Mike Steinberger: Rest assured: You are not alone. Pinot Noir is a very ornery grape, and even in Burgundy, where it thrives like nowhere else, it yields more misses than hits. The $15 and under category is particularly challenging with Pinot; at that price point, I think you can do a lot better with other grapes.
Silver Spring, Md.: Would you agree with this statement (or how would you correct it): Finding a good everyday wine for under $10 is difficult. At $10-15 your chances are much better of finding something decent. Above $15, every bottle should be pretty good.
Mike Steinberger: I would indeed agree with the first part of that statement. Under $10 has become a challenging category; there is a lot more to be found in the $10-$15 range. I wish the second half of your statement were true. Unfortunately, paying over $15 is no guarantee that you are going to get a good wine. It all depends on the producer, and that's where critics come in; our job is to steer you to the right names.
Boston: When looking for interesting, cheap reds (usually $10-$15), I tend to avoid Australian/New Zealand wines (or wines from elsewhere) with cutesy animals on the label, and steer toward Italian or Spanish wines (Nero D'Alvola, Garnacha). How good or off-base is this as a strategy?
Mike Steinberger: That's an excellent strategy. Spain has become probably the best source of inexpensive quality wines; in particular, look for wines imported by Eric Solomon Selections/European Cellars. Solomon brings in a bevy of excellent, inexpensive Spanish wines. Italy, too, is a great source of high-quality, lower-priced wines.
Fairfax, Va.: Great timing for this chat! I'm looking for one red and one white for my fall wedding. We'd love to stay under $10 per bottle if possible. We're not usually very picky about the wine we drink, but we want to be sure to have something very drinkable that goes with a varied menu. Thanks!
Mike Steinberger: Let me give you two names. An excellent producer in the Beaujolais region of France, JP Brun, produces a terrific Chardonnay (it is labeled Beaujolais Blanc, but it is made of Chardonnay). The last time I checked, it was still selling for around $10 a bottle and is a superb wine. It is imported by Louis/Dressner, a company based in New York. I don't know how widely available the wine is in the DC area, but definitely worth looking for (and if you can't find it, ask your local wine shop to try to get it for you).
As for a red: If you want to keep it under $10, I would go with Altos Las Hormigas, which is a Malbec from Argentina. In my $15 and under piece, I cited this wine; I was very impressed by it, and for $9, it is a great value. Hope that helps, and congratulations on your wedding.
Carrboro, N.C.: How valid is that strategy, then: following importers rather than (or in addition to) producers, regions, countries or grapes?
Mike Steinberger: We are lucky in the United States: We've got a bunch of very quality conscious importers who have filled our shelves with sensational wines from around the world. If you feel like drinking something French, Spanish, or Italian but don't quite know what you are looking for, using the importer as your guide is definitely the way to go. Check out my $15 and under piece, which was posted on May 14th; at the end of the article, there is a list of importers whose wines are worth seeking out.
Local wines?: I'd like to cut down on my carbon footprint. Are there any inexpensive wines from Virginia that I could substitute for my faves from Chile, South Africa and Australia?
Mike Steinberger: I can't say I've had a lot of wines from Virginia. However, a few years, I did a piece for Slate that included tasting some Virginia wines, and I was reasonably impressed with what I tried from Horton, Barboursville, and Linden. I think Thomas Jefferson would be quite pleased by the progress Virginia is making.
Seattle: I dunno Mike, I have been reading your Slate columns for a while, and you're pretty European in taste and outlook. What'd the West Coast ever do to you?