Buyer’s Market Opens Up

The forecast calls for a broadening wave of bargains across wine country. While the slow general economic comeback holds demand down, prices are dropping left and right.

A trend like this forces producers, distributors and retailers to battle ever harder for buyer’s attention. They use lowball prices and special offers to try and make their cash registers spin.

Lately, I’m seeing deeper and more serious discounts.

Wine-selling websites like, online sales by retailers like K&L Wine  Merchants in San Francisco and affinity sites like bottlenotes trumpet values left and right. Wines from around the world often sell for less (at higher quality) than competitively priced California wines, so shopping around makes a lot of sense.

For consumers in a buying mood, pick a market and you’ll find a lot of great values across the full price spectrum, including some of the recent wines I’ve tasted that are listed below.

Global Sip Trip in SF

I recently attended the “Around the World in 80 Sips” event at Crushpad in San Francisco. The title implied a global sampling, but only 25 percent of the participating wineries were from California.

Here are my top picks from the tasting, in three special categories:

Top Value ($10-20)

These wines should cost more, but don’t.

The Sablet Cotes du Rhone Villages 2007 from Domaine du Grand Bourjassot is a fine example. There are a lot of  Rhone Valley values in the market today, including this red  blend (grenache and syrah) from the southern Rhone Valley that retails for $13.95. It’s fresh and tasty, with enough bite to stand up to red meats and cheeses. The wine is very approachable today and should hold at this level for a few more years.

Top Quality ($20-$50)

These wines show special qualities normally found in higher priced bottles.

I have been meaning to try the wines from Scholium Project for years and got my chance at the Around the World event where I tasted the 2007 Choephoroi, a $45 chardonnay from the Los Olivos vineyard in Suisun Valley. This isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s a full-throttle golden wine — tasting of the earth and minerals — given a Greek name, Choephoroi, that means libation bearers.

Click here to read an earlier blog about Suisun Valley wines.

A lot of thoughtful winemaking takes place at Scholium Project, housed at the Tenbrink Winery in Fairfield, where dozens of imaginative wines are made from numerous sources around wine country. The 2006 Tenbrink Babylon ($36) is a delicious blend of mostly petite sirah and syrah with some mourvedre and malvasia tossed in for good measure.

Over-the-Top ($50+)

These are wines of wonder that defy limits of any kind.

I liked all three wines that winemaker and winery founder Cathy Corison poured for me. The Corison vintage 2002 and 2006 estate cabernets ($70) are drinking great and the 2005 Kronos, a single vineyard wine made from gnarly old vines that produce only small amounts of fruit, is glorious. You can spend more, much more, for Napa cabernet, but why bother?

Winemaker Cathy Corison in her Napa vineyard

Cathy Corison tending her vines

All of Corison’s cabernets are aged in small French oak barrels. The Kronos ($98) is an elegant wine that balances the power of cabernet with a delicacy that makes the wine approachable while young yet capable of aging for years. Blackberry flavors mingle with black cherry and a touch of cassis to showcase a wine that just kept revealing more nuances the longer it stayed in the glass.

Corison has been making her own red wine in Napa since 1987. Before that, she honed her skills as winemaker for Chappellet Vineyard, Staglin Family Vineyard, York Creek Vineyards and Long Meadow Ranch.

Look South, America

I’m picky when it comes to malbec, a great red wine grape grown mostly in South America. I’ve tasted an ocean of these wines, but found most to be just “OK, but not great.” I found a lot to like in a nice little $10 bottle of Argentine malbec that I tasted the other day.

It’s the 2007 vintage from Navarro Correas and this fruit-forward malbec is lip-smacking good with gobs of red fruit and a nice touch of tannin. I enjoyed a glass with a spicy chicken burrito and then matched it the next night with a plate of pasta smothered in an Italian sausage, tomato and onion sauce.

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