Even with unemployment hovering around 9 percent nationally, the editors at Wine Spectator magazine apparently think the Great Recession is behind us. After bowing to the economy and focusing more on “value” in selecting its Top 100 Wines of the Year in recent years, the magazine included just 12 wines listed at $20 a bottle or less in its latest roundup of “the most exciting wines of the year for quality, value and availability.”
Nearly a third of Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines of 2010 were priced at $20 or less, and we found 24 of available locally. This year’s Top 100 is nowhere near as top-heavy as 2010’s, with half the number of triple-figure price tags. And the most expensive bottle is a mere $175, compared with the $535 Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape that was last year’s most pricey wine. Yet for everyday wine drinkers, there’s little to get excited about this year.
Readers of this column should be very familiar with the top ranking value wine on the Top 100 Wines of 2011. We’ve recommended Georges Duboeuf Morgon Jean Descombes 2009 no fewer four times: first more than a year ago as a great Thanksgiving wine; then last December urging you to stock up while they last (okay, we may have jumped the gun on that one); again in July as a go-to red wine to be served slightly chilled; and as recently as last week including it among this year’s Thanksgiving wine suggestions.
That same day last week, Wine Spectator released its Top 100 Wines of 2011, and, sure enough, No. 21 was our favorite 2009 Beaujolais, with its 93-point score and $15 price tag. Hopefully you took advantage of the year-long sale at Calvert Woodley, which had been selling this spectacular wine since last year for just $11.99 a bottle (regularly $13.99) and as little as $11.39 a bottle by the case.
We don’t know if it was our relentless recommendations or last week’s release of the Wine Spectator Top 100, which annually sets off a buying frenzy among wine geeks, collectors and consumers who descend on wine shops like locusts and snap them up. But Calvert Woodley appears to finally be sold out.
But you can still find Duboeuf Morgon Jean Descombes in Maryland at Montgomery County Liquor stores, Beltway Fine Wine in Towson, and State Line Liquors in Elkton, and in Virginia at most Total Wine stores for more typical prices between $14 and $18 a bottle.
The least expensive member of the 2011 Wine Spectator Top 100 is another wine readers of this column should know. We first recommended Quinta de Cabriz “Special Selection” 2008 back in February (see “A red wine bargain for the geo-challenged”), then noted a few weeks later when it was among the top scoring “heavy red Old World” wines recommended the 2011 edition of the book Wine Trials. It earned the No. 42 spot on this year’s Spectator Top 100, by virtue of its 90-point score and sub-$10 price.
The $6.99 per bottle price ($65 for a case) at Potomac Wines & Spirits we found in February is gone, after the wine earned that 90-point score from Spectator and the importer increased its price. But it still may be widely available for its more typical price of $10 to $11 a bottle, and it’s on sale for $8.99 a bottle while supplies last at Paul’s of Chevy Chase. But the best price in town is still at Potomac Wine, at 3100 M Street in Georgetown, where you can get bottle for $7.99 and a case for $75 ($6.25 a bottle).
That’s a ridiculous price for a wine that Kim Marcus of Wine Spectator described as, “A well-structured, muscular red, with a touch of Asian spice to the wild plum and dried raspberry flavors,” when he scored it 90 points back in February. “Beef and mineral notes mark the finish,” he added. “Distinctive, with a very sauvage allure.”
(Apparently wine critics can randomly substitute French for English, as “sauvage” is a French word meaning “wild.” Seems to us that he just added a gratuitous “u” to sound more sophisticated.)
At No. 43 on the Spectator Top 100 is another one widely available in the Washington area, a non-vintage sparkling wine from New Mexico called Gruet Blanc de Noirs. Earning 90 points and listed at $14 a bottle, the term “blanc de noirs” literally means “white of blacks” in French and describes a white wine produced entirely from red wine grapes, typically pinot noir and/or pinot meunier. But New Mexico is not France, so the Gruet Blanc de Noirs is made from only 75 percent pinot noir and the rest chardonnay.
“Elegant and focused, with creamy vanilla and apple aromas and rich yet crisp flavors of baked pear and cinnamon bread,” is how Spectator’s Tim Fish describes it in the upcoming December 15 issue of the magazine.
The salmon-colored wine is widely available in the area for $12.99 at places like Paul’s, MacArthur Beverages and Total Wine stores throughout Virginia, and for as much as $18.99 in Maryland at Corridor Wine & Spirits in Laurel. (See slideshow for a representative sample of local prices and availability.)
That’s it for the top half of the Top 100. (There was also a $15 Spanish red at No. 23 on the list and an $18 Australian shiraz, but neither is available anywhere near here, and the Spanish wine has already been jacked up to $25 a bottle.)
On Wednesday we’ll look at Nos. 60, 68 and 71, a pair of $18 bottles and a $20 that should still be available around town, plus some gems from the 2010 list that you can not only still find on store shelves, but that are still on sale. Here’s to the lingering recession in the wine business!
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