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exploring wine with tim fish

A Spanish Red Value that Puts California to Shame

When it comes to bang for the buck, Evodia Garnacha leaves the Golden State in the dust
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Apr 24, 2013 10:30am ET

A good $10 bottle of red is not easy to find anymore. It's funny how people get excited about a great bargain, whether 10 bucks is all they can afford or they're buying it by the case for a barbecue. California isn't a lot of help. Too many of the reds selling for $10 or less aren't worth a spit.

Why can't more wine regions—particularly California—make wines like Altovinum's Evodia Old Vines Garnacha Calatayud 2011? It has lively raspberry aromas with hints of lead pencil and grilled herb plus flavors that are lively and ripe, but balanced with minerally acidity. The suggested retail is $10, but it often sells for less. I gave it 88 points, non-blind, on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale.

Garnacha is the Spanish name for Grenache, the dominant grape used in France for Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape and increasingly popular with California winemakers. Spain is laced with old Garnacha vineyards like the ones used to make Evodia. Located at altitudes between 2,400 to 3,000 feet in the mountains of the Calatayud region in Northern Spain, the vines were planted more than 70 years ago in dense slate soil.

Winemaker Jean-Marc Lafage further emphasizes the distinctiveness of the place by aging the wine for five months in stainless steel, not oak. Importer and Evodia partner Eric Solomon imported 25,000 cases of the 2011 to the States, so availability is decent. If you can't find it, you might try the similarly priced Las Rocas and Borsao Tres Picos Garnachas.

I'm sure the economics conspire against it, but I'd like to see California match that same bang for the buck. It's not really until you reach $15 or $20 a bottle that California can compete on the same quality level. California is still a decent value at that price point, no question, but it does make you wonder why so many domestic wines under $10 are palatable at best. Any readers care to challenge that notion? I'd welcome the discussion.

Bill Matarese
Florida, USA —  April 24, 2013 11:47am ET
Tim, believe it or not, the 2010 is even better than the 2011. Wine Advocate scored it at 90 points and IMHO they were very close to the mark.

FWIW, over on CellarTracker I rated the 2010 at 89 points (5+11+16+7) and the 2011 at 86 points (5+11+13+7). For the money, both are tough to beat - with the 2010 being freakishly good. See if you can round up a bottle, there are still a few around.
Richard Lee
Napa —  April 24, 2013 12:48pm ET
Hopefully Bogle din't slip your mind. You yourself rated the 2010 Merlot at 88 points and the 2009 and 2010 Old Vine Zin at 87 each. These wines are easily found at $8.99.
Mark Lyon
Sonoma, California —  April 24, 2013 12:52pm ET
Ah,a favorite subject of mine! I also make California Varietal Blends at or under $10/bottle. The challenges are many. We'e pigeon holed into the fighting varietal category. In short; Lodi and Central Valley are getting good prices on their varietals; more so than buying identical wines from Chile and South Africa. For varietals like Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, they are the better value. Land prices are higher; even in the Central Valley (due to competing crops) than in the other regions of the world, including Spain.

I think the only way California can make a quality, under $10/bottle is as a red blend. This brings back memories (60's) of Gallo Hearty Burgundy; of which was an excellent blend of Central Valley Ruby Cabernet, Barbera, Carignane and Petite Sirah.

Spain is full of Old Vines and untapped potential of delivering unique wines at great prices. Because the acreage is so large, the pool of wines are widely available. All good for the consumer that likes Red Wines like Grenache and Tempranillo.

Although I've mainly enjoyed the charms of Spanish Tempranillo, I will certainly check out these Red "Garnacha" values from Spain too!
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento, CA —  April 24, 2013 4:15pm ET
Land prices are much higher in California (esp in the areas capable of making great wine) than in Spain. Its as simple as that.
Jim Edmiston
Chino,CA, USA —  April 24, 2013 5:50pm ET
I'm happy with Spanish Garnacha, too... especially the recently reviewed Bodegas Borsao Monte Oton 2011 at $7.95 a bottle. It's perfect "week-day" wine. The same can be said for the Bodegas Braca Old Vine Garnacha 2011 and $7.95 as well. Wines to buy by the case!
Adam Lee
Sonoma County, CA —  April 24, 2013 6:32pm ET
Tim,

In 2009, the Spanish wine industry received $628 million in EU subsidies. I don't know how that is distributed, but that probably helps somewhat. In the USA we choose to subsidize grain farmers, not grape farmers. It is just a different set of priorities.

