I can’t sell Chablis to save my life, says sommelier Melissa Davis. At 31, Davis is in the midst of the millennial generation. Before the pandemic closed Hazel Jane’s wine bar in Atlanta, she sold a case of Israeli Chardonnay every week. Guests ordered Chenin Blanc from India, natural Müller-Thurgau from Petillant, local IPAs and soft drinks.

Our guests’ interests cover all areas of the menu, with the exception of classic wines, she says.

With their anachronistic castle labels and arrogant following, classic wines like Montrachet, Barolo and the grand crus of Burgundy have lost their appeal to many young consumers. Perception is a big part of the problem. And reality: Many of these benchmark bottles are unattainable for a middle-income generation barely above $35,000, due to multiple recessions and decades of wage stagnation.

But not all classic wines are expensive, and just as their parents eventually gave up cooling wine to grow it first, millennials won’t kill canned wine forever. According to Silicon Valley Bank’s 2019 State of the Wine Industry report, they are expected to surpass fine wine buyers by 2027.

Interior of Biondivino, a wine shop in San Francisco / Photo by Kathleen Schaeffer

But instead of preparing for this moment, many wine brands lament the demise of good wine or succumb to young drinkers as part of lifestyle marketing. Classic, affordable wines, however, can be an antidote.

Sotheby’s, an auction and trading house with a reputation that is not exactly accessible, is gambling on the fact that young wine lovers still want to learn how to taste wine. In late 2019, they released the Sotheby’s Own Label collection of 12 classic style wines, including Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, Chardonnay from Burgundy and Nebbiolo from Piedmont. Each one sells for between $16.95 and $39.95.

 

We selected key wine regions and varieties from around the world and then highlighted some of the best producers offering classic samples from each region at an affordable price, says Jamie Ritchie, senior vice president of Sotheby’s Wine.

Davis also continues to believe in the power of classic wines to shape consumers’ palates.

Drinking Chablis and Rioja and knowing the history of Napa and the Willamette Valley gives you more perspective when you delve into the Finger Lakes, Hungary and Slovenia, she says.

We asked sommeliers and retailers from across the country to share with us their favorite classic and affordable bottled wines that embody a place, a grape or a wine style.

Amy Racine. JF Restaurants. New York

Robert Mondavi 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $34.

Robert Mondavi is the father of modern winemaking in Napa Valley, and his family’s investment in the land has made it a mecca for good Cabernet and Chardonnay, Racine says. In particular, his Cabernet is one of the most important wines to understand when it comes to Napa Valley. Genevieve Janssens is a winemaker with a long track record and her 2016 is an excellent benchmark for California Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a full taste with dark, fruity aromas of currant and clove.

Miles White and Femi Oyediran, co-owners of Graft Wine Shop in Charleston, South Carolina / Photo: Olivia Rae James

Femi Oidiran | Registry | Charleston, SC

Arnaud Lambert 2018 Clos du Midi Blanc (Saumur); $24

It’s hard not to love a good bottle of Chenin, says Oydiran. But it’s reassuring to see a wine of this type and taste at this price: there’s still plenty to enjoy and discover in the world of wine that won’t put a hole in your wallet.

2018 Clos du Midi presents the classic idea of the dry Loire Valley in white. The minerality, acidity, texture and aroma of the wine are the essence of the wine. Think green apple, herbal tea, white pear, honeysuckle and lemon. Chenin Blanc is such a good counterpart for various products.

Felicia Colbert | Scotty Boy Washington, DC

Casa de Saima 2018 Tonel 10 Baga (Bayrada); $20.

During one of the earliest ice ages, the Iberian Peninsula, and by extension Portugal, was an oasis of peace, Colbert says. As temperatures remained moderate, the peninsula developed in a bubble, creating hundreds of indigenous grape varieties that have survived to this day. Baga is one of those grapes, and the Baga from this part of the world reminds me of the love child of a young French Pinot and a Spanish Menzia from Hura.

Tonel 10 Casa de Saima tastes like an expensive blackberry fruit cup from the health food store. And it’s a chameleon, the perfect bottle for almost anything: lightly roasted meats and seafood, pork and vegetables. One bottle will barely be enough when you start drinking it. I also support as many women winemakers as possible. Drinking this wine, I can imagine how [winemaker Graça Miranda] grows biodynamic grapes from old vines in northern Portugal.

Ceri Smith Tasting at Biondivino / Photo: Sarah Stanfield

Ceri Smith | Biondivino | San Francisco

Fattoria Lamola 2013 Castello di Lamola Le Stinsch (Chianti Classico); $28.

Okay, when I say Chianti, people tend to close their eyes and say: Hey, I don’t like Chianti. It’s the grandfather’s wine, Smith says. Most people fall for the illusion of a wicker bottle, a checkered tablecloth or a cheap trattoria wine, but most people have never tasted a really good Chianti.

The Castello di Lamole [Le Stinche] Chianti Classico is produced by Paolo Socci and comes from the highest part of the hills of Greve in Chianti. It has dark Sangiovese berry and black fruit notes while maintaining a slight acidity. Paolo, who is now 70 years old, is far from a stout old man. He is young at heart, stubborn and determined to make his dreams come true, but he does it with a cheeky sense of humour….. He is a teacher, a winemaker and knows more about his region and the vine than you can imagine. You know, when you meet someone from a country you’ve never been to, and they describe their country of origin? His Castello di Lamole wines do the same.

