The Recession's Silver Lining: Great Cheap Wine


This is a great time to buy wine.

Much like other industries, wine producers and sellers are trying to survive. They're discounting wines and consumers are winning big. Rather than sitting on inventory, some stores now are pricing wines that once sold for $55 -- from 2001 and older -- for less than $15 per bottle. What's more, predicts Kevin Zraly, author of "Kevin Zraly's American Wine Guide: 2009," is that wine retailers will continue to drop prices by as much as 50 percent in the next six months. "In the history of wine, this is the golden age of winemaking, and quality wine at a very good price," Zraly says.

The value is not just in the top-shelf wines collecting dust. Like never before, good wine from all over the world is available in the $6 to $15 price range.

To help you narrow your choices, here's a look at some of the countries serving up quality wines at affordable prices.

History: Argentine producers have been making wine for about 400 years. There's little traumatic weather in the wine region -- the western part of the country -- making life easier on the vine and increasing production. Because the country's landscape is vastly different -- from forests to deserts -- the country's wine varieties vary significantly.

Celebrated varietals: The country is known for its syrah and cabernet sauvignon, both reds, and chardonnay, a white. But the best values -- and its emblematic variety -- are the Malbec wines, a single red-grape variety that is the most-widely produced in Argentina. "The Malbecs of Argentina are just superb stuff," Zraly says. Argentine Malbecs are bold red wines often described as "not in-your-face," and pair nicely with grilled meats, pizza, stews, roasted beef and tomato-sauce based dishes.

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Best buys: There are some great-tasting vintages out there for only $10. Look for the years 2002 and 2003. But newer wines are just as pleasing and easy on the pocketbook. The 2007 Terrazas de los Andes Malbec goes for around $9.95 and the 2007 Tilia Malbec runs about $8.95. Cameron Hughes, founder of Cameron Hughes Wines, likes all years of the Gascon Malbec, owned by E. & J. Gallo. "It's an outstanding Malbec for around 10 bucks," Hughes says. "Argentine Malbecs (are) where the values are coming right now."

History: Chile was the first New World country to grow grapes successfully, when the Spanish brought their vines in the 1500s. Since then, Chilean wines have won over oenophiles' palates all over the world.

Celebrated varietals: Producing large quantities of mostly red varieties, Chile is known for its versatile, yet complex, cabernet sauvignon. With a nice body and flavors of currant, oak and hints of fruit, the typical Chilean cabernet sauvignon pairs well with cheeses, grilled salmon, steak and buttery dishes. Cabernet sauvignon is perhaps the world's most heralded wine, and some recent vintages can run about as much as a car payment. However, many wine lovers say they don't taste much difference between a $6.95 Chilean cabernet sauvignon and a $29.95 bottle from another country. "Chilean winemakers have low cost of goods because land costs there have not shot through the roof," Hughes says.

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