All the surveys say Americans are drinking no less wine in these hard economic times, but we're looking for cheaper ones. Cheaper, but just as good. OK, so we want it all.
One proven strategy is to look to lesser-known winemaking regions: the Loire Valley instead of Burgundy; Croatia instead of Germany; South Africa instead of California.
South Africa, for example, has for centuries made white chenin blanc. They
call it "steen.'' It's grown very little in the rest of the world, and when well-made it can be crisp and fruity. Since it's not a hot commodity, it can be cheap, too. Like South Africa's other popular white, sauvignon blanc, it benefits from cool weather and fog blowing up from Antarctica.
Also emerging is an even lesser-known red wine called pinotage. Created in South Africa in 1925 as a cross between pinot noir and cinsault, it had a rocky debut on the world stage because when poorly made it smelled of acetone. “Spray paint wine,'' it was called.
Now, however, South Africans have discovered its secret: Pick it a little less ripe and it loses the acetone and takes on a nice flavor of black raspberries and mulberries.
Americans are becoming increasingly familiar with Latin American value wines. In fact, U.S. wine imports from Argentina grew 35 percent between 2008 and 2009.
Many wine fans say we should snap up these bargains before Argentine winemakers realize what they have and jack up the prices. That's especially true of malbec. In France, it's a hard-as-nails grape added to Bordeaux blends to give them tannic backbone and deeper color. In Argentina's warm sun, malbec softens into pretty blends of sweet cherries and milk chocolate.
Argentina's Finca La Linda line is by Bodega Luigi Bosca, owned by a family that moved from Spain to Mendoza in the 1890s. It makes wine in several price ranges. When times are better, we will write about their pricier wares.
Ø 2008 Sebeka Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa: crisp and fruity, with lemon-lime and mineral aromas and flavors; $8.
Ø 2008 Sebeka Shiraz/Pinotage “Cape Blend'' Red Wine, South Africa: black cherry and black pepper aromas and flavors; rich and soft; $8.
Ø 2008 Sebeka Cabernet/Pinotage Red Wine, South Africa: black raspberry and bitter chocolate aromas and flavors; rich and soft; $8.
Ø 2009 Finca La Linda Unoaked Chardonnay, Lujan de Cuyo, Argentina: crisp and dry, with green apple and mineral aromas and flavors; $11.
Ø 2008 Finca La Linda Malbec, Lujan de Cuyo, Argentina: black cherry and clove aromas and flavors; soft, rich and ripe; $11.