Here at Wine Time, we generally try to write about under-$25 bottles readily available in the Houston market. Even though there are many great price-quality-ratio (PQR) wines out there at lower "price points" (as we say in wine-speak), under-$25 represents the current sweet spot in my experience, where you can still pair affordability with excellence.
But that doesn't mean that there's not great value for quality beyond $25.
When people ask me advice about buying and collecting wine, the top rules-of-thumb that I share are the following:
1. Get to know your wine seller and let her/him get to know your palate. 2. Consider your wine-buying needs for the entire year -- including everyday, "Saturday night," and special-occasion wines -- and budget accordingly.
At our house, under-$25 is our everyday price point (we generally open three to four bottles per week). $35-40 is our Saturday-night ceiling. And $50 is our special-occasion limit (in part because a decent bottle of Champagne should cost around $50 these days).
Usually we roast a leg of lamb for our Easter and/or Passover celebration at our house. But this year, because I've been traveling in Europe and overeating, we decided to go on the lighter side with a roasted chicken served with roasted, sautéed, and steamed vegetables (in the photo above).
And I reached for one of our favorite bottles of wine, the 2007 Barbaresco by Produttori del Barbaresco.
Made from 100 percent Nebbiolo grapes and vinified in a traditional style (i.e., balanced alcohol, bright acidity, and no woodiness), the Produttori del Barbaresco classic (as opposed to single-vineyard designated) Barbaresco remains one of the greatest values in the U.S. market today. Even though most expressions of this famous appellation in northwestern Italy are beyond our financial reach (roughly between $50 and $80 for decent bottlings), this cooperative-produced label clocks in consistently under $40 in our market. (Produttori del Barbaresco literally means Barbaresco producers, and the cooperative, founded by a priest in the late nineteenth century, is comprised of roughly 50 growers.)
This wine will continue to age gracefully for 20 years (and even more), but you'll never hear anyone at our house cry infanticide when we open a bottle like this. I pulled the cork about 30 minutes before we sat down for dinner, and by the time we had the first glass (about another 20 minutes into the meal), it had already begun to open up and reveal its gorgeous wild berry and black cherry fruit.
And thanks to its zinging acidity, I know that it's going to be good for the next few days: After we drank about half the bottle with our Easter dinner, I put the cork back in and put the bottle in the fridge; I'll pour myself a glass about 30 minutes before dinner tonight so that the wine will come up to room temperature by the time we start eating.
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And at under $40, not only can I afford to collect these wines with each vintage, I just added $10 to the special-occasion column on my Excel spreadsheet for my 2012 wine budget.
Find it at the Houston Wine Merchant.