Good Deals Disguised

April 20, 2008

Given that I buy a lot of wine I am always on the lookout for good deals. There are a lot of them out there, but it is not an easy task to weed out the low quality wines, which tend to be the extreme majority in the lower price range.

One category that virtually always delivers consistent quality is Portugal’s Vinho Verde. I had recently written about Vinho Verde in connection with a trip to Portugal. In short they tend to be very refreshing, light, slightly bubbly whites made in a style that is not really comparable to anything out there. On a warm day it would be hard to imagine something more perfect than a bottle of Vinho Verde. To top it all, they tend to be really good values across the board. One example is Aveleda Fonte, the higher end label of the Casal Garcia I wrote up back in December. This wine retails for $6 a bottle at Cost Plus in the US. That is 4 euros in a retail establishment! What an amazing value?!

So why the title good value disguised? I happened to come across this wine at a good seafood joint in Sausalito, CA called The Fish. This is a perfect place for a Vinho Verde. Imagine sunshine, t-shirt weather, sitting outside on the water and sipping on slightly sparkling, beautiful wine. The problem is The Fish marks up the wine to $27 a bottle eroding that fantastic value I expect from Vinho Verde. I think it is outrageous for a self service restaurant to charge $27 (no service included!) for a bottle that they probably buy at around $4-$4.50. 

So go Vinho Verde, I will buy you whenever I can get my hands on you, but I will also avoid places that take advantage of your great value and try to rip off customers on your back.


Name: Aveleda Fonte, Vinho Verde, 2007

Rating: 8 out of 10

Body: Light

Price: $6 retail, $27 at The Fish

Got it at: Cost Plus, San Francisco, CA

Aveleda Fonte, Vinho Verde, 2007



I am somewhat of a bargain hunter you could say. I love fantastic wines and spend a fortune on this hobby as do many others. However, the pleasure of a great wine doubles for me when I get a deal. This is especially true for wines that have been aged 10+ years. Aged wines are more and more difficult to come buy these days as wineries dump their goods on the market as fast as possible in the interest of making a few more bucks. This generally also means that wines that are aged are a lot more expensive.

Wineries in some parts of the world, though, are not yet caught up in the pressure of capitalism (just-in-time winemaking?) and are sticking to traditions that they followed for hundreds of years. One such region is Portugal’s Bairrada, which lies about 150 kilometers south of Porto or 200 kilometers north of Lisbon. In Bairrada most wineries are making wine using centruries old traditional methods and here this also means they tend to age wine for a long time. And boy, do these wines age well…

Last night I had a bottle of Frei João Reserva, 1995 from one of Bairrada’s magnificant winemakers, Cave São João. This wine is 12 years old now and is just starting to show its character. You get the slightly orangie color that is typical of older wines and a beautiful heavy structure as you swirl it around in your glass. The taste is powerful, exploding fruit, almost biting into your tongue, cedar, leather, tobacco (definitely smoky too), tannins and quite a bit of minerality. This is a complex, fairly big wine, one in which you keep discovering new treasures on the palate after each sip. It is also very different from new world wines, and even different from old world wines that are made in modern style (such as most reds from Bordeaux or Barolo). It is unique and absolutely wonderful. And the best thing about it? I picked it up for about 17 euros, though you can get the same bottle in some online shops at almost half the price! Is that not a bargain?

Name: Frei João Reserva, 1995

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Body: Medium to Full

Price: 16.95 euros

Got it at: Cave Rokin, Amsterdam, Holland

Frei João Reserva, 1995