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Feb 12, 2011 06:29 PM

Great Wines Under $35

$35 is my cutoff for a non special occasion wine, and I'm looking for suggestions for stellar wines in the under $35 range.

I have eclectic tastes and enjoy red, white and rosé. My only taste parameters are that I don't like reds that are super jammy and I don't like whites that are floral or taste of melon (a prejudice that I have brought over from years of tea drinking where I loathe flowery and/or fruity teas).

The best wine I have had recently in the under $35 category was a 2007 Saint-Joseph "Offerus" from Jean-Louis Chave Selections, which I got for under $25. That was a seriously good Syrah and much better than a lot of more expensive wines I have had lately. Other than that, a lot of the random bottles that I have picked up lately in the $20-$30 price range have been disappointments. Not exactly undrinkable, but not anything I would go out of my way to drink again.

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  1. Red, white or rose from R Lopez de Heredia in Rioja, Spain are mostly under $30 and are great wines, non-jammy, old-world classic aged wines. Few wines made like them are to be found from any current producer, anywhere...even the whites and roses are aged in barrels and bottles in the winery for years before being released. (They are selling the 2000 rose now.) Most wines made to age like this are released far before they should be drunk and are massively more expensive (Burgundy, top Bordeaux, Barolo, etc). The whites and roses are complex and wonderful but may be an acquired taste; the reds are more approachable.
    Other Riojas along these lines are Gran Reservas from La Rioja Alta or Marques de Riscal but they might be a bit more than $30.

    7 Replies
    1. re: kenito799

      Lopez de Heredia - beat me to it!

      I especially love the blancos. The Gravonia is easily in your price range (currently 2001) while the Tondonia riserva (currently 1991?) also would be, but only with a 20% case discount! (about $45)

      The gran riserva rosados are also unlike anything you've ever had - unless you've had one, of course - and are priced under $30. I adore the 1998s; haven't yet had a 2000.

      The Vina Bosconia tintos would also be in your price range. I'm currently enjoying a small stash of 2002s. About $37.

      Another good value is Produttori del Barbaresco "Torre" (normale) - find the 2006 if you can, as all the single vineyard crus were blended into the normale bottling. About $30.

      Does chenin blanc strike you as too flowery? (There's so much going on in a glass of that!) If not, then the 2008 Chidaine Clos Habert Montlouis swings way above it's under $25 price-point. WAAAAYYYY above.

      Finally, any of a number of great 2009 cru-Beaujolais, especially Coudert's Clos de la Roilette Fleurie cuvee tardive, Brun's Moulin-a-Vent, and Foillard's Morgon. Lapierre's Morgon is also amazing, but good luck finding any now (seriously... good luck!!). All around $20-25, except the Foillard which is usually mid-30s. These are not confected banana yeast nouveaus-these are minerally, terroir-driven, age-worthy wines of exceptional distinction.

      1. re: Ricardo Malocchio

        Thanks Ricardo Malocchio and Kenito799 for all these great suggestions.

        I actually already have the 2000 Lopez de Heredia Gran Reserve rose, which has been sitting in my wine locker waiting for the right occasion! Should it be chilled just like a white?
        I just read the description from my local wine merchant of the 1991 Lopez de Heredia "Viña Tondonia" Blanco Reserva Rioja, which they have available for $39.99. My mouth is drooling.

        I also already have the Lapierre, Beaujolais Cru Morgon, Cuvee MMIX sitting in my wine locker, waiting for the right occasion. I didn't know it was so hard to get - I bought it about two months ago and paid $44.95. I will also look into the other recommended cru Beaujolais, as I am a big fan of cru Beaujolais.

        I will also look into the chenin blanc -- Vouvray was the very first wine I ever drank, so I would like to revisit the chenin blanc grape which I haven't had in years. The 2008 Chidaine Clos Habert Montlouis is available locally here in Los Angeles.

        Thanks for all the suggestions!

        1. re: omotosando

          For the LdH rosados, I like to serve them just below 60F or so, or much warmer than your typical rose. But I also prefer my white wines a bit warmer than most.

          It looks like I totally missed out on the 1991 Tondonia blancos! I love the 1990, heard great things about the 1991... but wasn't as crazy about the 1992 I sampled. If you're in Boston, L'Espalier is serving the 92 by the glass ($22). It tasted very fresh to me, almost too fresh, but maybe that bodes well for the longer term? At any rate, it's significantly less complex and lacks that sherryish nuttiness (not necessarily an oxidative thing) that I love about the 1990.

          Glad to hear you have the Lapierre! I was able to grab a case and am trying to keep my hands off the last 9 bottles. Also really glad you're able to find the Clos Habert. Give that one some air before you start, and if you can hold some for the second day (or even third) it continues to expand and evolve in some simply wondrous ways.

          1. re: Ricardo Malocchio

            I need to get into cru Beaujolais, sounds like great value and a style I would like. Thanks for the suggestions.

            LdH rosados and blancos--do not overchill! You will taste nothing. I like them even a bit warmer than cellar temperature, like a red. I LOVE how these wines evolve in the glass, you get a different experience with each sip. The 1999 Gravonia Blanco Crianza is a super wine for $20.

