Let’s sidestep Napa and Sonoma for a change and celebrate some genuinely value-driven US wines instead.
No matter how much other wine-producing regions might bridle, the inescapable truth is that American winemaking is synonymous with California.
You can understand the chagrin – there are fine wines being made right across the continental United States and it would be a hard heart indeed that didn’t feel some sympathy for winemakers outside the Golden State, who can sometimes struggle to force their way into the limelight.
The trouble is that California almost finds it too easy to dominate. Blessed with a variety of wine-suitable soils, a range of terroirs, and a climate that seems to consider a day of rain as a personal insult, the state can – and does – produce an astonishing range of wines across the full gamut of price points, from $3-a-bottle candy-flavored Cabernets to insanely priced Sauvignon Blanc.
From the roasting heat of the Central Valley to the more elegant heights of Napa Valley, California has cornered the global market for powerful, fruit-forward, rich reds and oaky Chardonnays, but there is sometimes a danger that California sometimes gets a little confused with Napa itself, especially in overseas markets, where consumers often assume that California means expensive.
But that perception reckons without the “other” California, as we shall see below. This other California is the one that makes wines that are “everyday affordable”, as the market research language has it, but share a common level of quality with many wines that carry much weightier price tags.
And this is why, when you look at the list below, you realize that, when it comes to wine, California rules supreme. Few other states can offer such a wide variety of wines styles at such a wide variety of prices. We’ll take a look at Napa and Sonoma in separate articles, but for now let’s just enjoy the list of the best-value wines that America has to offer.
First, though, the ground rules. For this series of “best value” stories, we work with a more direct point-to-dollar ratio for a simplified “bang for buck” scale than our standard algorithm for suggesting the best value wines. Simply dividing the score by the price gives a value factor and the higher the factor the better the value – a kind of points-per-dollar scale. The higher the value factor, the more points per dollar.
Usually, when we run our superlative lists, we don’t take vintage into account, but since vintage variation affects the score so much, we concentrate on individual vintages of wines for our best-value lists.
Best Value American Wines on Wine-Searcher:
One thing sticks out like a sore thumb on that list – Santa Barbara County. The region, tucked at the bottom of the Central Coast, is probably best known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and the whites are high on the list here. However, it is Syrah – a variety that makes up a small fraction of plantings in the region – that shines; as well as the two Tensley Syrahs, the Sans Liege and Margerum wines are both Syrah-dominant Rhône blends, while the Beckmen Syrah also comes from within the Santa Barbara AVA.
Napa gets a look in, too, albeit with a pretty left-field representative, the Wilson Valdeguié, a grape variety that springs to virtually no one’s lips when they talk about wine. And it isn’t all California – if you look closely, you’ll see Oregon in the mix, via the White Rose Pinot.
The list also proves that there is genuine value to be found, too. The wines listed above all have aggregated critic scores of 92, and the value factor is strong for all of them. On average, each wine has an average factor of 3.48, which is pretty good for wines with an average price of $26.90 each.
But this list really just reinforces the inescapable truth outlined above – that, when it comes to wine, California really does cover all the bases – even value.