Affordable wine doesn't have to taste cheap.
But how can you tell you have a good bottle before pouring that first glass?
"Many wine consumers in the US are still challenged by the abundance of language on a wine label," says Jörn Kleinhans, owner of the The Sommelier Company. "It's difficult enough with an English label, but adding the other languages and countries, it becomes very difficult."
Kleinhans explains that certain words, often those regulated by local government in the region a wine is produced, are reliable indicators of high-quality wine at any price point.
Here are ten words he recommends looking for on wines under $25, to guarantee you're getting the best bottle on the shelf.
'CLASSICO' on a Chianti
Chianti is a popular wine in the US, Kleinhans explains, because it was the first wine commercially exported from Italy in large amounts.
However, he says, "Wine that is only labeled Chianti is usually not very good. If you see 'Chianti Classico,' that is always a good wine."
"The term 'Classico' describes the local best core-growing regions of this type of wine," he continues. "The core vineyards in the center of the region that have the best terroir and the best orientation to the sun."
Other vineyards may also produce a wine called Chianti, but they aren't permitted to add "Classico." Kleinhans explains that the distinction is an important one when looking to experience "classical notes of tomato paste and vanilla" typical of the wine.
'GRAN RESERVA' on a Rioja
Rioja, Kleinhans says, is the most important wine of Spain.
It can be labeled as either "Reserva" or "Gran Reserva," but "you're always looking for, without exception, the Gran Reserva," says Kleinhans. "It means this wine has a strong oak flavor, the hallmark flavor of Rioja. It also guarantees this wine has been aged in oak for two years or more, and an additional three years in the bottle."
Kleinhans says Rioja Gran Reserva is "probably one of the greatest high-end wines in the world that you can get at tremendous value."
'CRU BOURGEOIS' on a Bordeaux
The "Cru Bourgeois" distinction has to do with the French region of Bordeaux, where these wines are produced.
The greatest wines of the region are classified as "Grand Cru Classé," which Kleinhans explains has been so successful that prices went through the roof and bottles are no longer available for under $40 or $50.
"For the value lovers, 'Cru Bourgeois' is the back door to get outstanding Bordeaux for under $25," he says. "Those are the chateaus not allowed into the Grand Cru classification 150 years ago. Several outstanding chateaus were left aside, and nowadays these wines not labeled Grand Cru, but Cru Bourgeois, you can get at a great value. It's the level right under the Grand Cru level people are paying thousands for."
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