Every wine lover wants it. Every host has to have it. "A great $10 bottle is the holy grail of wine," says Randy Clement, an owner of Silverlake Wine.
That's because for most people who buy and drink wine, $10 somehow feels like the right amount to spend on a bottle most of the time. Sure, there are the serious wine aficionados who think nothing of spending $40 or $50, or even $100, on a bottle for Saturday night. But for most of us, $10 is what Kyle Meyer, wine buyer for Wine Exchange in Orange, Calif., calls "the magic number" - the price that feels comfortable for purchasing everyday wines, weeknight wines.
From the retailer's point of view, $10 is the price at which people spend freely, buying cases instead of bottles. When there's a crowd, party planners stock the bar with $10 wines. And for wine geeks, who are always on the hunt for rare and precious wines, the trophy wine they prize most is the delicious bottle they bag for $10.
Curiously, less is not more. Things can be too inexpensive, Clement says. "People worry that if they spend less, they won't get quality." But at $10, people feel insulated from bad wine. That's why even occasional wine drinkers spend freely on $10 wines.
Yet the $10 sweet spot is exploding. The fastest growing segment of the grocery store wine market is wine priced between $9 and $10, rising 13 percent from $181 million for the first six months of 2005 to $205 million for the same period this year, says Jon Fredrikson, a wine industry analyst with Gomberg, Fredrikson.
Scouting for a $10 wine in the area, I visited 10 wine shops in Southern California, I asked buyers at each store to recommend wines priced $9 to $10.99 from regions around the world and tasted 86 of more than 100 recommended wines. As Silverlake Wine's Clement says: To find a great $10 bottle, "You've got to kiss a lot of frogs."
Ten great wines for under $10
Here are recommended bottles from regions around the world, selected from more than 86 tasted. All were available at select Southern California wine stores for between $8.99 and $10.99: ¢ 2005 Bio-Weingut h.u.m. Hofer Gruner Veltliner. Crisp, minerally and delicious, this dry Gruner from Austria comes in a distinctive, fat, green one-liter bottle with a pop-top. ¢ 2005 Verget du Sud Cotes du Luberon rose. A charming pale pink rose, wonderfully drinkable, with great fruit. ¢ 2005 Domaine de la Mordoree Cotes-du-Rhone. A rich and spicy red, layered with leather and mushroom notes. ¢ 2003 Les Terrasses d'Eole Cotes du Ventoux. An attractive medium-weight red with pretty red fruit flavors and some depth. ¢ 2003 Bricco Buon Natale Barbera, Jim Clendenen, Santa Barbara County. A spicy, well-balanced red from California with surprising complexity. ¢ 2004 Cycles Gladiator Central Coast Syrah. A rich red Californian with heady clove flavors that are lightly layered with black fruit flavors in a long, pleasing finish. ¢ 2004 Bianco la Viarte, Inco, Friuli, Italy. Earthy aromas introduce a refreshing white with a smooth, polished mineral finish. ¢ 2004 Castello di Farnetella, Chianti Colli Senesi, Italy. Rich, smooth red fruit flavors laced with black fruit in this dry red wine that's perfect for pasta with fresh tomatoes. ¢ 2005 Vega Sindoa El Chaparral Garnache. From Spain's Navarra region, an earthy wine with ripe dark fruit and black pepper flavors. ¢ 2003 Terroso de Douro, Bago de Touriga, Portugal. Three grape varieties - Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barroca - go into this full-bodied red wine with terrific black fruit flavors and a touch of tar on the long finish.
Here's a rundown of what $10 buys, warts and all:
France offers a wealth of terrific $10 bottles, but they don't come from Bordeaux or Burgundy.
One great source is the southern Rhone Valley. Known for small vineyards and idiosyncratic wines, the Cotes du Rhone appellation - which includes not just southern Rhone's most famous district, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but also many less familiar to Americans, such as Gigondas, Costieres de Nimes, Lirac and Tavel - is experiencing a revival as a new generation modernizes family holdings. With old vineyards and warm weather, it's easier for vintners throughout the region to make good-value wines.
