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5 Regions That Over-Deliver on Value

Top-quality bottles for a bargain — from the Alentejo to the Uco Valley

Roger Morris By January 26, 2022
vineyards at Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France
Vineyards at Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France. Photo by lucentius/iStock.

What constitutes a “value wine” or a “value wine region?”

San Francisco sommelier Jienna Basaldu uses a common wine industry phrase to explain why we should be looking in 2022 for value wine regions. “The wines from these places consistently over-deliver,” she says. Other wine professionals employ a boxing analogy: The wines punch above their weight. Translated, both mean wines from these regions are priced less than most wines of similar quality from someplace else.

An informal sounding of many professionals in the wine trade recently — importers, distributors, retailers, sommeliers — has come up with five wine regions that will over-deliver for wine lovers:

Southern Rhône Valley, France

There is a maze of small, historic wine regions in the hills and plains west and south of Avignon that have long been overshadowed by classic Rhône regions such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Hermitage, and Côte-Rotie but which use the same red wine grapes. 

Several Châteauneuf-du-Pape producers, for example, have rediscovered a region just across the Rhône from their rocky domaines called Lirac and now either own vineyards or purchase grapes for less-expensive, but still enticing red wines. “Lirac is a great place for Rhône buyers to find amazing value wines that won’t break the bank,” says Joe Fisch, CEO of online retail giant Wine Access. Customers have noticed, and Fisch says his sales from Lirac increased five-fold between 2020 and 2021.

There are fine rosés to be found as well.

“For those looking for a rosé similar to Provence, but don’t want to spend $20 plus, there is Pays d’Hérault near Montpellier, which grows excellent Grenache and Syrah,” says Adam Sager, co-president of producer and importer Winesellers, Ltd., adding, “Languedoc Cinsault from the Mediterranean shoreline is also one of the main Provence varieties.”

Alentejo, Portugal

clay fermentation vessels in a wine cellar

Clay fermentation vessels known as “talha” are used in Alentejo, Portugal. Photo courtesy of Wines of Alentejo.

This sprawling region east of Lisbon was once known primarily for cattle farming and its cork forests, but today rivals the Douro Valley for quality blends of mostly native red and white varieties.

“The cost of land, labor, grapes, inventory all being low on a global scale keep Alentejano prices low,” says Evan Goldstein, president of Full Circle Wine Solutions. Further, Goldstein adds, prices remain low because most consumers aren’t yet familiar with Portuguese grape varieties. 

“Their strongest performing grapes are essentially unknown outside the world of the inquisitive and eno-cognoscenti,” he says. “Not too many people are screaming for Antão Vaz and Alicante Bouschet as they are for Cabernet and Pinot.” But now they are falling in love with blends made from these grapes.

Penedès, Spain

Being a thrifty first alternative for a more-expensive first choice is always a strong marketing position, and that’s true of Cava. Produced in a number of different regions in Spain, its most famous home is the Penedès region of Catalonia, next door to Barcelona in eastern Spain. Here producers make wines with their own distinctive style, that taste more like Champagne, the gold standard of bubblies, than do the dozens of competitors, including floral Prosecco.

People who have shopped around elsewhere are coming back to Cava for price and quality, Fisch says. “We’ve seen tremendous growth in Cava, growing in sales over 10 times in 2021 versus 2020.” 

Uco Valley, Argentina

Andes mountains over the Uco Valley in Argentina

The Andes rise over the Uco Valley in Argentina. Photo courtesy of Wines of Argentina.

Global warming has made the Uco Valley in Argentina’s Mendoza region a newer source for Malbec and other international grape varietals. Located farther south than Mendoza’s earlier plantings, it is also higher up in the Andes Mountains, at nose-bleed altitude.

“Twenty years ago, you had to be crazy people to plant grapes in the Uco Valley,” says wine geophysicist and author Guillermo Corona. “Now you have people planting up to 2,000 meters,” or 6,560 feet.

Importer Sager points out other characteristics of value regions — consistency and reliability, including less currency exchange risk compared to European producers, “and the harvests are more consistent, so supply doesn’t affect pricing,” he says. “Uco Valley makes excellent Malbec, Cabernet, and red blends consistently, year in and year out, with consistent pricing.”

