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Cheap wine: finding hidden gems and best bargains



Wine writer Natalie MacLean's Unquenchable details her approach to finding bargain wines.

Who doesn't like a wine bargain? But surely there's more to discovering inexpensive wines than picking through Costco bins.

  In her book Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass, trained sommelier and wine writer Natalie MacLean ( explores the world of wine, from the cellars of historic French wineries to the influences of wine critics. In her 2011 follow-up Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World's Best Bargain Wines (Perigree), she shared tips on finding the best wines at affordable prices.

  "As a wine cheapskate, I look for wines that taste twice as expensive as they cost," MacLean told Gambit in an interview.

  After realizing that most wines from the best-known regions from Tuscany to Bordeaux to Napa Valley had become pricey, MacLean scoured wine racks and new-world wineries looking for hidden gems.

  "The world of wine is constantly changing, with new vintages, techniques and producers coming onto the scene every year," she wrote.

  "I think you can find real bargains in regions trying to establish themselves, like Argentina and Chile, or reinvent themselves, like Germany and Austria," she told Gambit.

  "Ultra fashionable wine regions often get all the attention for any particular country, as do Italy's Tuscany and Piedmont and France's Bordeaux and Burgundy. Look for the lesser-known regions for your best value bottle, like Sicily in Italy and southern France's Languedoc-Roussillon," she wrote.

  In Sicily, MacLean found pleasing and affordable wines such as Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso, Planeta Nero d'Avola and wines by Donnafugata.

  In Germany, she dug up value-priced rieslings including Dr. Loosen's Dr. L Riesling, St. Urbans-Hof Kabinett Riesling, St. Urbans Hof Riesling and St. Urbans-Hof Urban Riesling.

  Maclean recommends sampling wines from new or "late blooming" regions, as wines establishing themselves in the market can deliver in terms of price and quality. In Argentina, she unearthed Alamos malbec and torrontes (Catena), Bodega Norton malbec and torrontes, Santa Julia malbec, Bodega Argento, Don Miguel Gascon, Graffigna Wines, Kaiken Premium Wines and Terrazas de los Andes.

  MacLean also explored South Africa's wineries and found good value in wines from producers including Graham Beck Wines, Ken Forrester Vineyards, Mulderbosch Vineyards, Sebeka Wines, The Wolftrap and Hamilton Russell Vineyards. She found impressive sauvignon blancs, chenin blancs, chardonnays, shirazes, pinotages, cabernet sauvignons and pinot noirs. MacLean recommends first exploring a new region with familiar grapes and branching out from there.

  But her best advice is simple and affordable.

  "Buy a case of wine in your price point and experiment. Have fun with it and de-risk the experience by telling yourself it's an experiment," she says.

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