Food & Drink

Good Red for Under $16

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Dominio de Tares Winery
Dominio de Tares Winery

Perhaps you’re in the throes of the annual frenzied ritual of Christmas shopping. Whether you’re feeling a pinch in the wallet, or only have time for a quick supper before you dash back out to the mall, you may still want a glass of wine to go with that quick supper or, beginning the day after Christmas, that turkey sandwich. And it’s not going to be Gevrey-Chambertin. This seems like a good time to look at some red wines for those on a budget.

I generally shy away from cabernet sauvignons at the lowest price range as more often than not they are too tight and tannic and just not enjoyable. But the Lake County Line 39 Cabernet Sauvignon caught my eye while I was shopping and it proved to be very satisfying drinking for $9.99. Good fruit with well-integrated tannins made it appealing on its own as well as a good accompaniment to dinner.

I found this wine, by the way, when I was looking for Rainier Ridge Cabernet, from Washington State. When I first had the Rainier Ridge a couple of years ago I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was for an $8.99 bottle. Alas, this time the store I went to was out of stock so I haven’t tried the latest vintage, but if you find it I’d wager it’s worth a try.

One way to avoid problems with low-cost wines made from varieties that are meant to age is to choose wines from grapes that are more forgiving, such as grenache. The Tres Picos Borsao from the Campo de Borja region of Spain is a wine I’ve had over many vintages and is always rewarding to drink. Saturated fruit and good tannins result in a wine that holds your interest even after a couple of glasses (about $14.99).

Venturing off the beaten path is another good strategy for finding great buys. Take a look at varieties you may not be familiar with. Carmenere is a grape that traditionally was one of the six major grape varieties in red Bordeaux (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot are the others). Now it seems to find its best expression in Chile.The Natura label from Santa Emiliana Winery has an organic Carmenere that is delicious. Ripe fruit with a plush texture and tasty finish provide pleasurable drinking ($12.99).

If you want to spend even less, try the Santa Rita 120 Carmenere. This wine may be a little rough around the edges, but for $7.99 I think you’ll be happy. (I actually liked it even better after it had been opened for twenty-four hours.)

About a year and a half ago I was on my way to Spain for the sole purpose of seeing the Tintoretto exhibit at the Prado with a friend who had been involved in its planning. But as sometimes happens to well-behaved wine-lovers, just days before I was to leave I ran into an old friend who knew a woman in Madrid who edited a wine magazine. The first morning there I read in the food section of a Madrid newspaper that it was the week of the annual food and wine trade fair. My hope that my contact would want to go was answered when she suggested we meet there.

As we made our way through the “Salon del Vino” she steered me to the area that had wines from Bierzo. This was a less well known appellation just now getting recognition, she explained, and well worth watching for one particular variety – mencia.

I’ve had difficulty finding one here, however, until I was recently rewarded with the discovery of the Dominio de Tares “Baltos.” This Mencia is fragrant with plummy fruit highlighted by a hint of cocoa as soon as it’s poured from the bottle and has the wherewithall to taste just as good with roast beef, braised bitter greens, and blue cheese (have you ever noticed how many red wines are overwhelmed by blue cheese?). This is a wine worth lingering over. It is $15.99, and the same winery makes a lower priced bottling (about $9.99) which I haven’t been able to find yet.

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