Europe on $15 a Bottle

The dollar's slide means soaring prices for European wines. But there still are bargains from across the pond

By: Dave McIntyre

Prices on European wines are going up, but area importers are finding interesting wines for well under $20. Photograph by Jennifer Smoose.

Economists aren’t the only ones watching the dollar’s slide against the euro. Wine lovers are bracing for prices on first-growth Bordeaux, prized super Tuscans, and even humble Côtes du Rhône to spike by 25 percent or more in the coming months.

Wine retailers are already reporting price hikes on imported wines, but buyers haven’t seen the worst yet. Are there any bargains left from across the pond? Not if we compare prices with yesteryear’s. But there are deals out there.

It means reading labels and looking for the names of importers—Robert Kacher, Terry Theise, and Thomas Calder are among those to become acquainted with—who have done the hard work of finding high-quality, small-production winemakers.

Doug Rosen, co-owner of Arlington’s Arrowine, advises customers to “search the margins.” He suggests forgoing Côtes du Rhône, whose popularity has resulted in higher prices and inferior wine, in favor of smaller, neighboring regions, such as Coteaux du Tricastin, Côtes du Ventoux, and regions farther south in the Languedoc such as Minervois or Corbières—places that produce Rhône-style wines at moderate prices with consistent quality.

Jon Genderson, co-owner of the wine store Schneider’s of Capitol Hill, agrees, singling out Spain as a source of interesting, affordable wines.

Here are more suggestions to help ease the wallop on your wallet. All are under $20, a range that still allows for some excitement, complexity, and individuality despite the poor exchange rate. You aren’t likely to find them all at a single store, but some should be available at the area’s better wine stores.

France

The big-ticket wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy are very expensive, but Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, Chardonnay from Mâcon, and Rhône-style blends from the south continue to offer decent value.

Domaine Pascal Berthier Mâcon-Chaintré 2006, $14 (imported by Wine Traditions): Excellent Chardonnay with full apricot and peach flavors. The richness comes from old vines rather than new oak.

Plaisir des Lys 2005 Minervois, $13 (Thomas Calder/Potomac Selections): A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, and Cinsault featuring enticing aromas of violets and flavors of Bing cherry and earth. A surprisingly complex wine for the price.

Domaine Ste-Eugénie “La Réserve” 2004 Corbières, $16 (Robert Kacher Selections): A Syrah, Carignan, and Grenache blend, brooding and tannic with mineral structure from old vines. A great partner for semisoft cheeses.

Germany

The country has seen a string of exceptional vintages. The wonderful 2005s and 2006s are now on the market, and some vibrant 2007s that won’t break the bank are just beginning to arrive.

Leitz “Dragonstone” Riesling 2006, $18 (Terry Theise/Michael Skurnik): Electric with acidity and citrusy intensity.

Dr. Fischer “Classic” Riesling 2005, $17 (Winesellers Ltd.): Focused aromas of lime zest and apricots and a refreshing finish.

Schmitges Riesling 2006, $16 (Kerwin/Henry Group): Riper and fleshier than expected for a wine from the Mosel region but still showing the characteristic moderation in alcohol at 11 percent.

Austria

Look to Grüner-Veltliner, similar to Riesling but more consistently dry, with the same vibrant acidity and affinity for food.

Anton Bauer 2007 Gmörk Grüner Veltliner, $11 (KW Selection/Select Wines): Straightforward flavors of apple and lime zest—bracing acidity that’s refreshing alone or with simpler foods.

Gobelsburger 2006 Grüner Veltliner, $17 (Terry Theise/Michael Skurnik): A gorgeous wine, peppery on the attack with juicy red-currant flavors. The Gobelsburger Riesling, though pricier, is also fantastic.

Spain

The best values from this exciting country come from unfamiliar regions such as Toro, Jumilla, and Cataluña.

Basa 2006 Rueda, $13 (Telmo Rodriguez/Monument): A textbook Rueda bursting with apricot, melon, and mango. This is already trading some of its refreshing acidity for additional richness and will be fun to compare with the 2007 when that becomes available.

Epifanio 2006 Ribera del Duero, $14 (Elite Wines): An unusually affordable Ribera del Duero because it spends just a few months in used oak barrels. Fruity and spicy with flavors of Bing cherry, it still shows the characteristic earthiness of the region.

Bodegas Luzon 2005 Altos de Luzon, $18 (Ordoñez/Henry Group): From the barren region of Jumilla in southern Spain, this blend of Monastrell, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo shows amazing depth and concentration for the price.

Dave McIntyre has written about food and wine for Wine Enthusiast, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Washington Post. His weekly picks appear every Thursday on Washingtonian.com.

This article appeared in the May, 2008 issue of The Washingtonian.