            I agree with the Produttori del Barbaresco suggestion, great wines at that price. I am going to a Nebbiolo tasting this week and I hope to leave with some more suggestions for savory Piedmont values.

            1. re: kenito799

              The 2001 Gravonias have just hit the shelves here ... and I love 'em!

          2. re: omotosando

            I just had to say that you made me smile. Many moons ago, when teachers did not get in trouble for this sort of thing, Madame Lane, my French teacher, would host a dinner at the local French restaurant for all of the students. She always went on and on about Vouvray and encouraged us to try it! Of course, she once fell off her chair in the middle of class, which led us to believe she may have been indulging in a little too much Vouvray. She had orange hair that matched her 70 something Camaro :-) RIP Madame Lane!

          3. re: Ricardo Malocchio

            Lopez de Heredia wines are good value at any price, and are wonderful agers.

            Quite a bit of good Vouvrays out there, and Sauvignon Blancs that are not from New Zealand that would fit in your price range.

            Second the recommendation for the Crus Beaujolais.

        2. I'm not sure what part of the Los Angeles area you're in, but wine stores I'd recommend include K&L in Hollywood, Wine Expo in Santa Monica and Wine Country in Long Beac(okay, technically Signal Hill).
          I agree with most of the recommendations. The Heredia Rose has a reputation for being quite different, so I wouldn't discount the rest of the wines if you don't like the rose.
          The Loire Valley will have some tremendous values for less than $35. These include chenin blanc, romarantin and Muscadet for whites and cabernet franc and rare grapes like Pineau d'Aunis for red.
          I don't like cab franc. I get too much of the vegetal, green pepper flavor. But lots of others seem to like it. Look for Loire producers like Breton and Puzelat.
          Romarantin is only produced in Couer-Cheverney. It can be dry or off dry. It's a weird, wonderful grape. Puzelet and Cazin are two of the better producers.
          For less than $35 you can get wonderful wines from the southern Rhone, like Pallieres, which is co-owned by Kermit Lynch, the negociant St. Cosme and Raspail-Ay, which is a traditional winemaker.
          Sang Des Callioux is a Kermit Lynch import from Vacqueyras and is wonderful.

          16 Replies
          1. re: SteveTimko

            You guys are hitting all my favorites, and some recent discoveries!

            I tasted my first Pineau d'Aunis last week, a 2009 Domaine de Bellivière Coteaux du Loir Rouge Gorge (about $25-30). High marks both for being both interesting in a geeky way and delicious in an unusual, unfamiliar way. Smoky, spicey almond cherry with a chalkiness like powdered sugar (but no impression of sweetness). Good info here:

            1. re: Ricardo Malocchio

              Yes I love that Belliviere Pineau d'Aunis! Another PdA with great black pepperiness is 06 Emile Heredia Domaine de Montrieux Le Verre des Poètes.

              I am a cab franc fan too, Olga Raffault makes great Chinon. Another nice cab franc is Thierry Germain Saumur-Champigny.

              The only time I tried Romorantin it was an 05 Cazin (had it sept 2010). I found it so tart I couldn't get much out of it. Maybe they are better with more age?

              In general great terroir-driven wines that are also super values can be found all over Loire. The absolute best Muscadets are under $35 and they are amazing. Most Muscadets are under $20. Pepiere, Grange, Haute Fevrie are some of my favorite producers.

              1. re: kenito799

                Interestingly, I have two Olga Raffault's sitting at home, which I bought on a whim because I had recently tasted several amazing Cheval Blanc's (which I understand to be mostly Cabernet Franc) and was interested in exploring Cabernet Franc at a more affordable price point (the Cheval Blanc's were most decidedly not under $35). Can't wait to open the Olga Raffaults.

                It seems like the Loire is the name of the game. Recently had the 2006 Lucien Crochet Sancerre Rouge La Croix du Roy, which I bought for $28. While not earth shattering, it was certainly better than other Pinots I have had at similar price points.

                Your post also reminded me of how much I love Muscadet. Wish more restaurants had it on their wine lists. I think the main reason I like the Los Angeles outpost of the restaurant Bouchon is because they sell Muscadet.

                1. re: omotosando

                  In the FWIW Dept.,

                  Château Cheval Blanc is, as you know, a St.Émilion (Bordeaux), and -- to my knowledge -- the only château that is predominantly Cabernet Franc. (Certainly it's the only "major" château that is.) IIRC, it is -- depending upon the vintage -- 57-66% Cabernet Franc and the rest virtually all Merlot, with a touch of Malbec and a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon.

                  The appellations of Chinon, Bourgueil, and the tiny St.-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil produce red wines that are 90-100% Cabernet Franc. Up to a maximum of 10% Cabernet Sauvignon may be used, but often that is omitted. The same is true for rosé wines, although they account for less than 5 percent of the appellation's production. White wine is even less, and produced from Chenin Blanc.

                  Now, to my taste, Loire Cabernet Franc doesn't taste anything like Cheval Blanc. they can be some great wines to be sure, but I would not expect the wine to be reminiscent of a white pony, let alone a Cheval Blanc . . .


