While scanning the World Cup groups in order to plan our daytime drinking over the next month, Gut Check noticed that most of the great wine-producing nations are represented in the tournament field, including all of those with a reputation for crafting good, value-priced wines. Because Gut Check never saw a value we didn't like, we resolved to stage our own tournament to determine the 2010 World Goblet Champion.
Well, folks, this is it. We're really plumbing the depths of each of our finalists' value selections, and New Zealand has begun to show the strain. There just aren't that many $12-and-under Kiwi wines these days. The ones we've found have been impressive, but can we scrape up one more?
The French, on the other hand, enter the final with their national pride restored. After initially pegging them as the No. 2 seed in the tourney, we've been pleasantly surprised by the quality and diversity at the $12 level.
Now, one last time, we pop the bottles.
Next: The bookmakers peg the odds at France 4-5, New Zealand 10-1...
2007 Northfield Chardonnay Frog Rock Vineyard Waipara Valley New Zealand ($12) Enough gold in the glass to set a leprechaun's heart aflutter. The slightest whiff of sulfur quickly blows off to reveal a rich, elegantly oaked chardonnay, more good white Burgundy, as opposed to California timber grenade. The fruit is restrained baked apple, with a lift from some lime. The oak's not obtrusive, but its presence is a big player. Flavorwise, it's a well-toned middleweight: lithe, provocative, and nary an ounce of fat. And, oh yeah, that oak. A bit much oak, really, but if you don't mind a little lumber, this is one hell of a bargain.
2008 Domaine de la Salette Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne ($10) Barely there yellow. Incredibly fresh, lively aromas of flowers and citrus -- this sucker's a cool late-spring morning in a glass. The taste doesn't quite live up to that nose-tweaking start, but it's clean, correct and pure, with the zest of lemon and a slight lip-smacking saltiness at the finish. Incredibly refreshing -- you'll finish the bottle before you know it -- and would kill with mussels or oysters. A terrific value.
We simply could not have asked for a better final. These were excellent wines, with the winner determined more by personal preference than any real difference in quality between the two. This competition seemed to stretch the local selection of New Zealand wines to its limit -- it was work (if wine shopping can be called "work") to come up with five wines that met the tourney's price limit.
After a couple of down years, France really seems to be back as a reliable source of value wines. Only Spain outclassed the French for overall selection in the price bracket -- a very pleasant surprise given the sheer diversity of French wine.
Stay tuned for a post-tournament analysis, and the trophy presentation...