His annual listing of the year’s best wines priced at $10 or less is a great tool, and we eagerly look forward to the new edition every January. But if I have one quibble with the Curmudgeon—and it’s only the slightest of quibbles—it’s his slavish devotion to the $10 price point. Almost every year he kicks one or more wines to the curb because they’ve floated above the magical $10 price of admission to the Hall of Fame.
To his credit, the Curmudgeon lists some honorable mentions and maintains an “Asterisks Wing” in his Hall of Fame for perennially great values that bounce up and down in price and may no longer qualify. (One of our Top 5 Italian Red Wine Values, Falesco Vitiano, has earned a spot in the Asterisks Wing.) But we find the $10 ceiling for a good value wine too arbitrary, especially the way wine prices vary so widely from year to year and from place to place.
This is particularly true in the Washington area, where the wild, wild west of wine retailing—the District—is surrounded by two states that mandate three-tier distribution (where the producer, an importer or distributor and ultimately a retailer or restaurant all get a cut of the price we consumers pay for a bottle of wine).
Rather than an Asterisks Wing, we prefer the Baseball Hall of Fame approach; players who don’t get voted in for whatever reason during their period of eligibility can be added by the Veteran’s Committee, but once they’re named to the Hall, there’s no asterisks by their name. A Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer.
That’s the approach we take with our Top 5 Value Wines lists. These wines are all good values, whether you buy them on sale for $8.99 or they cost $12.99 where you live or even $14.99 at the mom-and-pop beer and wine store on the corner. The reality is that there can be good values up and down the price range, from the $9.99 bottles that taste like $20 bottles and are great for everyday drinking to that extra special $50 bottle that is fun to splurge on for a special occasion or makes a great gift for a wine lover in your life.
We spend most of our time—and the bulk of the space in our wine cellar—stalking great values for less than $10 a bottle. Even at $10 a bottle, everyday wine drinking can add up. If you go through a 12-bottle case of wine per month, your annual wine budget needs to be nearly $1,600, including the 9 percent tax on wine in the District, MD and VA (or “the DMV,” as the hipsters have dubbed our area). But there’s a case to be made that the sweet spot of value wine is in $12 to $20 a bottle price range, where some truly special wines can be found that are a cut above most inexpensive wines, yet they don’t break the bank.
Case in point (pun intended, as you might want to buy this by the case) is one of our favorite wines from France’s Rhône Valley, Domaine Grand Veneur Cotes du Rhone ‘les Champauvins’. A wine that’s beyond our everday drinking price range at $14 to $18 a bottle, it is a spectacular value year in and year out, and worth splurging on a case that can be enjoyed over several years.
The 2013 vintage sold out at Finewine.com in Gaithersburg at $17.99 a bottle and costs $21.99 at Total Wine in Virginia, but it’s on sale for just $13.99 at Magruder’s on Wisconsin Ave. in the District.
“A peppery, juicy, medium-bodied effort, the 2013 Cotes du Rhone (made from declassified Lirac grapes and a blend of 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 10% each of Cinsault and Carignan) has plenty of black cherry and assorted berry fruit, hints of bacon fat and underbrush,” wrote Jeb Dunnuck in the January 2015 issue of Wine Advocate. “It’s a clean, classy quaffer to enjoy over the coming couple of years.”
The 2012 Domaine Grand Veneur Cotes du Rhone ‘les Champauvins’, which earned 89-91 points from Wine Advocate, is still available at a few Montgomery County Liquor Stores for just $16.15 a bottle.
“Tasting like a mini-Chateauneuf du Pape, with ripe mulled blackberries, spice, toast, licorice and hints of flowers, the [Domaine Grand Veneur] 2012 Cotes du Rhone Les Champauvins is a blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre that spent 12 months mostly in concrete tank,” Dunnuck wrote back in the October 2013 Wine Advocate. “Medium to full-bodied, rich and balanced, it should drink nicely for 7-8 years.”
The reference to Chateauneuf du Pape—the most prestigious and expensive wine region in the Rhône Valley—is not mere hyperbole. This relatively pedestrian Cotes du Rhone features the name of the single vineyard—‘Les Champauvins’— where the grapes are grown on the label (itself a sign of distinction in French wine). That vineyard lies just north of the geographical border of Chateauneuf du Pape, literally separated by a gravel road from land, or as the French say, “terroir,” that would otherwise double the price of the wine. A good wine from Chateauneuf du Pape typically costs $40 to $80 and up. And some are worth every penny.
[Find Domaine Grand Veneur ‘les Champauvins’ online or at a wine shop near you.]
Grand Veneur ‘les Champauvins’ will never make the $10 Wine Hall of Fame. But at $18 a bottle, it’s a great value; at $16 it’s a terrific value; and at $14 it’s a spectacular value! And its year-in, year-out consistency may very well earn it a spot when we refresh our Top 5 French Reds.
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