NOW THAT WINE, especially French wine, is getting more expensive, other countries on other continents are trying to win a share of the profitable American market. They have been offering their products at bargain prices, hoping to steal away some of the affection we bestow upon our native American wines and on the French and Italian imports.
It will be an uphill struggle. What they forget is that France and Italy have worked hard and long at this game. French wines are still considered the most elegant of the lot, as well they should, considering the high standards maintained by the appellation-controlee system. (Of course, not all French wines are appellation-controlee. Fortunately for French prestige, few Americans have ever drunk that horrible coup de rouge or coup de blanc that the less-well-off in France have to swallow; compared to these truly awful potions, our jug wines are sheer bliss.)
Italy too has now achieved a firm position in the U.S. wine market; no other country has spent so much time and work on that project. For example, the Italian government maintains an enoteca, a wine display and tasting place, in the Italian Trade Commission in Manhattan. It also holds innumerable wine tastings; producers come and flog their wares very intelligently; wine journalists are taken to Italy all the time; and so on.
Now, as I say, some non-European countries are struggling to find a place in the American wine market, notably Australia, Chile, and Argentina. But, in my opinion, only the Australians are making the effort and spending the money it will take to succeed. In New York City, the Australian Trade Commission holds frequent wine tastings, and its wine specialists tell me that in the New York metropolitan area there are about forty Australian wines currently available. I honestly do not know how many of these are available throughout the country, but I would advise wine lovers to look around for them. (I write from the point of view of someone who is always looking out for bargains for the family’s daily drinking.) Australian wines are apt to be big and robust rather than elegant and delicate, but I have invariably found them to be good and carefully made, and the ones I have liked all sell for less than ten dollars a bottle.
Remember the dear old days when a bottle of good Chilean red cost 99 cents in New York? Chilean wines are once more available here. Inflation being what it was throughout the Seventies, 99 cents now translates into four or five dollars; but even the more expensive Chilean imports all sell for less than ten dollars a bottle. Again, many more are to be found in Manhattan than in Peoria, though you will learn from the importers and their public-relations firms that their wines are nationally available (if you believe them, which I do not). Of the Chilean imports, I know Santa Rita best, and I like their Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs. Their reds, especially the Cabernet 1984 Medalia–deservedly the winner at the Gault-Millau World Wine Olympics–are also excellent. And, would you believe it, Santa Rita is actually owned by Owen Glass of Illinois.
Argentina has done the least so far in the way of importing and advertising, but Argentine wines, if you can find them, are a good bargain as well. I am told by the Argentines’ publicity firm that about a dozen producers so far are importing Argentine wines into this country–again, mostly into New York City. The reds are better than the whites, which are on the bland side. Both are inexpensive, averaging about five dollars a bottle.
Since I am talking here about good bargains for daily drinking, and not a splurge for a special occasion, you might well want to think about buying by the case rather than the bottle. However, I implore you to try a single bottle of any wine first, to see if it is really something you will want to plow through a case of. (This advice, by the way, goes for any wine, cheap or expensive.) Also, once you know what you want, do check to make sure that the case you receive is really the same wine you tasted. I know, having learnt this lesson the hard way. But if you do make a mistake, cheer up. A case of cheap wine, or even of a medium-expensive one, will cost less than an ill-functioning major appliance or an inauthentic painting.