As far as CA reds under $10 "not being worth a spit" - I am not entirely certain that is true. A quick search of $10 and under CA wines tasted by the Wine Spectator over the last year shows 34 wines, all rated 80 point or better. That doesn't seem all that bad.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines
Kelly Carter
Colorado —  April 24, 2013 10:32pm ET
Thanks for reminding readers that Spain has some great wines that are also a great value to consumers. For those who lament that people don't drink Aussie wines because of the exchange rate, your experience debunks a bit of that. Spain uses the Euro which at current rate (1.305 USD/1.0 Euro) puts the wine you selected at approximately 7.7 Euros. Aussie exchange rates are currently at 1.03/1.0 USD. The Aussie exchange rate hardly explains why people are not buying Aussie wines.

Mr. Lee points out that subsidies exist for Spain, and California land is expensive. However many wineries (and the vines) have existed for decades on land costs that are fixed except for new acreage. California's high costs include the very high cost of doing business in the form of costly regulations, high taxes, and high transportation and fuel costs (among the highest in the country).

The international market for wine enables us to buy a California Cabernet, an Argentinean Malbec, or a Spanish Garnacha. Happily for consumers, our choices are as expansive as ever.
Cutting Edge Selections
ohio —  April 25, 2013 7:58am ET
It seems to me that too many California wine conglomerates that tend to produce wines in that price category are more interested in spending money on marketing, (i.e. labeling, promo displays, focus groups, etc.) than what goes into the bottle.
Ed Powers
putney, vermont —  April 25, 2013 10:21am ET
I think you may have answered your own question in the article, in that, how much old vine garnacha can you find in California? I would imagine that if you could find vines 40+ years old, that the price would reflect demand in the california market alone. That the spanish vines were planted in dense slate as well, only adds to the reasons why California can't compete. I think the age on these inexpensive spanish wines really adds a good amount of structure. I would agree with the previous comment too that the 2010 was even better. Can't wait for the 2012.
Ripon CA —  April 25, 2013 3:12pm ET
Any suggestions where to find these Spanish wines in the central or northern CA area?
Eric Hall
Healdsburg, CA —  April 26, 2013 1:09pm ET
Hmmm....

Spanish Unemployment rate 27.2%
Spanish Hourly Minimum Wage $5.57
EU Subsidies $628 Million.

An abundant producer of fruit, Grenache habitually will "alternate" a crop of 8 to 10 tons per acre one year and 14 to 16 tons the next

Eric Hall
Roadhouse Winery
Joe Lombardi
Toms River, NJ, USA —  April 26, 2013 6:29pm ET
Uh, WS scored the Bota Box Cab Sauv, California 2007 an 87. It goes for about $20 for three liters -- five bucks a bottle.

It was reviewed in 2009, but still.
Joe Dekeyser
Waukesha, WI USA —  April 29, 2013 4:02pm ET
When I think of values in the US, I automatically think of Washington State and not of California. The fall-off in quality from a $20 CA wine to a $10 CA wine seems to be pronounced. I look at WA wines and the biggest difference between the same price points seems to have a lot more to do with volumes produced or single vineyard vs AVA source that it does with quality and the quality is extremely good. Its not as if I don't look to CA for wines - I probably have 300 examples in my cellar (many more than I do from WA or France or Spain - each having fine value offerings) but the lack of really good value wines from the Golden State seems to be a continuing mystery.
Bill Matarese
Florida, USA —  April 30, 2013 3:02pm ET
I'm with you there Joe. In the "under $9" category, the pickings are slim indeed for California wines aside from Bogle. In Washington, Columbia Crest and Hogue each do a very good job year after year at that price point in both red and white wines.
Robert Seaney
Sylvania, OH —  May 5, 2013 9:36am ET
Several folks mentioned Bogle as a good value CA wine. And I agree heartily - I'm particularly fond of their petite sirah. Another good value producer from CA that has not been mentioned yet is Concannon. Again, excellent petite sirahs.

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