Who doesn’t enjoy sipping a rare wine or bringing out that treasured bottle to share with friends for a special occasion? And what wine aficionado doesn’t have a bucket list of “unicorn” wines? (Think: the buzzword for collectible and hard to attain)?
For many of us, “unicorn” wines are on our dream list rather than our weekly shopping list. However, with a little knowledge and some deeper digging, there are ways to drink excellent wines from regions that produce some of the world’s more sought-after bottles, but at a much more wallet-friendly cost.
Here are some things to consider:
Try a lesser known producer from the same region. Status usually costs more, whether it is a designer handbag or a fine bottle of wine. Individual growers (called “vignerons” in France) and smaller producers produce many excellent wines.
Research secondary labels in a prestige producer’s portfolio. Often times, lower priced wine may be bottled under another name but made by the same winemaking team as its more expensive label.
Look for similar styles of wine from other regions. Regions like Brunello di Montalcino and Bourgogne may grab the spotlight, but you can find wines made from the same grapes in other appellations with similar soil and climate conditions, therefore producing wines that share the same delicious profiles but don’t come with that designer handbag price tag.
Here are a few affordable alternatives to consider swapping out the big names for:
Crémant for Champagne
A classic Champagne like Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé can cost $80. Crémant is a dry sparkling wine produced using the same mêthode champenoise with an equally palate pleasing fizz for less. Seven regions in France produce Crémant sparkling wines: Alsace, Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Jura, Loire, Limoux (Languedoc-Rousillon) and Rhone (Die).
Try Cave de Ribeauvillé Crémant d’Alsace Rosé NV 100% Pinot Noir. Alsace is the second largest production area of French sparkling wine after Champagne. The oldest wine cooperative in France, established in 1895, produces this salmon pink sparkling rosé.
Côte Mas Crémant de Limoux, Languedoc-Roussillon is another great option, a super fresh rosé with notes of raspberries, grapefruit and white peach from another respected producer in this region.
Premier Crus for Bordeaux Supérior or Côtes De Bordeaux
The top classified growth wines account for just five percent of the wine produced throughout Bordeaux. “There are many affordable options in the $25 to $35 range such as Bordeaux Supérieur and Côtes de Bordeaux, for a few dollars more,” noted Mary Gorman McAdams, North America Market Advisor for the Bordeaux Wine Council. “If you want a classic but still very affordable right of left bank Bordeaux look for Médoc, Haut Médoc, or Graves on the label (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon dominant) or Saint Émilion for the right bank Merlot dominant wines.”
Examples include Chateau d’Arveyres 2014 Bordeaux Superieur, 100% Merlot. It as velvety notes of mocha, nougat and ﬁg jam.
Clarendelle, 2014 Médoc is a 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon blend. This wine delivers spice, chocolate and woodsy morel notes. Here’s the kicker: It’s owned by Château Haut-Brion, AOC Pessac-Léognan, a Premier Cru can which run $400 a bottle (e.g., 2014 vintage). The same winemakers produce both wines! Talk about a steal!
Sauvignon Blanc: Sancerre for Touraine
Sauvignon Blanc comprises seventy-five percent of the wine produced in the Loire Valley. The most well known come from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé in the Centre-Loire. Prices, while comparatively reasonable for the quality of the wine, can still be high for top-rated wines like Domaine de la Croix Saint-Laurent, Sancerre (around $27). Just to the west though, Touraine is a popular destination for visiting the Loire’s famous Chateaux, but its Sauvignon Blancs, known for their subtle, slightly fruit-forward styles, are not to be missed.
Try Domaine Desloges Sauvignon Blanc de Touraine 2016. This award-winning 100% Sauvignon Blanc reveals hints of passion fruit among the citrus notes that tempers the intense straw, hay and flint notes of some Sauvignon Blancs.
Montecucco and Montepulciano Sangiovese for Brunello di Montalcino
A bottle of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG from a five star-vintage such as Tenute Silvio Nardi 2012 costs around $60. But, in Tuscany’s lesser-known DOC Montecucco, you’ll find quality wines, also made from one hundred percent Sangiovese grapes. Most of the vineyards are cultivated in the higher elevation Maremma region which has a similar microclimate to Montalcino. Likewise, Montepulciano, about thirty-five kilometers from Montalcino, produces beautiful Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines, also made from Sangiovese (called Gentile Prugnolo in this appellation).
Basile Ad Agio Montecucco Riserva, DOC Montecucco is 100% Sangiovese and certified organic. It’s elegant and silky with wild blackberry and strawberry flavors with soft tannins.
Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG 2014, 100% Sangiovese, has aromas of fresh, red berry fruits with delicate floral undertones and an intriguing balsamic touch.
Loire Valley Pinot Noir for Burgundy Pinot Noir
Bourgogne (Burgundy) is the heart of Pinot Noir country, with many sought-after wines. But with 84 different appellations, there are plenty of affordable options from lesser known areas and producers. “If one travels just south of the Côte D’Or there is much value to be had in the region of Côte Chalonnaise for Pinot Noir,” said Certified Wine Educator James Barlow, a Bourgogne Wines Ambassador and Company Trainer for Spec’s Wines, Spirits and Finer Foods in Texas.
Excellent Pinot Noirs for less can also be found in other cool climate regions in France like Alsace and the Upper Loire Valley. The wines just have a little less “celebrity” than those in Bourgogne.
Try Domaine Vincent Dureuil-Janthial 2015, Côte Chalonnais. This certified organic wine is produced in Rully, a sub-region of Côte Chalonnais, located south of Côte de Nuits, which is recognized for its world-renowned Pinot Noirs. This is a luscious and balanced wine with notes of fresh black cherries, cinnamon and pepper.
Famille Hugel Pinot Noir 2014: The Hugel family has been making wine in Alsace since the 1600s. While Pinot Noir accounts for just eight percent of Hugel’s overall production, it will capture one hundred percent of your palate for its lively fresh fruit flavor.
Pascal Jolivet Attitude IGP Loire Valley 2014. Made from grapes grown in Sancerre and Touraine, this is a lively fruit forward Pinot Noir to enjoy with many types of food.
Late Harvest: Liquid Gold for Less
Bordeaux’s prized Château d’Yquem Sauternes has been called “liquid gold.” A half-bottle of the 2015 vintage averages $200. However, there are affordable alternatives from the same appellation, as well as lesser-known designations such as Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, Cadillac and Loupiac.
Try Carmes de Rieussec 2016, Sauternes. 80% Sauvignon Blanc, 10-20% Semillon and Muscadelle. With essences of dried apples and white peaches, this retails at about $22 for a full bottle. This wine is the second label for Premier Grand Cru Château Rieussec, which is owned by Château Lafite Rothschild. Château Rieussec 2016 averages $55, so Carmes de Rieussec is quite the value!
Château La Rame 2016 Sainte-Croix-du-Mont. 100% Semillon. Sublime honeysuckle, peach and citrus notes pair perfectly with a simple slice of pound or angel food cake and fresh peach or lemon sorbet.
With more wine than ever available for your choosing, ask your favorite retailer to guide you toward some affordable options. Take advantage of your local wine shop’s free tastings or other wine events to expand your palate and be upfront about what you prefer to pay. Experiencing a nice bottle of wine should not about how much you spend. It’s about how you spend your time enjoying it!