Despite the falling out of fashion of Bordeaux, the high end of wine production and sales will likely always be with us. Fine: let the toffs have their toys.
What's exciting for the rest of us is the burgeoning of quality wines at the lower end of the pricing spectrum. And I'm not talking cheap for cheap's sake. There are many wines from regions such as Argentina's Mendoza, Spain's Toro and Tierra de Castilla, France's Languedocâ?¦and almost anywhere in Australia and Chile that offer truly terroir-driven character for under $10. Sure you get more subtlety and age-ability if you pay even $10 more, and most of us would appreciate the differences. But for everyday drinking without too much thinking, the sawbuck cap works just fine. Especially if you watch sales. In what I hope will become the first of an occasional series, here, in no particular order, are five reds under ten. Drink â??em up, write â??em off, I always say.
The 2007 ErcavÃo Tempranillo Roble from Mas Que Vinos is a 100% tempranillo wine from Spain's Tierra de Castilla. Aged in new French oak, it has a deep nose with some olive, a little green funk, maybe even a little leather and dill. It's a tough wine with tart, cranberry fruit, but it softens a bit as it opens in the glass. Definitely made for drinking with food, especially something off the grill with a little fat to play against the tannin.
In contrast, the 2005 Saurus (there's a dinosaur on the label) Patagonia Malbec shows the softer side of Argentina's signature grape. It's full of big blackberry aromas and flavors enhanced with a touch of black pepper. Good with food, it's also great just to sip and savor slowly for its well-rounded integration of fruit and tannin. No harshness here, in other words.
From the Under $10 section at Whole Foods (yes, there is one) came a 2007 Very Old Vines Carignan, vin de pays de l'Aude. The wine is produced by Nicolas, one of France's biggest wine retailers, and it's sensational for the price. (It was even on sale for a time at $6.99. Sadly, I didn't make it back to pick up a case.) It opens with smoky coffee and mocha, then segues to cedar and blueberry. On the palate, there's spicy blueberry and cassis. Never mind if you detect entirely different qualities; the point is to look for wines that are distinctive and full of character.
Back in Spain, there are a couple more to consider. The widely available 2007 Castillo de MonsÃ©ran Garnacha from the CariÃ±ena DOC is a wine that manages to be both big in flavor and light in texture. Berry and black cherry flavors dominate, tannins are suppressed, and there's that frequently encountered hint of leather. Suede might be more accurateâ??or Ultrasuede, for that matter. The wine's lightness extends it pairing possibilities, too: think roast chicken or grilled salmon in addition to burgers and ribs.
Finally, and this is a tip, there's a Jorge OrdoÃ±ez wine. OrdoÃ±ez's Spanish selections can usually be counted on to deliver both value and quality (look on the back of the label), and the 2009 Borsao Red Wine Campo de Borja is no exception. Composed of 75% garnacha and 25% tempranillo, its dark, plumy and faintly leathery qualities are coupled to a lively brightness. As is the case with mostâ??let's just say allâ??of the above, a slight chill doesn't hurt. That way you can first appreciate the wine's structure, then relax into its more sensual qualities as you both warm up.