¢ Ten bucks also buys worthwhile wines from a couple of regions just southeast of the Cotes du Rhone: Cotes du Luberon and Cotes du Ventoux. Cotes du Luberon is a new appellation, created in 1988, that is making rich red wines, such as a 2005 Verget du Sud, as well as bright roses. Or from the Cotes du Ventoux, you can pick up an attractive red from Domaine Les Terrasses d'Eole.
¢ Languedoc/Roussillon is another region where $10 buys you something very drinkable, especially the lime-scented whites from Picpoul de Pinet or the spicy red blends from Corbieres.
¢ Savoie's aromatic whites once rarely were seen outside of their Alpine homeland near the Swiss border, but the American thirst for refreshing whites has created a market for wines such as the 2005 Anne de la Biquerne Chignin.
¢ Similarly, the white and light red wines of Bugey, just west of Savoie, were consumed only locally until recently; now you can find good $10 wines from there.
¢ In southwest France, the rough and inky Malbec-based reds from Cahors have smoothed out in the last decade; $10 buys you a 2003 Clos la Coutale.
"At $10, Spain destroys everyone," says Meyer. "Spain has acres and acres of brilliant raw material to work with, and much of it hasn't been tapped." In general, the $10 wines that come from Spain's celebrated regions, Ribera del Duero and Rioja, are well-made but lack character.
¢ There are more interesting $10 wines from lesser-known regions. Jumilla and Yecla in southern Spain are known for Monastrell (Mourvedre). Finca Luzon makes a good one from Jumilla for $10, as does Barahonda in Yecla.
¢ In central Spain's Navarra region, known for its Garnachas and Tempranillos, Artazuri is a reliable producer at the magic price point. In nearby La Mancha, Mano a Mano is one of the modern producers turning around the region's Tempranillo. Bodegas Borsao in Campo de Borja and Las Rocas de San Alejandro Vinas Viejas in Calatayud in northeast Spain are making the region's signature old-vine Garnacha.
In the wake of Italy's discovery of French varietals in the 1980s, a new generation now is focused on rediscovering indigenous Italian varieties, and there are lots of great $10 bottles.
¢ Ten bucks fetches some interesting Roeros, the aromatic Arneis whites from Piedmont (Valdinera and Matteo-Correggia Roeros are good producers). Or look for Dolcetto, a light, fruity Piedmont red that's great with food. Or Barbera - Castelvero and Agostino Pavia & Figli make good ones for $10.
¢ From Friuli, there are attractive whites, such as Bianco la Viarte Inco; the same for Orvieto (from Sergio Mottura).
¢ Abruzzo, northeast of Rome in central Italy, produces dark red Montepulcianos with soft, sweet tannins that are ready to drink early. Caldora and Masciarelli produce Montepulciano d'Abruzzos for around $10. Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona in Tuscany's Montalcino region has started making $9 Poggio d'Arna Toscano Rosso, a fruity blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
¢ But it's in southern Italy that $10 really goes far. From Puglia, the heel of the boot, Zinfandel-like Primitivos are abundant; A-Mano makes one for around 10 bucks. In Molise, the region between Puglia and Abruzzo, Di Majo Norante makes notable $10 Sangiovese. From Sicily, focus on Nero d'Avola, a hedonistic dark red that can taste like Syrah. Cusumano makes one with licorice and black cherry flavors.
Wine behemoths such as E.&J.; Gallo Winery, Constellation Brands and Foster's Wine Estates dominate the $10 category, selling millions of cases a year. Designed to please supermarket shoppers, the wines are easy to drink and consistent, but dull, made with oak chips. "People like cherry-cola flavors," says Matt Parish, a Constellation Brands director of group winemaking. "So we look for that."
¢ Smaller California vintners rarely try to compete with the giants at the $10 price point. The few small-production $10 California wines that are available are typically blends made from fruit from across large regions that didn't make it into the better wines.
¢ But there are $10 surprises. The Italian varietals, such as Barbera, that Jim Clendenen makes under his Bricco Buon Natale label have plenty of character. There's also Cycles Gladiator Syrah, a Central Coast wine that tastes of cloves and black fruit. J. Lohr's Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon is an attractive wine with some depth.