Joe’s “One Page” Red Wine reference
Everyone has their own preferences. Here, I’ve tried to compile the wines that in my experience, are delicious, and often under-appreciated, under-rated, and under-valued. I hope, that in creating this list, it promotes better understanding of these lesser known, wonderful red wines.
France (where every saint is delicious; and note that ’99, ’00, and ‘01 wines are generally more expensive)
Bordeaux – Bordeaux uses the well know cabernet sauvignon & merlot, as well as cabernet franc, malbec & petit verdot. They are good alone, or with a meal. Usually, they have stronger aspects to them than most other wines, and are best paired with more flavorful foods, but they certainly can be enjoyed without any food, and marveled at the complexities therein. Château PÉTRUS, one of the most famous, starts at $500. There are many Bordeaux wines that cost 1/50th as much and that are delicious.
Left Bank: Médoc, St-Estèphe($), Pauillac ($$), St-Julien ($), Listrac, Moulis, Margaux ($$), Haut-Médoc, Pessac-Léognan, Graves. These wines are bold, with usually powerful tannins, depth, intense character, amazing to a wine connoisseur, but will usually cost more than $25 for an average one, and well over $200 for a good one (Château Margaux). If you see one that is priced less than $20, buy it before the shopkeeper realizes his tremendous labeling mistake.
Entre-Deux-Mers: (between 2 seas), middle Bordeaux. Excellent wines here include Côtes de Bordeaux, Cadillac, Ste-Croix-du-Mont, and Bordeaux Supérieur. Bergerac and Buzet are just east of this region, and excellent as well. All of these are very high quality wines. I’ll take a $10 Bordeaux Supérieur any day over a typical $8 merlot or cabernet.
Right Bank: These are (admittedly) my favorite Bordeaux wines. They include Côte de Bourg, Fronsac, Canon-Fronsac, Pomerol ($$$), Lalande-de-Pomerol, St-Emilion ($), Côtes de Castillon, Côte de Francs, and Bordeaux Supérieur. Many wine snobs shun right bank wines as inferior with the exception of Pomerol and St-Emilion. I think those snobs are fools, but thank them for not driving up the price of many delicious wines from this region. Every bottle of wine I’ve enjoyed from this part of Bordeaux has been superb (and since 2005, I’ve had close to a hundred different bottles from the regions surrounding Pomerol). The Côtes de Castillon, Canon, Supérieur bottles I’ve enjoyed have been less than $12 each, and I think are better than an over-priced $40 bottle of Sonoma or Napa any day. Trader Joes carries many of these as well as a “Caves de Joseph” for $8 a bottle that is delicious!
Burgundy (central & eastern) aka Bourgogne, Beaune, – Burgundy uses alot of pinot noir. People from Burgundy insist their wine is the best in the world, and they price much of it that way too. A few of the less expensive ones are listed here: Chateau Tour d l’Ange Macon, Superior 03, Latour Pinot Noir, Ropiteau Hautes Cotes de Beaune 03. If you love Pinot Noir, you’ll enjoy Burgundy. The P.N. grape is harder to grow, more fragile, susceptible to hot and cold and more temperamental, so yields are often lower.
Beaujolais – this is actually as far south as you can go in the Burgundy region, before getting into the Rhone valle wines. The Beaujolais are ranked: ok- Beaujolais, better – Beaujolais Villages, and best – Beaujolais Crus. All of them are delicious. Light, somewhat fruity, a good sipping wine, or aperitif, or table wine, or dessert wine. Best served with lighter dishes that have milder tastes (turkey, roast chicken, etc). The “Crus” are: Chiroubles, Brouilly, Côte be Brouilly, Regnie, Chenas, Julienas, St. Amour, Fleurie, Morgon, and Moulin-a-Vent. It’s hard to find a “bad Beaujolais”. However, “Beaujolais Nouveaux”, comes out every November (3rd week) and is VERY young wine (aged only 7 to 9 weeks), very sweet, not one of my favorites – more like a fortified grape juice than anything else.