Marche, Italy

“While there are wine values in Italy, they are not in Piedmont and Tuscany,” Goldstein says, “but there are values in lesser-known spots: Marche, Umbria, Puglia, Campania.” Add Sicily to that list.

But Marche, located on Italy’s eastern Adriatic Coast, has gradually built up a following among importers and retailers. “We’ve seen amazing traction in Marche,” Fisch says. “Our buyers have been quite keen on Italian white wines because of the tremendous value they offer.” The whites are mainly from Verdicchio grapes, while reds come from the familiar Sangiovese and the less-familiar Montepulciano, which is not to be confused with the Tuscan region of the same name.

Other value regions

Basaldu, a sommelier at upscale Angler restaurant in San Francisco, is always searching her wine list for bottles under $100 that can rank against the expensive stuff. In place of white Burgundy, she reaches for Loire Valley Muscadet; instead of red Burgundy, for Spätburgunder, the local name for Pinot Noir from Baden in Germany. And instead of Champagne, French regional crémants.

Kansas City’s Doug Frost, a rare Master Sommelier and Master of Wines, loves to suggest Beaujolais to red Burgundy lovers. “When people ask me why, I exaggerate by insisting that the very best Beaujolais costs less than the very worst Burgundy,” he says. “An exaggeration, but not that far off.”

Robert Bradshaw, CEO of South Africa’s Cape Classics, says, “There has never been a better time to pick up wine that will inspire you and be easy on your wallet like now in Stellenbosch.  These are buy-by-the-case-level deals.” Especially check out South African Chenin Blancs.

Frithjof Knol, national sales director of Arano Imports, finds value in rugged northwest Spain, particularly one native white grape. “Godello is trending particularly well with the trade as a value option for a quality white wine from a rediscovered appellation within Galicia that offers texture and dimension,” he says.

As prices of most goods continue to creep up, there couldn’t be a better time than now for buying wines from these value regions.

5 wines to try from top-value regions:

bottle of Los Dos Cava Brut NV

Los Dos Cava Brut NV (~$11)

A classic blend of Catalonia’s native Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parellada grape varieties, this sparkler has a typical dry spiciness, like geranium leaf, blended with lovely, crisp apples and pear fruitiness followed by a very long, very clean finish. Retailing for under $15, compare it to $20 New World bubblies of similar quality.

bottle of Herdade do Esporão Alentejo Reserva Branco 2019

Herdade do Esporão Alentejo Reserva Branco 2019 (~$16)

A blend of Portuguese Antão Vaz, Arinto, and Roupeiro grapes that produces a flavor and texture profile very similar to blends of the Southern Rhone Valley, this wine has lightly spicy stone fruit and tropical fruit flavors, a hint of honeycomb, and a bit of tanginess in the finish. The blend has great texture or mouth feel and is very well-balanced.

bottle of Dune Sable de Camargue Gris de Gris 2020

Dune Sable de Camargue Gris de Gris 2020 (~$10)

From the wetlands delta where the Rhône flows into the Mediterranean after its 500-mile meander from Switzerland, this gris, a name often applied to light rosés, made from Grenache Gris and Carignan grapes has lovely fragrances and flavors of orange peel, green apples, and mellow cherries with refreshing, piquant bitters in the finish. “Sable” in French means sand.

bottle of Garofoli Farnio Rosso Piceno 2020

Garofoli Farnio Rosso Piceno 2020 (~$11)

From the voluptuous Montepulciano grape, it has very fresh black and red raspberry flavors balanced by lean, tangy acidity and an almost-spritzy texture which all blended together make it very flexible as a table wine.

bottle of Braai Western Cape Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Braai Western Cape Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (~$15)

From South Africa, here is that elusive under-$20 Cabernet that tastes like Cabernet. It has both that distinctive crisp blackberry flavor as well as a touch of savory green — though not in excess — and finishes with nice dusty tannins and a pleasant lean-ness. “Braai” means to grill, and this is an excellent grill-side red.