Incredible Wines for a Tight Budget

By: Etty Lewensztain

Times are tough, which means people are spending less and less on luxury items, but as one well known Master Sommelier recently said, wine is a grocery, not a luxury! Let's be honest, no one is actually drinking less, we're just spending less money on our libations of choice.

So how do you find those great deals when trying to drink on a budget? Check out these expert tips from Plonk Wine Merchants owner Etty Lewensztain on how to pinpoint wines that deliver the most bang for your buck.

Lesser Known Regions:

If you want to find insane wine values, skip over well-known wine growing regions like Napa and Sonoma in California, Rioja in Spain, Tuscany and Piedmont in Italy, or Bordeaux and Burgundy in France. Wines from these regions command high prices because they have a reputation that precedes them, and also because they have promotional bodies that continually invest substantial sums of money into marketing and advertising the region's wines.

Instead, look for bottles that hail from off-beat regions such as Santorini in Greece, Alentejo in Portugal, the Languedoc-Roussillon in France, or Sardinia in Italy. These underdog regions produce wines that can stand up qualitatively to their more expensive counterparts from well-established regions, but cost far less.

A few to try:

Château d'Oupia Les Hérétiques 2009 – Languedoc, France $12.00

Marques de Montemor Tinto Alentejano 2009 – Alentejo, Portugal $13.00

Piero Mancini Vermentino di Gallura 2010 – Sardinia, Italy $15.00

Obscure and Indigenous Grape Varieties:

When it comes to spotting great bargain wines, the more obscure the better. If you've never heard of it, that's probably a good sign. Skip over Cabernet and Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, and take a gamble on fabulous obscurities such as Királyleányka from Hungary, Plavac Mali from Croatia, or Picpoul from France. Not only do wines made from these unfamiliar varieties pack in a ton of intrigue and discovery, but they come at a fraction of the cost of most famous international varieties.

A few to try:

Szöke (Matyas & Zoltan) Királyleányka 2010 – Matrai, Hungary $13.00

Dingac Peljesac Plavac Mali 2009 – Peljesac, Croatia $13.00

Domaine Felines Jourdan Picpoul de Pinet 2009 – Languedoc, France $13.00

Under the Radar Bubbly Alternatives:

Champagne is king when it comes to sparkling wines, and for good reason. There is something extremely ethereal and even cerebral about true Champagne from the region of Champagne in France, as compared to the world's other bubbly. Perhaps it's the unmistakable, yeasty scent of freshly baked bread that sets Champagne apart, or maybe it's the bracing acidity that makes Champagne so singular. Unfortunately Champ doesn't come cheap, but the encouraging news is that France is teeming with dozens of non-Champagne sparklers that are significantly cheaper than Champagne, yet still manage to hit the spot.

Of particular note are the sparklers that hail from the Loire Valley in France, which makes admirable wines from Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc grapes. The region of Alsace also turns out fantastic and highly aromatic bubbly made mostly from Pinot Blanc (and sometimes from Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Chardonnay). Limoux, a region unfamiliar to most wine drinkers, produces elegant sparkling wines made from the local grape Mauzac as well as Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. Last but not least, Burgundy turns out beautiful sparkling wines made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that are worth seeking out. The term crémant is used in all of these regions to indicate that the wine is made in the traditional méthode champenoise, where the wine's second fermentation (the process by which bubbly gets its bubbles) takes place in the actual bottle.

Besides these crémant wines from France, Spain produces admirable bubbly in the region of Penedés in the country's northeastern corner. Cava is traditionally made from three indigenous Spanish grapes: Xarel-lo, Parellada, and Macabeo, and like crémant wines from France, is made in the classic méthode champenoise.

A few to try:

Francois Pinon Vouvray Petillant Brut N.V. – Loire Valley, France $22.00

Pere Ventura Cava Brut Nature Tresor N.V. – Penedés, Spain $19.00

Avinyo Cava Brut Reserva N.V. – Penedés, Spain $17.00

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