It's easy to come up with a list of the world's most underrated wines. Such overachievers exist in every viticultural region in the world and the 10 wines I have picked here are truly great wines by whatever standards of judgment are applied. They are complex, they are rich and concentrated, and they age magnificently.
Listed alphabetically, they are:
Auguste Clape's Cornas (Northern Rho ne): This black/purple wine invites few takers when it is young, tannic and raw, but with age (preferably a good decade), it develops a magnificent perfume and rich, savory flavors after the rough, astringent tannins have melted away. In short, it is a great gustatory experience. However, due to the time necessary for its proper aging, it is a wine for those who have sufficient wine storage areas.
Chateau Beaucastel (Cha teauneuf du Pape): A lot of very good cha teauneuf du pape, as well as a lot of very bad cha teauneuf du pape, is produced. However, very little great cha teauneuf du pape is made. Beaucastel is one of a half dozen or so estates that make a wine that ages like a great bordeaux, but smells and tastes like a great burgundy. It starts life as a densely colored, powerful, but rather unattractive wine which, at age 10, in its adolescence, begins to show its remarkable promise, and at age 15 is in full, majestic maturity. Recent vintages, including the superb 1981 and 1978 and the soon to be released 1983, all retail under $14 a bottle, about one half its true value.
Chateau La Dominique (St. Emilion): This next-door neighbor to the famous and fabulously expensive Cheval Blanc somehow got overlookled when the wines of St. Emilion were classified. Nevertheless, La Dominique possesses the three things necessary to make great wines: A millionaire owner who is fanatical about the qualilty of his wine, one of Bordeaux's greatest young oenologists who makes the wine, and superb, well-drained soil. Recent vintages, including the magnificent 1982, have all been successful.
Chateau Sociando Mallet (Northern Medoc): Since I first visited this property in 1978, I have felt that it is one of the great wines of all of Bordeaux. The owner is also the winemaker and most observers would call him a nut to make a wine so traditional, with so much tannin, so much concentration as to need as much time as the famed Latour (15 or so years) to mature. Yet, Sociando Mallet continually eclipses many of its more famous and more expensive neighbors in blind tastings. It is probably Bordeaux's greatest unknown wine, but aging and patience are necessary. The great vintages of this property to look for are 1970, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1982 and 1983, with the recently released 1982 considered by the property to be the finest it has ever made.
Guigal's Co te Ro tie (Northern Rho ne): How often it seems that great wines are made by obsessively impassioned winemakers. Marcel Guigal is such a person and his Co te Ro ties are among the world's greatest and most underrated red wines. For $12-15 a bottle you get the bouquet of a musigny, the flavors of a pommard, and the aging potential of a Vosne Romane'e. However, Guigal's wine is not a $35-40 burgundy but a Co te Ro tie from the Rho ne Valley, and consumers for years have been bamboozled by wine writers into thinking that these wines can't compete with the greatest of burgundies. Try the great 1978, very good 1979, and good 1980 and see who is right.
Hermitage La Chapelle (Northern Rho ne): How times have changed! In the 19th century, the great, big, red, rich wines of Hermitage were France's most sought-after and expensive wines, even outpricing such famous Bordeaux chateaux as Lafite Rothschild, Latour, and Haut Brion. Some barrels of Hermitage were even sent to Bordeaux illegally to help as they were blended with bordeaux to give it "more character and staying power," according to famous bordeaux broker Nathaniel Johnston. Hermitage still has one of the greatest reputations in France, but consumers won't believe it. If one could only open a 10- or 15-year-old example of this wine to prove to the masses its greatness, then I suspect the price would not be $12-20 a bottle, but more like $35-50 a bottle. While the 1983 Hermitage La Chapelle is reportedly sold out, after it had been acclaimed by two leading wine writers as France's greatest wine in this vintage, there are bottles of the very good 1982, fine 1980, and superb 1979 sitting on retailers' shelves throughout the city.
Monsanto Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy): When I talk of chianti, I think of light, frail-colored wines which can be easily quaffed for their lively and vibrant cherry and strawberry fruit flavors. Enjoyable, yes, but serious and venerable, no. There is one major exception. The chianti of Monsanto, particularly the bottlings with the specific vineyard designated as II Poggio, are indeed sublime, special, complex wines that are among the greatest reds in the world. The 1977, 1975 and, if you are lucky enough to find any, the 1971 and 1970 are marvelously rich, incredibly perfumed wines which set the standards for the serious chianti classicos.
Oregon Pinot Noirs (Pacific Northwest): In 10 years, it will be the voluptuous, seductively flavored pinot noirs of Oregon that will be the red wines most in demand by knowledgeable American wine consumers. Wineries such as Eyrie, Adelsheim, Ponzi, Peter F. Adams, Hillcrest, and Knudsen Erath are on the verge of capturing a desirous public's thirst for complex, rich pinot noirs that do not sell for $20-30 a bottle. All of these wineries sell their wines for under $12 a bottle and the recent vintages 1982 and 1983 have been very kind to these growers. You would do well to take a look at the increasingly high quality of pinot noir from Oregon.
Raymond Lafon: Did you ever hear of Chateau Yquem? This is the decadent, honeyed, super expensive wine that is France's most expensive and renowned. Yquem is a splendid drink, but at $50-60 a bottle one looks to other wines from this region for thirst and palate satisfaction. Pierre Meslier is the winemaker at Yquem, but he lives and also makes wine at Raymond Lafon. He uses the exact same methods for making Raymond Lafon as he does at Yquem. No, Raymond Lafon is not as great as Yquem, but it is one of the greatest sweet wines of the Sauternes region and at one third the price of Yquem an incredibly undervalued and underrated wine.
Torres Black Label Gran Coronas (Penedes, Spain): The Torres firm in Penedes makes an entire range of wholesome, very good white and red wines at prices that the wine consumer should note seriously. However, the flagship of this firm's line of wines is the $12 Black Label Gran Coronas, a rich, majestic wine that easily can hold its own against $30-40 bordeaux and burgundy. It is a wine that is not even released until it is 7 or 8 years old, and consequently the glorious 1977 and excellent 1976 are the two current vintages on the market. While this wine can be drunk young, it really begins to strut its stuff in terms of quality and complexity when it is about 10 years old. At 15 to 20 years old it can be simply divine. An increasing number of knowledgable connoisseurs have already discovered this fact so this is a wine you may want to take a great deal of interest in very quickly.