Whenever someone whines about the lack of value in California they usually point to Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. That's like claiming there's no value in Bordeaux because of Cos-d'Estournel and Château Margaux. That just doesn't compute. Smart buys can be found in California as easily as in Bordeaux.
That became obvious while I was researching "Best of the West for $25 or Less" for the April 30 issue of Wine Spectator. California can overdeliver on quality relative to price with the best of them. And that doesn't mean that consumers have to settle for generic and mass-produced labels that carry broad designations like "California" on the label.
When I conducted a search in January, I found 110 wines tasted in the prior six months priced at $25 or less that scored from 85 to 92 points on our 100-point scale. And not only do those wines offer value, they also give wine drinkers a real sense of place in every glass. The wines from my story hail not only from California but also Oregon and Washington, and a wide range of varietals are represented.
From Mendocino County, for instance, there is Scharffenberger Brut Excellence NV ($19) and Decoy Pinot Noir Anderson Valley 2009 ($22). The Sierra Foothills has a bounty of good Zinfandel like Four Vines Amador County Maverick 2009 ($15), while Monterey County brings on the Chardonnay with good buys such as Bernardus Monterey County 2009 ($22) and Paso Robles deals up Rhône wines such as Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Paso Robles 2010 ($20).
In Oregon, the price of Pinot Noir has been inching up in recent years but there are still plenty of fine values, even from Willamette Valley, including Redhawk Willamette Valley Grateful Red 2009 ($15) and Argyle Willamette Valley 2009 ($25.) Washington's Columbia Valley has a solid reputation for delivering bang for the buck, particularly when it comes to Cabernets such as Gordon Brothers Columbia Valley 2009 ($22).
When it comes to versatility at a fair price, no region delivers the range of Sonoma County, whether it is Dry Creek Fume Blanc Sonoma County 2010 ($12), Cline Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Cool Climate 2009 ($17) or Frei Brothers Merlot Dry Creek Reserve 2008 ($20).
Look for the April 30 issue for a full list of wines and profiles of each of the regions, and let me know what wines, wineries and regions you would add to the list.