As a book, wine can be a great way to travel. Each bottle is a part that reflects the character of where it came from, and a glass of wine from a different country can be like having a lot of your senses required to travel.
While many imported wines are priced at an expense of a few hundred dollars, they are generally well worth the money. You don’t need to pay a fortune to taste some of the best and under-appreciated wines from Europe, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and other distant regions.
Experts provide their top choices for unique, affordable grapes styles, regions, and styles of the world’s top wine-producing nations. Take this as your reference guide for purchasing top-quality foreign wines at a reasonable price.
Now — and it might be a while before it goes away – the Etna region in eastern Sicily is a great place to find premium, moderately priced Italian wine. “Etna Rosso and Etna Bianco from Sicily are fascinating categories,” says Madeline Triffon, in-house master Sommelier at Plum Market, an online chain of premium supermarkets and wine shops in Detroit, Michigan, and Chicago. “Grown on the slopes of Mount Etna, the red Nerello Mascalese and white Carricante grapes have terrific quality potential.” Look for Etna Rosso and Etna Bianco bottlings from Planeta and Tenuta di Fessina, such as Tenuta di Fessina’s Etna Rosso ($25).
White wines with a light flavor from the Loire Valley, a major wine-producing region in central France, offer some of the nation’s most appealing price-quality ratios. Quincy is a small appellation to the eastern part of the Loire, “way undercuts” more well-known names such as Sancerre and Pouilly Fume regarding the value of French Sauvignon Blanc, Triffon states. According to Olivier Flosse, beverage director at New York’s Bouley at Home, Muscadet is an excellent Loire choice. “One of the best wines for summer, it’s an incredible match with any type of salad of fish,” the winemaker adds. Domaine Trotereau Quincy 2017 ($22) is a great starting point.
Within the wine world, Germany is almost synonymous with Riesling. It produces a wide range and some of the best Riesling originating from the Mosel region. “But what if I told you that Riesling had a delicious, zippy, and fresh cousin that had all the mineral traits you enjoyed about the Mosel?” asks Sommelier John Avelluto, owner of The Owl’s Head wine shop in Brooklyn. The “zippy” cousin is the Elbling grape. “Elbling is an ancient grape varietal –one of Europe’s oldest,” He states. “Bracingly dry, light, and with floral hints, it’s perfect for high summer temperatures and cold food.” It’s also a great value. One excellent example: Weingut Furst Elbling 2018 ($14).
Montsant is a somewhat obscure wine-making region in Catalonia situated southwest of Barcelona and around the well-known (and more expensive) Priorat. Although it might not have the same reputation as Priorat -at the very least not yet – -it is a great place to start. Montsant produces some genuine, excellent wines. “These rich blends of Garnacha and Carinena — sometimes with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah–are wonderful values,” Triffon adds. Watch for Venus La Universal Montsant Dido 2018 ($24).
Greek wine – or any of it is worth a look now. “The whites are naturally high-acid and pair with everything from seafood to fatty meats, and the reds are lean and fruity and delicious with fish or fatty red meats,” says Zac Adcox, Sommelier and beverage director in Saint. Louis’s Indo. Suppose he’s forced to pick which grape to use. He suggests the winemaker’s recommendation of the red Xinomavro and the white one, Assyrtiko. Both are available inside “perfect” sub-$20 bottles. An excellent example would be Thymiopoulos Vineyard’s’ Young Vine’ Xinomavro 2018 ($14).
Austria is often overlooked by Europe’s most prestigious and impressive wine-producing countries. But Austria’s wines are hard to beat when it comes down to cheap, tasty red wines. “They are the perfect bridge wine for so many types of food,” Adcox claims. Adcox. He suggests Zweigelt as a red that is typically light to medium in the body and brimming with lots of acid that enhances flavor. Give Heinrich Zweigelt 2016 a try ($27).
Making a mistake regarding red wines from the Douro region in Portugal is challenging. “Big fruit but balanced with earth and tannin and acid,” Adcox declares. Triffon confirms his endorsement. “They have fabulous density and floral aromas thanks to the famed Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesca grapes,” she states. They’re also fantastic value. Wine & Soul Vinho Tinto Manoella 2017 is among numerous excellent wines ($30).
For lovers of the California Cabernet Sauvignon, Argentina’s Malbec has always been an inexpensive alternative for a weekday meal. However, the news of Malbec has been circulating for many years, so it’s no longer the nation’s top-kept secret. What’s the secret? Ironically, Cabernet Sauvignon. “Argentine Cabernet Sauvignon is a very safe bet for true Cab expression at moderate price points,” Triffon states. The Q Cabernet Sauvignon from Zuccardi’s 2017 is an excellent, widely available bottle ($18).
Many wine lovers are embracing the incredible quality of Chilean wines, particularly the affordable and high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. However, the humble Pais grape, one of the first to be planted in Chile, is usually left to cheap bulk wines and is now beginning to earn an image for itself. “Chile’s Pais grape has been underrated, but this is changing,” states the Owl’s Head’s Avelluto. “Over the past ten years, we’ve seen many enthusiastic winemakers produce quality wines that have a medium-light body with floral and herbaceous aromatics like rose petals and hibiscus, and fruit profiles ranging from young cherry to pomegranate and cranberry.” He suggests Luis-Antoine’s Pipeno Carrizal as one to grab when you can ($23 ).
Chenin Blanc has been South Africa’s most widely produced grape — primarily due to its use in brandy production. However, the country’s older Chenins deserve more tremendous respect than they currently receive. “The price points are not to be believed,” Triffon adds, noting to the claim that they’re “a steal if you like complex whites.” Adcox agrees and says South African Chenin Blanc offers a “plump New World body with racy Old World acidity.” One to look for: Joostenberg Chenin Blanc Die Agnteros 2018 ($16 ).
Western Australia is where it’s at, and Triffon believes that Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are the most affordable wines from this region. In contrast to U.S. Cab and Chard, she claims a higher alcohol content in Aussie varieties, which tend to be more mellow. “Their acidity levels are refreshing thanks to the Indian Ocean breezes,” she says. Be on the lookout for wines that come from Margaret River. Margaret River, such as Point Ormand’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2017($13)