                  1. re: zin1953

                    Yes the Loire cab francs are all about earth, vegetables, minerals, iron and blood. It can be great, it can be super funky. But not usually too expensive!

                    I love Loire cab franc roses...especially how dry they usually are. The slight green pepper note adds some savory interest to the usual strawberry-melon rose experience. I drink Jean-Maurice Raffault's rose every summer.

                    1. re: kenito799

                      Just tried the 2010 J-M Raffault Rose and I was disappointed...sort of typical pedestrian strawberry rose, no hints of vegetal cab franc flavors that I have enjoyed in the past. Oh well....

                      But I must report on a fantastic $30 bottle that is wonderful now but will drink well for decades: La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial 2001. Just released, this is powerfully flavored yet light in an old school Rioja way. I wish I had enough storage space to fill a closet with it. Rioja Alta has only declared two other vintages to be worthy of a Reserva Especial release: 1964 and 1973. I can't wait to taste the 01 890 Gran Reserva when they release that! Most likely will be priced above $30.

                      1. re: kenito799

                        A while back, I had a Les Varennes du Grand Clos 2005 from Chinon that I really loved.

                        1. re: Ed Dibble

                          Unfortunately, I see on Wine Searcher that the 2005 Les Varennes du Grand Clos is only available from two vendors in the U.S. (neither of them local to me) and an auction site trying to auction it for $75 a bottle! I also see it was a L.A. Times wine of the week back in 2008 and the price was $29 to $32 a bottle. Sounds like a great wine, albeit too much of a pain in the neck to obtain at this point.

                          1. re: omotosando

                            Too bad, I had a bottle at Passionfish in Pacific Grove (near Monterey and Carmel CA) a couple of years ago and fell in love. Luckily, the restaurant sells its wine at retail prices, so I could affort a bottle (and I was on vacation, so what the h**l). I'm not sure about more recent vintages, but I would try it again.

                      2. re: zin1953

                        Brought a 1986 Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses to a blind tasting yesterday. Now, 99% of the time when I pick up an unknown wine on a whim, I'm disappointed. I'm glad to say that this was the 1% of the time where a whim yielded a magnificent wine. 100% Loire Cabernet Franc did not disappoint. While I wouldn't have mistaken it for a Cheval Blanc, the wine definitely had some of the layers of complexity that I like in Cheval Blanc. I paid $60 for the bottle, so it doesn't fit into the category of great wines under $35, but it was definitely cheaper than a Cheval Blanc.

                        Interestingly, the instructor at the blind tasting initially guessed the Olga Raffault as a 10 year old pinot rather than a 25 year old Cab Franc.

                        Can't wait to open the 2005 Olga Raffault that I also picked up, although I am also considering cellaring it for a few years based on the amazing 1986.

                        Back to the subject of wines under $35, one of the other wines that I really enjoyed at the tasting was a 2006 Angelo Germano Barolo, which can be found in the $27-$30 price range. I liked it better than some more pricier wines that were also served.

                        1. re: omotosando

                          I'm very glad the wine turned out the way it did . . . but keep one thing in mind: as outstanding as Raffault's Chinons can be, they taste NOTHING like Château Cheval-Blanc.

                          1. re: zin1953

                            If I weren't jealously guarding the one Cheval Blanc that I have stashed away, I'd open it side by side with my remaining Olga Raffault and do a comparison tasting . . .

                          2. re: omotosando

                            The 2002 Les Picasses I believe is actually her most current release from that vineyard. You should still be able to find it at a relative bargain for an almost-10 year old wine. I have tasted that wine a few times over a course of 3 or 4 years. It still has a ton of freshness and has a long life ahead.

                            Though I haven't had the 2005 vintage of the regular bottling, I would hesitate to let cellar it much longer. While I'm sure it could take some short term cellaring, from past experience, I doubt it will improve much, if at all.

                            1. re: mengathon

                              I currently have cellared the 1986, 1990 and 2005 Les Picasses. The 2005 is labeled Les Picasses, like the older vintages. I am curious why you would hesitate to cellar the 2005 much longer. Is it something about that year's vintage? I recently had a bottle of the 1986 and it was not in the least bit too old and that vintage is 19 years older than the 2005 vintage.

                              1. re: omotosando

                                Sorry, was referring only to the regular bottling. Her basic Chinon, while quite pleasant, is not a wine that I think improves with age.

                                I agree with you, the Les Picasses bottling should age.

                    2. re: Ricardo Malocchio

                      Tried the 2009 Domaine de Bellivière Coteaux du Loir Le Rouge-Gorge. Agree that it is a good wine for the money.

                      Also fell in love with the Tenuta San Guido Toscana Le Difese, which I had at a restaurant and which my local wine store is selling on prearrival for $25. It's Tenuta San Guido's third wine. Would love to sample Tenuta San Guido's first and second lines, but, alas, they exceed the price point.

                  2. Big Fire Pinot Grig is good. Joseph Carr Chardonnay. I do love Rodney Strong's Pinot Noir as well.

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