Loire valle (western & central) – the main red appellations in the Loire valle are Saumur, Chinon, Saumur-Champigny, Sancerre Rouge, and Touraine. All of these are very good wines, most are quite mild, without a “bite”, low acidity, lower levels of tannins. I have frequently introduced Chinon wines to newcomers who might be curious about French red wines but who have had bad experiences with red wines in the past. (my thanks to my good friend François G for this practice)
Rhone valle – North Rhone($): Côte Rotie, Cornas, St. Joseph, Hermitage, and Crozes Hermitage are all nearly 100% Syrah grapes. They are good, but hard to find under $15. Southern Rhone: Chateauneuf du Pape($$$), Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Côtes du Rhone, Côtes de Ventoux, Lirac, Nimes are a mix of marsanne, roussanne and viognier, as well as 23 other varietals of grapes, the further south you go. Other than Ch de Pape, most of these wines are not expensive and are excellent values. In general, Rhone wines have alot of tannins and go well with roasted or grilled pork, lamb, steak, blackened and smoky flavors, etc.
Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon (south southwest) – these are some of the least appreciated and most undervalued wines in France. Whites, rosés, and reds... there is a wide variety. They are very good light wines (generally) that have broad flavors and depth of character. Cousins to Provence include Corbieres, Côte de Roussillon, Fitou, Minervois, and Cahors. One exception to the “light” description is Fitou, which is one The Strongest, most powerfully tannic wines I’ve ever tasted. Fitou goes well with spicy, strong flavored foods. Do not drink Fitou by itself. (Fitou is violet, compared to Chinon’s indigo)
Italy (avoid the flashy labels, mega producers [Ecco, Bolla, Bella Sera, Placido, Gabbiano] & there’s a wealth of delicious variety under $10)
Northern Italy – Piedmont: Barolo ($$), Barbaresco ($), and Gattinara ($) are very good, but too expensive in general. Barbera, Barbera d’Alba, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo are good wines with higher acidity that go well with heartier foods. “Total Wine” carries a nice variety of these under $10. Veneto: Amarone ($$) & Valpolicella are well known full bodied wines from this region – I am allergic to both. Bardolino is a lighter Veneto wine, and better as far as I am concerned. Tuscany: Brunello ($$), Montalcino, Nobile, Morellino, Umbria and Montepulciano are very good, however I have found several Montepulcianos to be somewhat “mineral” with long finishes. Chianti, Chianti Classico, & Sangiovese wines neighbor Tuscany, and it’s pretty hard to find a bad Chianti. (Chianti is 70-95% Sangiovese, Umbria is 60% Montepulciano & 40% Sangiovese) As with all wines, I try to stay away from the large mega bottlers and go with the smaller producers who bottle thousands, not 100s of thousands.
Southern Italy, Sicily & Sardinia – Apulia (Puglia = heel in Italian) Tiamo Rosso is delicious at $10. Aglianico, Salice Salentino and Primativo grapes dominate the southern region of Italy; Cannonau in Sardinia and Nero d’Avola in Sicily. I’ve had many bottles (< $10) and all have been wonderful. These regions have not yet been discovered by the mass marketers – enjoy them now at reasonable prices while you can. Trader Joes and Total Wine both carry many of these underappreciated and under publicized delicious wines.
Spain (Not timid wines)
Spanish wines have 3 ascending classifications for quality and price: Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva. The most commonly used grapes are garnacha & tempranillo – both have rather strong flavors, and a bite to them, that can over-power mild dishes. Popular regions are Rioja, Ribera Del Duero, Penedes, but also delicious are Priorat, Tarragona, Cataluña, Toro, Navarra, and La Mancha. These range in price from $50 to $4, and the Navarras, Riojas, Tarragona and Riberas at Crianza and Reserva quality levels that I’ve tried have all been very good.
Argentina & Chile
Malbec – Malbec wines have somewhat of a “bite” to them. Complimenting spicy foods, game, bbq, hamburgers, etc. Not a ‘mild’ variety, usually. Chile makes some wonderful cabernets, merlots, and carmeneres. OK for table wines. It’s usually easy to find good South American wines under $12. Avoid the < $5 wines that are mass produced, and hit-or-miss quality (true everywhere, not just South.America).