‘Jug’ wine can be a decent alternative

Shelves at Rogue Valley supermarkets and wine shops abound with great wines for $15, $25, $30 and up.

But for many of us, purchase of a wine in that price range would occur only for a special occasion or as a gift.

For enjoyment at home, week in and week out, the so-called jug wine is about all many can afford, especially given the current economic climate. But going cheap does not necessarily mean giving up quality. Yes, there are some lousy wines out there, but there also are some decent ones — good values for the money.

I’ll confess I’ve periodically made my way down the cheap wine aisle at Food 4 Less over the years, trying this and that.

So, how little money can you spend and still acquire something decent? I’ve found that the halfway mark between quality and affordability seems to occur with 1.5-liter wines costing $8.25 to $9.50. That’s the equivalent of $4.13 to $4.75 for the normal-sized bottle.

Here are some that I have liked.

First, the reds:

Lindemans Cawarra 2007 Shiraz Cabernet. One of the best cheap reds — rich and flavorful. It cost me $8.28 for a 1.5-liter bottle.

Stimpson Estate Cellars 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon by Chateau Ste. Michelle. This one is just barely under $10 when on sale (most recently $9.78), but it is superior and a Northwest wine, from Washington state. It has a bit of a sweet taste.

CK Mondavi Wildcreek Canyon 2005 Cabernet-Merlot. Very good; the first taste is as good as many more expensive blends. I paid $9.08.

Stone Cellars by Beringer 2005 and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. I loved the 2005 release, not too strong but still robust with a hint of sweetness. But the 2006 wine was not as good, although it did improve a day or two after opening. Both were $9.08.

Sutter Home 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a decent, basic red with full flavor. It cost me $8.52. Avoid the 2006 release, not nearly as good.

I also liked Barefoot merlot and Redwood Creek merlot, but I’d suggest avoiding the Redwood Creek cabernet sauvignon (too harsh).

Next, the whites, specifically chardonnays. Several of the same labels excel:

Alice White 2008 Chardonnay. This Australian wine is among the best of its kind, with some oak but not too much — quite flavorful. It costs $8.48 for a 1.5-liter bottle.

CK Mondavi 2006 Willow Springs Chardonnay. Somewhat oaky but not unpleasantly so. The cost is $8.48.

Sutter Home 2006 Chardonnay. It’s a little less oaky than the Mondavi, a more gentle wine yet still with some of that chardonnay flavor — not bad for $8.52.

Stimpson Estate Cellars 2006 Chardonnay by Chateau Ste. Michelle. If you don’t mind paying a little more, like $9.78, this one is excellent, perhaps the best of the lot — tasty, well balanced, just the right amount of oak.

Barefoot and Redwood Creek, again, are worth a try.

Research for this report obviously did not take place in a week or even a month — more like a year and a half. So some prices may be out of date, and some wines may have been replaced by more recent vintages.

I BOUGHT A COUPLE of bottles of 2005 R label Per La Festa during the holidays and really enjoyed this inexpensive red blend made in Medford. It retails below $10 and can often be found for just over $7. Around the same time an acquaintance presented me with a bottle of 2004 L’Abbaye de St. Ferme (Bordeaux Superieur), a red blend from France that also retails below $10.

The Medford wine is 46 percent merlot, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, 15 percent each syrah and cabernet franc and 4 percent malbec. The French wine is 70 percent merlot, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon and 10 percent cabernet franc.

While certainly not an exact match, the two wines made for an interesting comparison. I preferred the Medford wine. But if you want to impress your friends by saying, “I’m serving a French Bordeaux with dinner tonight” but can’t afford a stiff tab, consider L’Abbaye de St. Ferme.

MATTEO’S, A NEW ITALIAN restaurant in Central Point, offers a wine list with more than 30 choices. A notable feature is that almost all are available by the glass, starting at $5.25, although most are over $6. Bottles start at $18.

The emphasis is on Italian wines. I saw only two locals: a Foris merlot and a Bridgeview riesling. A glass of Meridian chardonnay went pretty well with some excellent salmon, served over spinach and topped with a white wine and caper sauce.

Matteo’s occupies the former Antonio’s location on Pine Street. The building sat empty for many months.

Cleve Twitchell is a retired Mail Tribune editor and columnist. E-mail him at clevelinda@msn.com

Share This Story