'Price Point' of Wine a Pivot for Pleasing Your Palate and Purse
The Oregonian

Matt Kramer makes a case for wine values under $10

Selling wine is not rocket science. Oh, sure, there are complications --ferreting out good producers, deciding how much to buy and, not least, getting customers to part with their money.

This last point is the key. Retailers have all sorts of techniques for separating you from your money but nothing beats what the trade calls "price points." The price of a wine determines --much more than quality --its desirability. Every wine, as well as every wine audience, has its sweet spot "price point."

For the larger wine market, the most desirable price point is $9.95 a bottle. Most wine buyers will give just about any wine a look-see if it limbos under the $10 bar. And if the wine also happens to be really good, well, that helps enormously.

For the wine critic the element of quality is paramount. Cheap wines abound. But cheap wines that are very good, well, that's a seeming impossibility. Nevertheless, it is possible to keep your palate virtuous and your purse barely touched. The following wines prove it:

Valleoscuro Prieto Picudo & Tempranillo 2006, Bodegas Otero: Now, here's a stunning bargain from the aptly named Valleoscuro, or hidden valley.

The skinny on this Spanish red is that it comes from what are called the valleys of Benavente. Located about 175 miles northwest of Madrid and less than half that to the Portuguese border, these valleys were created by the streams that are tributaries to the Duero River to the south. (The Duero becomes the Douro when it crosses into Portugal.)

However obscure this area may be, the quality demands of the outside wine world are well-known to the locals, or at least to the Otero family of Bodegas Otero. This is a red wine of real accomplishment.

A blend of Spain's most famous red grape, tempranillo, and the lesser-known prieto picudo (a variety pretty localized to this corner of Spain), Valleoscuro 2006 delivers very tasty goods. Meant to be drunk young and fresh, this is a supple red with bright, fresh cherry and raspberry flavors buoyed by an equally bright acidity. This is the sort of wine that has you reaching for grill tongs.

Here's the best part: Valleoscuro 2006 from Bodegas Otero sells for $7.95 a bottle. Need I say more? Get it while you can. (Distributor is Casa Bruno.)

Cono Sur "Valle Central" Sauvignon Blanc 2007: Spanish seems to be the language of low-priced deals these days. In this case, Chilean Spanish. The winery called Cono Sur was founded in 1993. The name is not a play on the word "connoisseur" but rather means "southern cone," a reference to the southern portions of South America including all of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.

This is no small family winery. Cono Sur was created by the owners of Chile's largest and arguably most famous winery, Concha y Toro. Yet Cono Sur is a winery apart, in every sense, with 2,200 acres of vines in 40 different, often widespread, locations across Chile.

Cono Sur's aim is to create a variety of wines, preferably (but not always) organically grown. Unusually, the winery's most vaulting ambition is for pinot noir, a grape variety with no real tradition in Chile. Cono Sur now is Chile's largest pinot noir producer, although the wine produced so far has a ways to go before rivaling the best of Oregon, California or New Zealand.

But when it comes to sauvignon blanc, Cono Sur offers a worldbeater of a wine at a price that others can only envy. This 2007 bottling designated "Valle Central" is textbook sauvignon blanc (a more expensive reserve bottling comes from Casablanca Valley) that ought to put a scare into New Zealand producers.

Cono Sur "Valle Central" Sauvignon Blanc 2007 is a dry white wine with near-perfect sauvignon blanc qualities of tangy tastes such as grapefruit and gooseberry proffered without a whiff or taste of oak. And it's sealed with a screwcap, New Zealand-style, to preserve its pristine qualities. I'm hard-pressed to think of another sauvignon blanc this good anywhere near its asking price of $9.95 a bottle. This is worth pursuing. (Distributor is Galaxy Wine Co.)

Worth noting: Sauvignon blanc is a white grape that lends itself unusually well to both cooler and warmer climates. Cool-climate sauvignon blanc is all about citrus notes and a lighter texture. Warmer-climate sauvignon blanc --such as that from Napa Valley --offers a dense texture and scents of figs and melons. It also lends itself better to judicious use of oak in both barrel fermentation and aging. A superb example is Napa Valley's Spring Mountain Vineyard sauvignon blanc. At $35 a bottle it's not cheap, but it is one of the world's great sauvignon blancs.

Matt Kramer is a Portland wine critic and author. Reach him at 1320 S.W. Broadway, Portland, OR 9720