Left: Interior of Maine et Loire, photo : Greta Raybus. / Right: Peter and Orenda Hale, photo by Erin Little.

Peter & Orenda Hale | Maine & Loire | Portland, ME

Hervé Williamade 2018 Rouge (Cheverny); $21.

Hervé’s wines have a special place at our table because they are always attractive and affordable, says Hales. This is the kind of wine you could drink every day. It makes us feel like we’re taking invigorating and refreshing vitamins without sacrificing depth or character in the name of freshness.

In general, our preferred red wines are fresh, light and have a mineral backbone. Hervé Red Cheverny is the flagship of this style, and the Loire-et-Cher region [in the central Loire Valley] is probably ground zero for these so-called vineyards. The freshness of the 2018 Gamay/Pinot Noir fruit counterbalances the small bites of dried citrus and fennel. Perhaps it’s because of all the flint in the clay soil covering the limestone that the wine still has a peppery, fluffy aroma of talcum berries.

Melissa Zeman | Bottlesup Chicago

Ingrid Groys 2018 Gruner Veltliner (Weinwirthel); $21.

I remember well at the age of 25, when I had just started my career as a winemaker, being in charge of bringing wine to Easter, says Zeman. My family has very different wine preferences, but I had brought a Grüner Veltliner and everyone asked for more. The green is a useful wine player: consistent, incredibly versatile, and able to play multiple roles at the table, especially with hard-to-pair teammates like asparagus and artichokes.

This bottle has notes of crisp lemon and freshly brewed lime with a rocky texture and flavor, sprinkled with coarse sea salt and white pepper. Knowing Ingrid’s story and philosophy, I want to be friends with her, and drinking her wine is the closest thing to that. In short, her story is about taking risks, following your own path and following your passion.

Ryan Sciara pours wines at the Underdog / Photo: Tatton Alistair

Ryan Shaara. Underdog Wine Co. | Kansas City, MO

Lawrence and Remy Dufaitre 2018 Côtes de Brouilly; $30.

The first and only experience many drinkers have with Beaujolais is supermarket Beaujolais Nouveau, says Shaara. But if you go beyond the new, you’ll find some great and affordable things.

Côtes de Brouilly wines tend to be slightly richer and meatier than the other Beaujolais crus. With its purple colour, smoky red and black fruit and dried meat, this is the perfect combination of power and finesse. Remy has worked with Beaujolais legend Jean Foyard and is a member of the informal group that evolved from Kermit Lynch’s Gang of Four. His wines are impeccable and clean, proving that natural wines don’t have to be weird.

Amy Racine. JF Restaurants. New York

Apolloni 2016 Cuvée L Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley); $26.

Pinot noir is the most common grape variety in Oregon, and the Willamette is an ideal region to discover the wine because it’s midway between ripe California pinot noir and lean Burgundy pinot noir, Racine says. It works well with the public. The 2016 Apolloni is elegant, with unripe red cranberries and white strawberries. It is spicy and has a subtle earthy note. I love this bottle because it’s getting harder and harder to find a good Willamette Pinot, and this one delivers.

Jamie Ritchie | Sotheby’s Wine | New York

Sotheby’s 2009 Haut Médoc; $27.

A 12-year-old Bordeaux for $27 is a great value, says Ritchie. We believe this wine will make the breakthrough. The 2009 is the second vintage to be released by Sotheby’s Château Maucamps. It is made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. The wine drinks beautifully with seductive, tertiary and earthy aromas and a wealth of dark fruit, dark chocolate and tobacco notes.

Melissa Davis | Atlanta

Viña Otano 2015 Crianza (Rioja); $17.

This producer may not be as well known as Lopez de Heredia or Viña Alberdi, but his wines exemplify classic style, a generation of history and excellent value, Davis says. Located in the Rioja Alta, a region known for its high-quality oak-aged wines, Viña Otano offers a classic Rioja style at a fraction of the price of other bottles.

Viña Otano was founded in 1886 and is still run by the same family, practicing sustainable agriculture and harvesting all grapes by hand. I think this Rioja is one of the tastiest on the market, with balanced spice and red fruit and oak that doesn’t blow the palate over.

Nathaniel Munoz | Bar Avalon | Los Angeles

Vigna Progreso 2018 Revolution Tannat (Progreso); $17

Uruguay has one of the most unique wine regions in the world because of its geography and proximity to the Atlantic coast, Muñoz says. I find that Uruguayan Tannat offers dark fruit flavors that are gently spicy but dry with an oceanic touch. How often do you find a wine that meets all the standards of a great Rioja and also manages to capture dishes with uni and seafood?

I was lucky enough to be one of the first sommeliers to introduce these wines to the American market at a special tasting at Bar Covell in Los Angeles. In particular, Viña Progreso produces a delicious and classic wine that has a place on every table. This is an opportunity to impress the taste buds of three Michelin-starred, Bib Gourmand award-winning chefs.

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