Yes, there are great wines at beer prices -- and some even have corks.
Forget for a moment that the world of wine is like an exclusive clubwith a steep cover charge. Think back to the wines memorable for theirdrinking pleasure, not so much their price tags.
It's easy to find a good white wine over $20, but finding agreat one under $10 offers a real payoff. Here are five that hit themark.
The winners include two Rieslings, one Chardonnay, a FolleBlanche and a Gruner Veltliner. Not all these grape varieties arehousehold names, but who's afraid of a little discovery?
These wines cover a range of styles from diverse locales, fromthe semisweet Oregon Riesling to the crisp Folle Blanche hailing fromthe south of France.
Let's open with a big splash that typifies the pleasure of good, inexpensive whites.
2004 Hofer Gruner Veltliner
Gruner Veltliner is the top winemaking grape in Austria. Butthat's a tricky distinction, since Thompson Seedless once held the samestatus in California. This dry-style Gruner tastes a bit like arestrained Chardonnay. To their credit,the vintners at H&M Hofer don't try to bulk up the flavors of thewine with special treatments. It's pleasantly subtle, with a balance ofpear-like fruit and tart tastes.
This wine, in a 1-liter bottle with abeer-cap top, strikes anunmistakably casual note. Just lay out your best plastic forks andpaper plates and crack open the fun. The Gruner paired beautifully withgrilled teriyaki chicken and jasmine rice.
2004 Rosemount Chardonnay
Now, from a restrained Austrian to a bold Aussie.
It seems every generation has its luscious Chardonnay. Theoriginal was Montrachet, then its more affordable Burgundian cousinPouilly Fuisse. Later, imitation ran amok, as California rolled outdozens of Chardonnays, like Ferrari-Carano, that were so tricked outwith oak aging and lactic acid that they earned the dubious descriptionof "buttery." The Australians eventually put out their own absurdversion that may have capped the trend.
So it was refreshing to find that this Rosemount had verylittle of the overly rich characteristics that helped scare people awayfrom big Chardonnays in recent years.
A good, versatile Chardonnay under a sawbuck is rare,especially one like Rosemount, which can capably serve double duty as acocktail and a meal accompaniment. The wine had an inviting pineapplesmell and a dense fruity flavor that lingered pleasurably on thetongue. It was a superb complement to fish prepared with lemon andgarlic.
2004 Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet, Coteaux du Languedoc
This puckery plum probably wouldn't pair well with aporterhouse. There's no question -- some wines match best with certainfoods. In this case, the Picpoul de Pinet grape, which is grown seasidein southern France, produces a clean, snappy flavor that makes it afine fit with seafood.
The wine is sharp and almost lemony. It has the familiarunderlying mineral taste that you could mistake for more famous Frenchwhites from the Loire Valley, such as Sancerre and Muscadet.
It's silly to be rigid about what wines won't work withparticular foods, but there are times when the typecasting is dead on.In this instance, the Picpoul shined with tilapia and capers.
2004 Erbacher Honigberg Riesling
German wines, while hugely respected, still lack mass appeal.
Maybe that's why some German winemakers are becoming moregenerous with their bounty. If you can't win consumers' hearts withquality alone, give people quantity. Most wines come in 750 ml bottles,but Honigberg's 1 liter of Riesling tosses in 25% more bang for thebuck.
You'll appreciate the extra supply of this tasty Riesling. Thewine has a faint citrusy smell and a light, sweet tartness. And withlower alcohol content (10% vs. most wines at 12% or above), you'll beable to drink with a bit more abandon.
The Honigberg Riesling was sublime with crab legs. It also proved to be a refreshing match with a simmered pork and clam dish.
2004 Willamette Valley Vineyards Riesling
Maybe it's the suggestive power of a Northwest wine, but thereseemed to be a slight scent of pine in this bottle. Unlike theHoningberg's sweetness answered with sourness, this Oregon Riesling isundeniably sweet. Not syrupy, but more like a sugary apple.
WVV's Riesling is simple and pleasant to drink, with nodiscernable flaws. Unlike some wines in this category, there's no addedweight from chalk or sulfur to exhaust your palate.
The wine was astoundingly good with spicy food -- it more than stood up to pinto beans smothered in a pork green chili.
And one more reason to try these wines? All of the selections are easy to find in your local liquor store.