Long gone are the days when most classified Bordeaux, grand cru Burgundy, prestige Napa Cabernet, top-flight Champagne, elite Barolo and their ilk could be considered anything but special-occasion wines for the great majority of drinkers. But it’s an important part of wine education—not to mention enjoyment—to get a sip of the classics.
We asked these seven wine pros from Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winners what they recommend for customers who want to taste the stars without maxing out their cards.
Wine Spectator: What are some accessible wines you recommend as a gateway to pricey or prestigious regions and styles?
Rafael Sanchez, beverage director at Grand Award winner Addison in San Diego
In Burgundy, you want to seek out wines at the Bourgogne level, but from those big names: Roulot, Leroy, Vogüé, Bachelet, etc. This is a great way to taste a wine that is made in the same manner as something much more expensive.
Nancy Smith, co-owner and wine director at Award of Excellence winner Farina in Kansas City, Mo.
Flaunt sparkling wine from Diana Novy Lee has become a new favorite, and I love pouring it for guests by the glass at our Farina Oyster Bar. It’s a perfect glass of bubbles. It is a little less pricey than true Champagne but, in my opinion, just as good.
Dakota Shy Cabernet Sauvignon packs a lot into a glass or bottle. It has been extremely well-received by our guests that normally want a great Napa Cab but are not willing to make the jump to the price tag some other wines from the region have.
Wendy Heilmann, wine director at Pebble Beach Resorts and its three Best of Award of Excellence winners, in Pebble Beach, Calif.
Kumeu River Chardonnay: Stunning wines with incredible ageability that drink like white Burgundy at a fraction of the price.
Spain produces some amazing red wines that can make Rhône and Cabernet fans happy for less than $20 a bottle. Look to Ribero del Duero and Rioja for wines that are a little on the lighter side and Priorat for wines that overdeliver for the price and tend to be full-throttle on fruit and alcohol.
Joo Lee, wine director at Grand Award winner Saison in San Francisco
Let’s be honest, as sommeliers, we all adore Burgundy, but there is no denying the steady climb in prices due to years of small crops and increased demand. However, there are some accessible wines that can provide really great snapshots into Burgundy’s unique expression of terroir without killing your wallet. Bourgogne rouge and blanc, along with village bottlings, can offer some great juice that’s simple, but still lets the terroir speak for itself. Most top-tier producers will blend a variety of sites, but oftentimes be limited to one village.
It’s a cool gateway to wines made by great producers that are expressive of varietal, place and vintage from one of the most prestigious wine regions in the world.
Catherine DiGennaro, sommelier at Best of Award of Excellence winner Jungsik in New York
Given that the majority of my wine education took place in the temple to Rhône wine known as Tribeca Grill, I'm partial to Côtes du Rhône wines as a gateway to the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Many CDP producers have plots just outside of the appellation and produce extremely well-made CDR for a fraction of the price of their more well-known wines. For example, Domaine de la Janasse makes a few different Côtes du Rhône wines that come from vineyards in the village of Courthézon [near Châteauneuf] that are more affordable and accessible to the average consumer.
When I got my start in the industry, working retail, I was introduced to Sancerre rouge before trying any red Burgundy, so I have a soft spot for those wines as a more affordable alternative to Pinot Noir from the Côte d'Or. The Alphonse Mellot and Lucien Crochet Sancerre Rouge are two favorites of mine and are delicious expressions of Pinot Noir from Kimmeridgian marl and clay soil.
Adam Petronzio, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Porter House Bar and Grill in New York
Gateways to Burgundy are some of my favorites. For whites, Domaine Hubert Lamy Bourgogne Blanc Les Chataigners 2016: I love the wines of Lamy, and this little Chardonnay bats way above its average and is given the same care and attention as its more famous siblings. And Joseph Drouhin Rully 2017: Yes, this is a big house, but this wine has all the brightness, tension and clarity of wine with a more prestigious pedigree, and they actually made more than 10 cases.
For reds, Domaine David Moreau Santenay S 2016 and Domaine Sylvain Pataille Marsannay 2017: These wines are from the very north and the very south of the Côte d’Or. David Moreau is a rising star from Santenay whose wines get better every vintage; Sylvain has a way with Marsannay that delivers way above its price. For Burgundy values, I tend to stay out of the famous towns of the Côte d’Or but stick with great winemakers and rising stars.
Chablis will forever be my gateway into some of the world's best bottles. The vinification makes the differences among villages, vintages and vineyard rankings very overt, while the wine remains delicious and complex. Guests want to know more about the way different sites and producers influence the flavor, [allowing them to] begin their curious exploration in the laddered cru system. It got me hooked.
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