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The World's Most Underrated Wines

Posted: August 1, 2000

The World's Most Underrated Wines

By Matt Kramer

They labor in obscurity. They suffer derision. They're underpriced. Most so-called collectors don't own any at all. They are -- you guessed it -- the world's most underrated wines.

The world's success-obsessed wine "lovers," the ones who pay big bucks to drink success, are fetishists. They don't care. Why should they? They pays their (big) money and they takes no chances.

But the rest of us -- bargain-hunters, patron saints of lost hopes -- we have our own needs. We want undiscovered, overlooked, underrated wines. They answer our contrarian urge, our underdog itch -- and they offer, not least, the thrill of beating the market.

Can a wine ever escape from the company of the world's most underrated? Oh, sure. It might surprise you to recall which wines used to belong. If this same column appeared 10 years ago, the roster would've included future all-stars such as Barolo, Barbaresco, Australian Shiraz, Sauternes, Quarts de Chaume, Alsace Rieslings, Ribera del Duero, Barbera d'Alba and all Austrian wines.

All of which is to say that fashions change, tastes change, winemakers wake up. And the market does catch on.

What follows are one man's nominations for the world's most underrated wines. They probably don't want this distinction. Who would?

Sherry. My Sherry amor -- or not. Spanish Sherry may deserve the dubious distinction of being the world's single most underrated wine. Its sales chart looks like a bad day in the ER. Worse, it don't get no respect. Really, this is not right. Spanish Sherry at its best -- which isn't hard to find, by the way -- is an extraordinary wine. It can be thrilling. Yet it still sells for the peanuts with which it's usually served.

Look for producers such as Emilio Lustau (especially the almacenista bottlings), Hildalgo (especially the bottling called La Gitana) and Sandeman's rich yet graceful Imperial Corregidor bottling.

Muscadet. Sales are not the problem for this Loire Valley white. Instead, it has quality-control issues. We're awash in cheap, thin, screechy, dilute Muscadets. Yet really good Muscadet is a revelation.

Price tells us nothing about Muscadet quality; they're all improbably cheap. Look for producers such as Château de Chasseloir and Château du Coing de St.-Fiacre (both owned by the Chéreau family), Guy Bossard, Serge Batard and Louis Métaireau.

Auxey-Duresses. You say you love Burgundy but can't afford it? That all the really fine red and white Burgundies are prohibitively expensive? Think again. For little more than a $20 bill, Auxey-Duresses is your salvation. Auxey-Duresses whites can rival Meursault (which it abuts); its reds, especially the premiers crus, are rich, strong and characterful. And there's a clutch of really great producers: Lalou Bize-Leroy, Jean Lafouge, Vincent Prunier, Pascal Prunier, Michel Prunier, Jean-Pierre Diconne and Duc de Magenta, among others.

Santa Cruz Mountains. This is it: California's all-time underrated wine district. Not that wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains are unknown. You have the renowned Monte Bello Cabernet from Ridge Vineyards, Mount Eden Vineyards' famous Estate Chardonnay, Kathryn Kennedy Winery's Cabernet.

Nevertheless, the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation is the source of some of California's most overlooked Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, Cabernets and Syrahs. In addition to the not-so-famous Chardonnays from Ridge, Cabernets from Mount Eden and Syrahs from Kathryn Kennedy, look for lovely Pinot Noirs from Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard. Above all, keep an eye peeled for the appellation on the labels of wineries outside the area, as the grapes do travel.

Gattinara. If I said you could buy a great Barolo for $25 today, would you believe me? Not likely. Yet that's what Gattinara sells for -- and it was once considered Barolo's equal. Indeed, it still rivals Barolo in top vintages. Gattinara is Italy's most underrated red wine.

Though it has fewer than 250 acres of vines, the Gattinara region produces some terrific wines, which sell at laughable prices. Look for three single-vineyard Gattinaras from Antoniolo, the riserva numerada (numbered reserve) bottling from Travaglini and single-vineyard wines from Nervi and Dessilani.

Matt Kramer has contributed regularly to Wine Spectator for 15 years.

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This column, Unfiltered, Unfined, features the opinionated inside scoop on the latest and greatest in the world of wine, brought to you each time by a different Wine Spectator editor. To read past Unfiltered, Unfined columns, go to the archives.

(And for an archive of senior editor James Laube's columns written just for the Web, visit Laube on Wine.)

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