It’s a great time to be a wine lover. Oenophiles have access to more wines than ever before, with selections ranging from in-state wineries to faraway estates, and well-known grapes as well as obscure, rarely grown varieties. The downside to increased demand is that some of the world’s classics, like Bordeaux and Burgundy, are more sought after and therefore more expensive as well.
For those who feel tortured as they read accounts of the world’s most famous wines in textbooks, affordable alternatives do exist. They may not be exactly the same, but they provide an accessible entrée to the world of super-famous wines. Who knows? Maybe these alternatives will be the next addition to the upper echelon.
Domaine de Chevalier Pessac-Léognan Blanc ($100)
Affordable alternative: Clos des Lunes ‘Lune Blanche’ ($20)
The renowned red wines of Bordeaux generally outshine the whites, but Domaine de Chevalier is one of the few producers lauded for both. In fact, the Pessac-Léognan estate’s current-release white wines regularly out price the reds, and are known for their depth and ability to age. However, the Domaine de Chevalier team extends its white winemaking expertise to a vineyard in Sauternes called Clos des Lunes, where it makes three dry white wines. The “Lune Blanche” is an affordable but nuanced blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, hinting at the rich and savory character of Chevalier whites.
Domaine Roulot ‘Les Perrières’ 1er Cru Meursault ($900)
Affordable alternative: Domaine Roulot Aligoté ($50)
A pioneer of single-vineyard, lieu-dit wines in Meursault, Domaine Roulot is one of the most sought-after white Burgundy estates in the region. The whites, particularly from the pseudo-grand cru of Les Perrières, have richness, complexity, and lift, with intricacies to keep the wine drinker engaged throughout the whole bottle. To experience Roulot’s captivating style without sacrificing nearly a month’s rent, opt for the estate’s Aligoté, a stainless-steel vinified white from the region’s lesser-grown grape. While it doesn’t have the richness of Roulot’s Meursaults, it’s delicious and easy-drinking, giving you some serious wine cred at a fraction of the price.
Château d’Yquem Sauternes ($375)
Affordable alternative: Château Guiraud ‘Petit Guiraud’ Sauternes ($28)
One of the most epic sweet wines in the world, and the only Sauternes to receive the region’s highest classification, Château d’Yquem is a wine legend, with prices to match. While it won’t have the ageability of d’Yquem, Château Guiraud’s “Petit Guiraud” is the second-label wine from d’Yquem’s neighboring winery. The winemakers aspire to reach the reputation of their heralded neighbor, approaching winemaking with a modern style and new oak. If $28 still seems a little steep for a dessert wine, the Petit Guiraud is available in a half-bottle as well, averaging $18 a bottle.
Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore ($175)
Affordable alternative: Ornellaia ‘Le Volte dell’Ornellaia’ Toscana ($25)
Ornellaia isn’t one of the founding fathers of super Tuscan wines, but it quickly gained a reputation for producing modern, powerful Bordeaux blends in Bolgheri. The flagship wine, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, is aged in new oak and can age for decades, but the producer puts efforts into two other labels as well. The Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend “Le Volte dell’Ornellaia” is the estate’s third wine and offers wine lovers a glimpse into Ornellaia’s winemaking style that is more drinkable and approachable when young.
Vega Sicilia ‘Unico’ Ribera del Duero ($350)
Affordable alternative: Finca Villacreces Ribera del Duero ($30)
One of the original “unicorn wines,” Vega Sicilia’s “Unico” launched Spain and in particular the region of Ribera del Duero onto an international stage. This legendary wine is a blend of primarily Tempranillo with Cabernet Sauvignon and sees at least 10 years of aging in both oak and bottle prior to release. Even current vintages sell for insane prices (if you can even find them in the first place) and Vega Sicilia’s second wine, Valbuena, isn’t all that much more affordable. The trick is to look next door to Finca Villacreces, a lesser-known estate sandwiched between Vega Sicilia and a property owned by the winemaker of Pingus. Finca Villacreces’ flagship Ribera del Duero comes from the estate’s oldest, Vega Sicilia-adjacent vines, and is rich, concentrated, and spicy.
Giuseppe Rinaldi ‘Brunate-Le Coste’ Barolo ($325)
Affordable alternative: Giuseppe Rinaldi Dolcetto d’Alba ($45)
Giuseppe Rinaldi is a legend, so much so that some serious wine lovers demonstrate their in-the-know sensibilities by referring to his wines simply as “Beppe.” As of 2010 the heralded “Brunate-Le Coste” bottling is now known as ‘Brunate,” due to new Barolo DOCG restrictions. A traditionally styled Barolo, it can age for decades, displaying both power and delicacy. To experience the winemaking hand of Beppe without paying an arm and a leg, seek out Rinaldi’s Dolcetto d’Alba instead. While less complex and refined than the Barolo, there’s no mistaking that it’s a Rinaldi. Bonus option: Rinaldi makes a Barbera d’Alba ($50), too.
Clos Rougeard ‘Les Poyeux’ Saumur-Champigny ($300)
Affordable alternative: Domaine Antoine Sanzay ‘Les Poyeux’ Saumur-Champigny ($50)
Who would have guessed that a family winery from the Loire Valley’s lesser-known Saumur-Champigny region would be one of the most allocated wines around? Garnering cult appeal since 2005, Clos Rougeard’s importer is entirely up front about the fact that the wine is perpetually sold out. Only about 250 cases of wine come to the U.S. each year, and with the estate’s June sale to the billionaire Bouygues brothers of Bordeaux’s Château Montrose, prices are sure to skyrocket.
This single-vineyard Cabernet Franc bottling is known for being rich and almost Bordeaux-like, in line with Clos Rougeard’s other wines. Instead of poring over auction lots, drink another Cabernet Franc from the sandy Les Poyeux vineyard, such as this one from Antoine Sanzay. Layered, serious, ageable, and produced in small quantities, Sanzay’s “Les Poyeux” may be scarce in coming years, too, so buy it now.