s I watch the Dow Jones dip and dive, I understand why my Depression-era granny recycled scraps of tinfoil, salvaged ties from old bread bags and re-cooked leftovers until the meat resembled shoe leather.
To compensate for my own smaller monthly pay check in 2009, my Too-Tired-To-Cook sushi splurges have given way to more restrained to the occasional pizza ai quattro formaggi. I find myself eating more pasta fagioli than bistecca alla fiorentina (the better to use up old vegetables).
Applying my grandmother’s Frugal Fannie kitchen theme isn’t easy though. For a wine columnist, liquid grapes go a long way toward washing down life’s economically painful diet, not to mention being one of the ways I earn my living. So when I decided to implement my New Year’s resolution of buying and drinking more economical wines this year, I knew I couldn’t wantonly spiral to the “2 Buck Chuck” level. I’d at least need minimum drinking standards.
I knew I wouldn’t stick with my cost-savings plan unless I was satisfied with the taste of the cheap plonk I’d planned to purchase. To do that, a few rules of thumb were in order. Here are my wine micro-economic standards for 2009:
— Buy wine from regions that produce cheaper wines. When buying from high cost regions, select wines from lesser-know producers or vintages made with grapes less known outside of their territory.
— Choose wines made by reliable professionals whose standards are to make quality wine at economically viable levels.
— Avoid wines focused on international markets.
— Keep your wine purchases in the €4-to-€7 range.
The bigger the demand is for a specific wine, the higher the price that wine can command. And while mainstream brands often consistently taste good, they frequently aren’t the best value in the cost category. By selecting under-the-radar wines that aren’t brand recognized you can still cut back on your wine costs and drink surprisingly good wine without sacrificing taste.
Here are some of my recession-proof finds so far this year.
Anarkos IGT 2006-Accademia dei Racemi
Winemaker Gregorio Perucci has created an amazingly smooth and mature red that is intensely fruity and as controversial as its manifesto label. Made from a blend of Puglia’s three most famous native grapes: Primitivo di Manduria, Malvasia Nera and Negroamaro. This regionally characteristic wine is aged in stainless steel and proves that Puglia has a lot to offer beside cheap bulk wine for blending. €5.40.
Voga Delle Venezie Pinot Grigio 2004
This funky container from Friuli-Venezia Giulia looks more like a perfume vial than a bottle. The straw-colored wine has a light-mouth feel, is crisp and light, and has hints of melon and citrus that are well-balanced against wet stone mineral undertones. €7.
Calatrasi D’Istinto Ljetas
Head south of Palermo for an inexpensive match for seafood and light appetizers. Made from Chardonnay and Viogner (pronounced Vee-on-yay), a grape nearly extinct in 1965, this wine has interesting tones of mango, papaya and apricots and is beginning to grab international attention. The mouth feel is new-world vanilla and it ends on a crisp, clean note. €4.75.
Drepanum-Cantina Sociale di Trapani 2005
A blend of Nero d’Avola and Sangiovese produced by one of Sicily’s oldest cooperatives, the wine takes the ancient port city’s Roman name and reflects the mineral quality of the Sicilian soil where the grapes are grown. Deep red, with a plum-scented nose, it’s a lighter-bodied red with soft tannins and a medium to long finish. €4.03.
Fratelli Pavia Barbera Monferrato D.O.C. 2006
A good medium dry and moderately robust red that’s versatile and goes well with red meats. I also like to serve it with minestrone as it has nice spice and blackberry highlights. With time, its slightly tannic aftertaste may take on a more elegant feel with notes of liquorice and plum. €4.70.