Famous wines fill cellars everywhere, made by houses of pedigree and produced from the most recognizable grapes. There is Piedmont’s Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay out of Burgundy and Champagne, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Napa Valley and Bordeaux. Unless you began collecting some 25 years ago, chances are your stock piles are low when it comes to varietal inamorata. While there exists a minority that sees the trophies as simulacrum, the majority continue to run down dreams. Icons for less than $50? No more. A once unthinkable, magical $100 mark is a fiscal cliff in the rear-view mirror. The question begs. Has the peak been reached?
A McCannian “collision of curse and whisper” finds the state of the union bound by a new world order where social media driven wine purchasing decisions fluctuate with every fleeting tweet. Expansion and saturation are in. First Growth and Grand Cru need’ms are waning in popularity, having priced themselves beyond the reach of mere mortal geeks. Andrew Jefford certainly disagrees, noting, “…it’s no surprise that wine has become just another vacuous totem of wealth.” But the Decanter scribe is not writing about a state of Ontario affairs. There are substitutes around every turn and where there is effort, there is a wine-altering way. Diamonds can be unearthed out of the proverbial rough, certainly not at will, but with patience and poise. Champion producers lay in wait within the lesser, unheralded corners of the world’s most famous wine appellations. They can also be found in nooks not yet trusted. More often than not they are the by-products of familial labours of love, small parcel productions, fruits of wine vernacular passed down through the generations.
Here are four unreal wines from iconic grapes, ready for the taking and affordable to all.
The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon
The history: Bordeaux’s Left Bank star finds richesse and success in South Australia
The lowdown: Located in the sub-region of Marananga in Barossa Valley and farmed by 6th Generation family member, Damien Tscharke. Shiraz may have put Barossa on the map but my red Oz consciousness leans Cabernet Sauvignon
The food match: Braised and Pulled Beef Inside Round, barossa brie, toasted ciabatta
Tscharke Barossa Gold Marananga Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (289884, $15.95) is really good stuff. Tight attack, bold and tannic, brimming with figgy black fruit, dark chocolate, spirit cake and white pepper. The oldest Barossa Neoproterozoic Schist and Siltstone rocks impart piercing minerality as if the Marananga were blasted out of a cannon. Tests any Napa Cab under $50. 89 @tscharkewines
The grape: Chardonnay
The history: Family domain in the Mâconnais, lead by Jean-Paul Paquet, along with wife Monique and son Yannick
The lowdown: Old vines (parcels of 50+ years) and barrel ageing combine for layered results
The food match: Sage Roast Chicken, schmaltz confit yukon gold potatoes, parsley
Domaine De Fussiacus Vieilles Vignes Pouilly-Fuissé 2010 (276444, $23.95) gratifies in an instant and holds on seemingly forever with remarkable depth of fruit. The tang and tin-effect of Bresse Bleu is merely a hint, smothered over by almond and vanilla extract, green olive pit and the taste of creamy, balmy, citrons doux, bergamot marmalade. A fatty, poularde glycerin texture really ties the dude, er wine, together. Plenitude for a song. “Sometimes, there’s a man,” I’m talking about Jean Paquet here, and I can just imagine him thinking, “we can be heroes,” working a land that finds him surrounded by stupid expensive Chardonnay. 90
The grape: Nebbiolo
The history: Makes for Italy’s most regal wines, Barolo and Barbaresco
The lowdown: The Marziano Abbonna stable trots out this entry-level Barolo with expert success vintage after vintage
The food match: Murray Farm Heritage Roast Turkey, roasted chestnut stuffing, cranberry-lemon sauce
La Pieve Barolo 2008 (213132, $28.95) does what few other sub-$30 Baroli can do; offer a taste of the real thing. Though initially a touch reductive, it hits a chord of correct notes, including chestnut tisane, tar and rose petals. Firm Nebbiolo, frank and aggressively forward, wanting to share more drupe but it’s not quite there. Time will help flesh out the hidden stone fruit and sweet red pepper flavours. 89 @CAbbona
The grape: Aglianico
The history: From Campania, Taurasi is believed to be derived from the pre-Roman (probably Etruscan) taur[o] meaning mountain.
The lowdown: Taurasi must be aged for at least three years before it is released, with at least one year in wood. No one can dissertate more eloquently or knowledgeably on the subject better than Feudi’s Export Manager Maurizio de Rosa
The food match: Braised Beef Short Ribs, caramelized onion, carrot, aglianico jus
Feudi di San Gregorio Taurasi 2007 (956011, $39.95) is lush and gorgeous. The most immediately gratifying young Aglianico yet such an infant. Earthbound red berries, perfectly ripe plums, biting tannin and off the charts acidity. Epochal verve of Middle Pleistocene volcanic rocks. Southern Italian equivalent to Southern Rhône reds, offering tremendous value under $50 where Bordeaux and Tuscany pedantically fall short. Should join the ranks of recent great vintages, ’01 and ’04. 93 @FeudiDSGregorio
Good to go!