A recent blog focused on value wines from all over the USA, because everyone loves a deal (except people who own a private jet, if you believe the Sprint commercials) (because commercials never lie).  The great state of California is no exception; even in the high-rent district of Napa, bargains can be unearthed.

Napa chardonnay gets a bad rap among Sommeliers – too much oak, not enough acid, big bucks at the register.  The bulk of the buying public disagrees, having developed a special affinity for the ‘buttered popcorn’ characteristics (which may explain why the same crowd love the Sumer Blockbuster flicks in the movie theater) (especially at the movie theaters where you can actually drink buttery chardonnay while you eat your buttered popcorn watching the movie) (thank you, Hollywood) (or whoever came up with that gem) and big, broad fruit flavors inherent in most Napa chardonnays. The best bang for the buttery buck is Sentall chardonnay (especially in ripe vintages like ’10, ’12, ’13, ’14).  The Rombauer and Cakebread cognoscenti could be pocketing a whole lot of dollars to pour into other questionable purchases if they just switched to Sentall (maybe not enough for a private jet, but certainly more visits to that awesome movie theater).

Once a big player, sauvignon blanc in Napa seems scarcer by the vintage.  When it can be found, it generally carries a Napa price tag that breaks the bank (there is a reason Napa is a four-letter word) (like cash), but the Neal Family sb puts the bank back together (not the same as putting the band back together, but enjoyable nonetheless).  It is bright, shiny, full of chokecherry fruit and freshly picked purple basil.  It is beautifully balanced, a touch creamy, varietally sound, and versatile for food pairing.  It makes me think that Neal Family Winery may have some other bottles worth tippling.


The undisputed King of Napa is cabernet sauvignon.  Several Napa ‘cult’ cabs bring in auction dollars rivalling those of Bordeaux first growths (IE, we are back to that private jet crowd).  Even seventh-tier cabernet from Napa warrants triple-digit prices.  Finding the ’12 Baus Family cabernet sauvignon is like finding a needle in a haystack in the Space Needle.  I have no idea how the wine will perform in a tough vintage, but from 2012 to 2014 the bottles will likely be nuggets of unrefined gold, treasures for sure, perhaps a bit rough around the edges, with rich veins, solidly built, with brilliant futures ahead.

From Monterey to Paso Robles, the Central Coast has become California’s most consistent region for great price/quality ratio.  For my money/sipping ratio, a quartet of wineries stand out.  Laetitia in the Arroyo Grande (particularly their pinot noir, chardonnay, and, under a sister label, Nadia cabernet); Hahn Family Wines, which run the gamut throughout the region, even featuring a SLH designation for their Santa Lucia Highlands bottlings (although it’s tough to get past their fantastic GSM and Meritage offerings from the Central Coast label);  Poppy, from Monterey (Monterey Poppy, I get it) (come on, somebody remember the 60s!), with wildly inexpensive chardonnay and pinot noir; and LaZarre, made mostly from Paso Robles fruit, fantastic whites (sauvignon blanc, albariño) and even better, albeit a bit pricier, reds (pinot noir and amazing merlot).  This is just a jumping off point, the Central Coast sports numerous wines that play well above their pay grade (or your pay grade…tolerance…pennies on the pinot, cents on the chardonnay, you get the idea).

Organic wine typically doesn’t equate with value prices.  A pair of Mendocino labels manage to be both organic and economic.  Barra wins the dollar days with chardonnay, cabernet, and petite sirah, while Girasole counters with cabernet, sangiovese, and a pure, pretty pinot blanc.  Quality can vary greatly depending on the vintage, and neither label strives for tremendous depth or thought-provoking complexity, but when prices are this low (six-pack of light beer low), drink up and add up the savings.

Some fabulous value wines are produced with less adherence to specific regions and more effort on bang, meet buck, while still delivering big flavor and interest. Cline Cellars is based in Sonoma, but the majority of their wide-ranging lineup isn’t tied to that, from the Contra Costa County trio of ‘Ancient Vines’ (mourvèdre, zinfandel, carignane, all rich throughout) (but not the cost) to the Lodi ‘Cal Classics’ (syrah, viognier, zin) and the dirt cheap red and white blends from the Oakley label.  Cline is clearly a winery geared toward consumer wants, needs, and pocketbook.

The epitome of bungee-jumping boundaries comes from Bedrock’s second label, Shebang.  As in the whole Shebang, because that’s what they deliver. Never mind that the wines are non-vintage and stem from really old vine field blends from all over the state that include grapes thought to be retired if not extinct (green hungarian, burger, mission, aubun, palomino – I know, it sounds like a parody, but even I couldn’t make all those up), the wines, which used to be sold in jugs (because jug wines are so well respected), just flat out deliver.  As far as I’m concerned, they could be sold in flasks or egg cartons, it wouldn’t matter, the price/quality ratio here sets the bar.  These are probably meant to be ‘house wines’, everyday consumption, and they are priced accordingly, but try blinding them sometime against…whatever, Bordeaux, brunello, margaritas for all I care, they are fascinating.  Shebang, meet buck.

Peter Kasperski