Argentina and Chile still offer great value from their respective adopted varieties. For Argentina, that's Malbec, and it's routinely delicious -- mildly spicy, mildly floral aromatics, silky blue fruit flavors, firm tannins and as juicy as raspberries plucked off the bush. There are several to choose from, but I'm liking the Terrazas de los Andes, from the Luján de Cuyo (about $10), for its juicy blackberry fruit with a hint of spice.
Chilean Carmenere, too, is on the right track. After a couple of initial vintages where the wines seemed green and shrill, I'm happy to report that the country is now producing succulent, mouth-filling Carmeneres with deep purple fruit and good power, such as the fully organic Emiliana Carmenere from the Colchagua Valley (about $10).
UNDERPRIVILEGED AMERICAN BLENDS
There are lots of cheap California appellation Merlots, Cabs and Pinots out there right now. Have at them -- with the wine glut, many are made with better fruit than in previous vintages. But for inexpensive, high-quality reds, my money has always been on blends, Rhône-style and otherwise. The best of them showcase what a winemaker can craft from myriad elements.
Etude, the reputable Pinot winery in Carneros, has started a new brand called Fortitude that includes two red wines from older vineyards, many of which were planted decades ago with heritage varieties like Counoise, Carignane, Petite Sirah and Valdigue. One is called "Frediani Field Blend" and the other "Shake Ridge." Not only are they inexpensive (as little as $14) and delicious, I also like them because they're a nod to California's winegrowing past. Or you can choose from more traditional Rhône blends such as Qupe's "Los Olivos Cuvée," Andrew Murray's "Tous les Jours," and Steve Beckmen's "Cuvée le Bec," all of which hover around $15.
As I perused wine shops I paid close attention to the end-caps -- the case stacks that often form the end of wine rows -- and I saw plenty of good wines at unheard-of prices. So I'd recommend keeping a slot open for closeout deals. I scored a California Syrah from Mendocino County for $12 (Copain "l'Hiver"), that was easily worth twice that. I saw a reputable Monterey Chardonnay (Kali Hart) selling for a song, and a Stags Leap Claret for less than $20 (Steltzner). For the next six months or so, that piece of real estate is going to be crowded with values; this slot will be in high rotation in your working case.