Bordeaux. Burgundy. Barolo. Champagne. If you’re into wine, you’ve not only heard of these great wine regions in Europe, but you also know that the wines that come from these places are among the best in the world. And the most expensive.
However, there are plenty of lesser-known regions in Europe where the quality of the wine is good or even excellent and the price is affordable.
Located in southern France, the Languedoc wine region, which is sometimes combined with its smaller neighbor to the south, Roussillon, and referred to as Languedoc-Roussillon, has been producing wine for more than 2,000 years.
The Languedoc-Roussillon is the world’s largest wine region, producing more than two billion bottles a year and about a third of France’s total production. Historically, the region produced low-cost wines with quality that matched the price. However, since the turn of the century or so, it has started producing many better quality wines – especially those with an Appellation d’Origine Protégée designation – with the price increases not keeping pace with the betterment in quality.
The region is very diverse in terms of wine grapes, and most of its wines are blends or two or more grapes. Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier all prominent, as well as Cinsault, Carignan, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Roussane, Marsanne, Picpoul and several other more obscure grapes.
Most of the red wines from Languedoc-Roussillon are fruity, full-bodied blends. Many of the white wines are blends as well, but Languedoc-Roussillon also produces a wine called Picpoul de Pinet – a high acidity varietal wine made with a grape called Picpoul – otherwise known as Piquepoul. Fresh and bright, it is excellent when paired with seafood dishes and is a perfect everyday wine for Cayman’s climate.
Alsace, in eastern France, also offers good value, especially when it comes to its white wines like Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Riesling.
Rich and aromatic, some of Alsace’s white wines can be pricey, but there are still good values, particularly with crowd-pleasing Pinot Blancs and some of the Rieslings.
The region also produces Pinot Noir, some of which is delicious as single varietal still wine. However, the grape really finds its sweet spot in the great-value sparkling wines of the region, Cremant d’Alsace, which offer high quality for excellent value.
There are several wine regions in Italy that offer good value wines, and in general, the farther south you go, the better the value.
Campania in southwest Italy offers the best quality red in Aglianico, sometimes known as the “Barolo of the South.” Well-made Aglianico, especially from Taurasi, can improve with age for 20 years or more and still maintain good fruitiness.
Prices for this quality of wine might not be inexpensive, but they are still considerably less than what they would be for wines from other regions of equal quality.
There are other good Aglianicos from Campania that are less expensive, as well as red wines such as Coda di Volpe, that are priced under $20.
The key white wines in Campania are Fiano, Greco and Falanghina, the latter gaining popularity as an affordable varietal wine in recent years. Aromatic with refreshing acidity, Falanghina pairs very well with seafood dishes.
Farther south and to the east of Campania in Italy’s “boot” is Puglia, which produces more wine that any other region in Italy.
In years past, Puglia’s warm-climate wines were used in various blends or to make vermouth, but now it is producing increasing amounts of good quality varietal still wines. The two red grapes that stand out most are Negroamaro, which produces a wine called Salice Salentino – considered the region’s best – and Primitivo, which is the same grape used to make Zinfandel in the United States.
Although not known for its white wines on an export level, there are some surprises. The winery Tormaresca, which is owned by the Antinori group, makes a medium-body, unoaked Chardonnay that is fruity with good acidity that is more like a Sauvignon Blanc than a Chardonnay. Best of all, it sells for less than $16 in Cayman.
The Mediterranean island of Sicily is another place where great value can be found in its diverse wines.
Although several top producers are now making fine wines in Sicily that are not inexpensive, there are still many good-to-excellent wines coming out of the region that are value-priced, particularly those made with its most important grapes: the white grape Grillo and the black grape Nero d’Avola.
In general, Spanish wines offer great value across the board. There are some fantastic producers in Spain getting top dollar for their wines, but even in the country’s most famous wine region, Rioja, there are still excellent values, particularly at the Reserva and Gran Reserva levels.
The best known grape from Spain is Tempranillo, which grows in several of Spain’s very distinct wine regions. One of those regions is Ribera del Duero, which is known for having Spain’s most famous winery, Bodegas Vega Sicilia. Due to its success, many other wineries were established in Ribera del Duero, and although some of them produce wines that are expensive, others produce wines of high quality that are affordable.
Perhaps the best value in Spain, however, is in Rueda, where the white wine Verdejo is made.
A medium-bodied wine with citrus and tropical fruit flavors, Verdejo is perfect for the Cayman Islands climate and cuisine, and it’s generally priced under $16.
A little rarer, but available in Cayman through Vino Veritas, are wines from the very small wine region called Pla de Bages, west of Barcelona, where a variety of indigenous and international grape varieties grow well. The wines of the region are generally easy-drinking, affordable blends priced under $20.