Food - Baller wine on a budget
Atlanta wine pros share their lists' hidden gems
Smart sommeliers and wine managers are always on the hunt for a few knockout bargains to populate their lists. We're not talking cheap wines, but wines that deliver well above their pay grades, whatever they may be. For wine drinkers seeking quality bang for the buck, there's nothing like stumbling upon one of these gems. But how do you know what to look for? We've gathered top value picks — old Riojas, small producer sparkling wines, high-quality second labels — from the folks behind some of the best wine lists in town.
Peter Chachere, Ecco
"I'm often a fan of big-name European producers that start second labels in underdeveloped growing regions with little recognition. Spain is full of these, with the kings of Rioja and Priorat branching out to areas like Alicante, Bierzo, Jumilla, and Penedes. The 2011 Viñedos de el Sequé Monastrell, $36, from Alicante is a second label of the Rioja producer Artadi, whose wines demand top dollar. This Monastrell is incredible for the money, rich and complex and made with masterful skill." 40 Seventh St. 404-347-9555. www.fifthgroup.com.
Steven Grubbs, Empire State South
"I love the La Chablisienne Saint-Bris, $36. Saint-Bris is sort of a Burgundy trivia question because it is the only village whose wines are made from Sauvignon Blanc (as opposed to Chardonnay, which dominates most of the region). Saint-Bris is close to the village of Chablis and benefits from the same seashell-laden soil, so the acid and mineral presentation is similarly terrific, but here shining through the fruit of a different grape." 999 Peachtree St. 404-541-1105. www.empirestatesouth.com.
Ian Mendelsohn, Vine & Tap
"Everyone is talking about small grower Champagnes, but if you look outside the box, you can find someone like Peter-Jakob Kuhn, an 11th generation winemaker, making great sparkling wine in an unexpected place. His dry whites are among the most sought after in the Rheingau in Germany, and he makes a small amount of biodynamic sparkling wine, including the Peter-Jacob Kuhn Sect Rosé, $54. I like that it's a classic Pinot Noir rosé, and has great mellow red berries, light brioche, and enough acidity to make it very clean. I'd be hard-pressed to find any bubbly less than $90 that's this good." 2770 Lenox Road. 404-600-5820. www.vineandtapatl.com.
Leslie Johnson, Murphy's
"Right now, for value, I have to choose the 1999 Cune Gran Reserva Rioja, $65. Cune is one of finest names in Rioja. Their Gran Reserva spends two years in French and American oak casks, then gets aged another three years in the bottle before being released. It's drinking absolutely superb right now, soft and silky tannins with a vibrant acidity that pairs perfect with early spring dinners. At this age and this price, it definitely overdelivers." 997 Virginia Ave. 404-872-0904. www.murphys-atlanta-restaurant.com.
Jordan Smelt, Cakes & Ale
"Drinking Champagne is only for celebrating the new year, your anniversary, or when you win the World Series, right? Wrong! The J. Lassalle Champagne Brut 1er Cru, $65, is an incredible grower Champagne that's reason enough to have some fun and celebrate. Jules Lassalle started his winery in 1942 and it is still family-owned. Their wine is fresh, elegant, and you'll be amazed at how well it drinks with your dinner." 155 Sycamore St., Decatur. 404-377-7994. www.cakesandalerestaurant.com.
Joon Lim, the Spence
"The 2010 Travaglini Gattinara, $68, from Italy is a classic varietal, but from a relatively unknown region. Travaglini makes this wine with 100 percent Nebbiolo grapes, so it's a great value-driven alternative to the more well-known Barbaresco or Barolo (also made from Nebbiolo). Gattinara enjoys a sub-alpine climate and produces an elegant style of Nebbiolo that emphasizes freshness. It has a shorter maceration period than that of Barolo, making it more approachable upon release. Also, the bottle has a rather unusual shape featuring a lopsided shoulder designed to catch the sediment as you pour, so the bottle acts as a natural decanter." 75 Fifth St. 404-892-9111. www.thespenceatl.com.
Katie Rice, Barcelona Wine Bar
"The 2009 Psi Ribera del Duero, $85, is produced by Peter Sisseck, the winemaker behind the famous Spanish label Pingus, whose wines fetch hundreds of dollars a bottle. His goal in producing Psi is to bring biodynamic production to the community of old vine growers in Ribera del Duero. This wine is a perfect representation of Old World style through new production methods. It's complex, rich, and earthy with dark fruit notes, great structure, and a smooth and silky finish." 240 N. Highland Ave. 404-589-1010. www.barcelonawinebar.com.
As told to Brad Kaplan.