Bottles of cabernet sauvignon sit on display. (Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)

Super Tuscans and Napa Cabernets Top Our Critic’s List of Overrated Wines

(Bloomberg) -- Sometimes you buy a wine with a serious pedigree and a 100-point rating that sets you back more than $100. You swirl and sip and wait for a taste revelation. But the description that comes to mind is just … meh. This isn’t all that great, you think.

And then sometimes you grab a bottle from a store shelf that no one’s touted and end up wildly surprised by its quality.

How to avoid the former and find the latter? 

I’ve found that popular, large commercial brands are usually a rip-off. You’re paying for the millions of dollars going to advertising instead of into the wine in the bottle. (I’m looking at you, Santa Margherita pinot grigio and Meiomi pinot noir.) You can find better and more exciting examples for the same price or less.

When you’re splashing out big bucks for powerful young reds, remember you’re also paying for potential—what these wines will hopefully taste like in a decade or so, not when you buy them.

And in just about every region, less well-known producers like Chateau Calon Segur and Chateau d’Issan in Bordeaux can offer better value than more famous ones that cost much, much more.

So if you want the best value, the way to go is to find underrated grapes, producers, and regions. There are more of them than you’d suspect.

But first, let’s single out the overrated wines for the knocks they deserve.

The Four Most Overrated Categories

Napa Cabernets That Cost More Than $100

I’ve tasted hundreds of Napa cabs over the past two decades, and the vast majority are disappointingly alike—rich, smooth, chocolaty, and thick-textured, with alcohol levels hovering around 15 percent. Yes, there are exceptions. But for most, the price tags reflect the overinflated cost of vineyard land and overinflated egos of winery owners.

Super Tuscans and Napa Cabernets Top Our Critic’s List of Overrated Wines

One that’s worth it: 2015 Corison Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon ($105). Corison’s less expensive cabernet has old-school balance, floral aromas, and the kind of savory elegance that’s built to deliver pleasure now. But it’ll age well, too.  
 

Just About Any Sancerre

In the past few years, these whites from the Loire Valley have skyrocketed in popularity and price. In the process, they’ve earned the distinction as the new chardonnay. (As in, “I’ll have a glass of Sancerre.”) But other areas of the Loire Valley, such as Quincy, make sauvignon blancs that are just as good—and sometimes better—for half the price.
 

Super Tuscans and Napa Cabernets Top Our Critic’s List of Overrated Wines

One that’s worth it: 2017 Henri Bourgeois La Côte des Monts Damnés ($35). From one of Sancerre’s finest slopes, this round, elegant wine will gain a lot of complexity with age.
 

Super Tuscans

The success of the first Super Tuscans, such as Sassicaia, inspired dozens of knockoffs that don’t have “-aia” at the end of their names. Many of these international-style wines, made in Tuscany from Bordeaux varietals (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc), are often blended with the Italian grape sangiovese, giving the taste of an oaky, big red that could’ve come from anywhere.
 

Super Tuscans and Napa Cabernets Top Our Critic’s List of Overrated Wines

One that’s worth it: 2013 Le Macchiole Paleo Rosso (from $67). This soft, dark-fruited red made from pure cabernet franc has lush concentration and depth at a price below other top wines.


Orange Wines

This niche category of white wines has gone beyond a mere modern fad. Fermenting white grapes on the skins, the same way red wines are, is a revitalization of a technique that was popular in the Republic of Georgia centuries ago. I’ll admit I’ve written about some delicious autumnal fruit-scented examples. But in the past couple of years, I’ve also tried many, many more that just have weird, funky aromas and flavors.

Super Tuscans and Napa Cabernets Top Our Critic’s List of Overrated Wines

One that’s worth it: 2015 Paolo Bea Santa Chiara Umbria Bianco ($45). Flawless and pure, this powerful white has layers of apricot and orange peel flavors and is made by one of Italy’s pioneers of natural wine.

Five Wines That Remain Underrated

Super Tuscans and Napa Cabernets Top Our Critic’s List of Overrated Wines

Picpoul de Pinet

Picpoul, a grape native to France’s Languedoc region that became an appellation a few years ago, is a little-known white with zingy, crisp acidity and delicate minerality. Appropriately, “picpoul” means lip stinger! Perfect with oysters and shellfish, it usually costs less than $20. Several winemakers in Washington state and California are now experimenting with picpoul, too. Think of it as the new Muscadet.

One to try: 2017 Domaine Julie Benau Picpoul de Pinet ($17)
 

Old Vine Chenin Blanc From South Africa

One of South Africa’s oldest varieties has become its newest source of world-class wines. (Experts believe the chenin blanc grape may have arrived from the Loire Valley as early as the 17th century.) Although it’s grown all over the cape, some of the best examples come from hot, dry Swartland, about 40 miles north of Cape Town.  

One to try: 2017 Mullineux Kloof Street Old Vine chenin blanc ($20)
 

Swiss Wines

Switzerland isn’t on most wine lovers’ radar, but it should be, and not just because of the gorgeous Alpine scenery. The area is home to bitingly bright whites from chasselas, an old native Swiss grape variety that has a refreshing taste, is low in alcohol, and ages brilliantly. The country is also home to soft, honeyed whites from petite arvine and intense reds from pinot noir and pinot-gamay blends that are labeled Dole.

Two to try: 2014 Louis Bovard Aigle Cuvée Noe Blanc ($39, a chasselas); 2015 Serge Roh Cave Les Ruinettes Dole de Vetroz ($26)

Super Tuscans and Napa Cabernets Top Our Critic’s List of Overrated Wines

Reds From Portuguese Regions of Bairrada, Alentejo, and Colares

Although the country is famous for its sweet fortified ports and summer quaffer vinho verde, its serious dry reds are the real gems. Those from the Douro are becoming more well-known, but others, not so much. In Bairrada, the baga grape makes tangy, mouthwatering, silky textured wines. In Alentejo the reds are voluptuous, complex, and earthy. Colares, west of Lisbon, was once acclaimed for long-lived reds from ramisco vines planted in sand. They’re aged for years before they’re released.

Three to try: 2013 Luis Pato Vinha Pan ($45, from Bairrada); 2015 Herdade de Rocim Alentejo Terracotta Clay Aged ($50); 2009 Adegas Viuva Gomes Colares ($35)
 

Reds From Italy’s Alto Adige 

You can find dozens of underrated wine spots in Italy, but my pick is the small alpine area of Alto Adige, the country’s northernmost wine region near Austria and Switzerland. (It’s also known as Südtirol, or South Tyrol.) Although it’s known for crisp whites, the Alto Adige’s native red grapes schiava and lagrein (rhymes with “wine”) are undergoing a renaissance. Both are on the savory side and are delicious, whether you drink them young or after they’ve aged.

One to try: 2016 Alois Lageder Lagrein (from $17)

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.