Latest Web wine buzz — from Spanish excellence to Bordeaux bargains

Tune in to what top wine bloggers and experts are decanting into cyberspace with handpicked highlights of their latest and greatest, ranging from “emerging excellence” from Spain and an un-frugal selection for the wine-lover in your life to Bordeaux strategies and South American bargains.

“Emerging excellence” is the theme of the latest column by Michael Franz at Wine Review Online — and decent prices might be a sub-theme — for what he calls remarkable wines from three Spanish areas.

Thirteen wines are listed, ranging from $12 to $30, and most are seen as terrific values, “balanced and packed with deep, satisfying flavors.”

There’s little doubt that Spain, of all the countries in Europe, is sending us the best bargains in red wine … The only bad news to be reported is that availability in North America is spotty from market to market … So, you may need to do a bit of searching to try these wines, but I believe they are well worth the search.

Warning: Utterly forget the Wine News Review fairly frugal affordability index with this item.

For Dorothy J. Gaiter And John Brecher at The Wall Street Journal, it’s that pre-holiday time of year when they like to recommend “one break-the-bank, you-shouldn’t-have bottle for the wine-lover in your life.”

This time around it’s the “lusty” Penfolds Grange, made from Shiraz and occasionally some Cabernet Sauvignon. They tasted 10 vintages, going back to 1971, and were blown away.

We have been writing this column for almost a decade now and have been drinking and studying wine for 35 years, but we have never had such a consistently exciting tasting. We expected to enjoy these wines, but we never would have guessed that five of the 10 wines would rate Delicious or higher.

Even the cost of Grange seems incredibly modest compared with Bordeaux prices, which as Joseph Ward at The Washington Post observes, have “gone mad.” Like, $8,000 for a case of wine?!

The good news is that Bordeaux lovers can continue to drink Bordeaux, and not go bankrupt — “with some adjustments.” Ward highlights five Bordeaux finds ranging from $20 to $120 dollars.

And he offers several strategies to help you latch on to other relatively affordable bottles, including:

Look for undervalued great wines from earlier vintages — another reason you’ll need a good wine merchant, although the Internet is useful, too. An outstanding vintage for the mainly cabernet-sauvignon wines of the M-doc is 1996, while 1998 favored the merlot communes of St. Emilion and Pomerol. High 2005 prices have put pressure on those earlier vintages, but there are still relative bargains. And those wines have several years of bottle age and are either close to or at their peak, so it won’t be long before you can realize a delectable return on your investment.

For more down-to-earth bargains, turn to Food & Wine, where Ray Isle serves up the “17 best values” from Chile and Argentina.

Isle starts us off with a little history lesson: Did you know that when the first Thanksgiving was being celebrated in Plymouth Colony in 1621, grapes had been cultivated in those two South American countries for nearly 75 years?

Not all of their wines today may be remarkable, “or even good,” Isle says, but “best bottlings” like those listed in this article, ranging from $9 to $20, are extraordinary buys that could easily grace a modern-day Thanksgiving table. A nice primer:

From Chile, look for crisp, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc from the Casablanca and San Antonio valleys, both located close to the Pacific Ocean, and reds made from Carmenère, a distinctively spicy French grape abundant in Chilean vineyards. In Argentina, the Salta province is known for Torrontés, a native grape variety with a distinctive, floral aroma that makes some of the country’s most interesting whites. But Malbec from Mendoza is unquestionably the country’s marquee variety—its rich blueberry and blackberry flavors, light smokiness and soft tannins lead to immensely appealing red wines.

Switching continents, Roger Voss at Wine Enthusiast tells us to prepare for another surprise from Austria.

That is, don’t just think of whites such as Grüner Veltliner and Rieslings when it comes to Austrian wines, because producers have been busily upgrading their red wine-making techniques.

Ten notable red-wine producers are spotlighted. But, as Voss explains, not all is rosy, at least from a pocketbook perspective:

There is, sadly, a downside to these deliciously fruity, sometimes complex, serious wines: price. High local demand has meant that for us—especially with the weak dollar—these wines are not cheap. The norm is $25 and up, although there are some wines under $20.

But it is worth seeking out a selection of the best (see sidebar). Austria has not yet reached the world league for its reds, as it has for its whites. But the producers are moving fast. Ten years ago, this article could not have been written.