Although her store is in the tony town of Greenwich, Connecticut, Terry Rogers, of Horseneck Wine & Liquor, spends much of her time searching out great value wines. Rogers boasts a clientele that ranges from the serious collectors who comb through her impressive selection of first-growth Bordeaux and California cult wines (scattered around the store like so many Easter eggs) to the casual browsers looking for a good $10 wine for a party or for dinner that night.
Her selection process for inexpensive wines, Rogers says, is rigorous: "I may taste more than 20 Chardonnays before I find one that I'll carry." The following 20 wines include some of Rogers's recent discoveries as well as several perennials. In either case, they're some of the favorites of her store's clientele--a constituency that clearly trusts their merchant's judgment. As Rogers reports with a laugh, "A customer recently called to tell me she'd been to a party and she knew I hadn't supplied the wines because they were terrible." Here, Rogers explains what she likes and why.
1998 BECKMEN SAUVIGNON BLANC $13
Steve Beckmen makes three wines at his Santa Barbara winery--Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Syrah. This Sauvignon Blanc is like all Beckmen wines--clean, straightforward and focused. It's dry and not too grassy, with a nice touch of grapefruit and melon and excellent acidity.
1998 BOLLINI PINOT GRIGIO $10
There are a lot of insipid Pinot Grigios around, and a lot of overpriced ones too, but this one actually has body, character, structure and flavor--as well as a great price. It's the best-selling Pinot Grigio in my store.
1998 DOMAINE DE BERNIER CHARDONNAY $10
We've carried this wine for the past four vintages. It's a little unusual, in that it is a Chardonnay from the Loire Valley, an area better known for Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. Round, buttery and rich, it's downright delicious.
1998 DOMAINE L'ENCLOS COTES-DU-RHONE BLANC $11
I think that Rhône whites are among the overlooked gems of the wine world. This medium-bodied white, a blend of Grenache Blanc and Roussanne, has a big mouth feel and vanilla notes. It's imported by Robert Kacher, a reliable source of French wines, some well known, some more esoteric.
1997 DOMAINE FOURNIER SANCERRE $13
We buy this wine 10 cases at a time. A little rounder, a little more full-bodied than most Sancerres, it's the perfect introduction to this white wine for a California Chardonnay drinker. It has the stuff to stand up to pretty big food.
1997 DIDIER CHAMPALOU VOUVRAY CUVEE DES FONDRAUX $15
This classic off-dry Vouvray is a sophisticated take on the Chenin Blanc grape from one of the region's leading producers. It's perfect as an aperitif or a light luncheon wine.
1997 LONGRIDGE CHARDONNAY $11
This California-style Chardonnay from New Zealand is rich and full bodied, with exotic fruit flavors that last and last. It's an excellent value, made by Corbans, one of the country's best-known producers.
1997 DOMAINE SCHLUMBERGER PINOT BLANC $13
I've tasted a lot of Pinot Blancs that haven't impressed me, but this one has. Schlumberger makes some of the richest, roundest wines in Alsace and his Pinot Blanc is no exception. It's a great Chardonnay alternative.
1998 VILLA MARIA SAUVIGNON BLANC $14
This terrific New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has all the fresh grapefruit flavors and the lively acidity that characterize the best the country has to offer.
1997 WATERBROOK CHARDONNAY $14
One of my more recent discoveries, this Chardonnay is made in Washington State by Eric and Janet Rindal. It is definitely more Burgundian than Californian in style: subtle and delicate with spice and mineral notes and aromas of melon and citrus. I also like Waterbrook's red blend, which is called Mélange.
1997 ALTESINO ROSSO DI ALTESINO $14
From a great Italian vintage, this "baby Brunello" is produced by a highly regarded winery. When people come to the store looking for Brunello and are shocked at the price (often more than $50), I suggest this wine. Of all the Rossos I've tasted, Altesino's is the most immediately pleasing: spicy, meaty, with lots of ripe, forward fruit.
1998 CASTELVERO BARBERA $8
There is no other word for this wine than delicious. It's not at all complex, but its ripe, sweet cherry fruit makes you want to drink glass after glass. Get a pizza and grab a bottle.
1997 DELAS FRERES COTES DU VENTOUX $9
Although Délas went through a pretty rough period, producing some less than stellar wines, I've been pleased with the ones I've tasted lately. This Côtes du Ventoux is no exception. It's medium bodied with soft, ripe fruit.
1997 FIRESTONE CABERNET SAUVIGNON $15
We're calling this the Cabernet buy of the century. It's just about impossible to get a really good California Cab at a reasonable price, which makes this effort by Firestone that much more impressive. This wine has a huge mouth feel, with plump lush flavors of chocolate, cherry and plum. Serve it with steak or grilled or roasted meat.
1997 FRANCISCAN ZINFANDEL $15
This wine is really undervalued. In fact, I think Franciscan has forgotten to raise the price (which is fine by me). Spicy, rich and full bodied, it offers the complete Zin experience at half the cost of its peers. It would go nicely with spicy stews, sausage or even Thanksgiving turkey with all the trimmings.
1997 GLASS MOUNTAIN MERLOT $11
There's a Merlot backlash going on at my store. People come in and ask for "anything but Merlot" simply because there is a lot of lousy Merlot out there. Glass Mountain, made at Markham Vineyards, gives the grape its credibility back, with all the soft, lush fruit that first made Merlot famous.
1998 GRANDE CASSAGNE COSTIERES DE NIMES GRENACHE-SYRAH $10
This wine is produced at a small château on the western edge of the Rhône Valley. It's medium bodied with bright cassis flavors and notes of pepper and spice.
1997 DON MIGUEL GASCON MALBEC $12
Malbec is to Argentina what Shiraz is to Australia. It's definitely that country's star grape. Although the wines are fairly new to the United States, Don Miguel Gascón has been making wine for well over a century. The fruit for this Malbec comes from 30-year-old vines and is aged in two types of French oak. The result is a fairly concentrated wine with a soft, velvety finish.
1997 REX HILL KINGS RIDGE PINOT NOIR $14
A lot of Oregon Pinot Noirs are very expensive and, to my mind, not always worth the money. This winery, in the Willamette Valley, produces a Burgundian-style Pinot that is not only incredibly well priced but also has a real, earthy Pinot character. Its bright cherry flavors and hints of pepper and clove lend a further complexity to its lush, ripe finish.
1997 CHATEAU SAINT-SULPICE SAINT-EMILION $10
Anyone looking for an approachable Bordeaux that offers immediate drinking pleasure should try this wine. Made at a 54-acre estate in a town of the same name (just south of Saint-Emilion) by winemaker-owner Pierre Duberge, this wine is predominately Merlot. It's a lovely match to simple dishes, grilled meats and even moderately spicy tapas.