d'en Pol" Terra Alta
(Spain), $10. (Find it on Wine-Searcher.com
For a detailed look at all 60 of my top-value wines of 2006, ranked in order of the actual retail price that I paid, click to my annual report, QPR 2006, at
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