Our theme this week is to look for great value in wine by overcoming your preconceptions. Look for an importer’s or store’s private labels. And be receptive to alternative packaging, such as boxed wines or half bottles.
Rueda, Spain, $15
Here’s a pro tip: Ask your independent retailer about private label wines. In some jurisdictions, such as Washington, D.C., a store may be allowed to “direct import” wines at a savings over the regular distribution channel. (Cutting out the middleman, as it were.) Some retailers work with importers to bring in exclusive wines available only at their store. Importers often have sources for good quality bulk wine, or surplus wine from their clients, which they bottle under their own label and sell at a value price. If you look for a particular importer’s name on the back label, don’t ignore it on the front. Rubus is the private label of Kysela Père et Fils, an importer based in Winchester, Va. Don’t think geographically — these wines are sourced from around the world. I’ve especially enjoyed Rubus old vine Zinfandel from Lodi, Calif., and shiraz from Australia. This Rueda from Spain is a racy white, with flavors of apricot, jasmine and honeysuckle, a garden in a glass. It’s the first Rubus I’ve seen with the “Private Selection” designation, suggesting importer Fran Kysela’s excitement for the wine. I share his enthusiasm. Kudos on the light bottle.
Alcohol by volume: 13 percent. Bottle weight: 400 grams (Light).
Imported and distributed locally by Kysela Père et Fils.
Paso Robles, Calif., $70 3-liter.
I wrote about this label when it debuted late last year as a mail-order only line. That debut prompted some wineries to experiment with the boxed format for premium wines. Now, after several additional releases, Really Good Boxed Wine has limited retail availability (in D.C., at Calvert Woodley). This is the equivalent of $17.50 for a bottle of excellent-quality cabernet from Paso Robles, a region in Central California that positions itself as an affordable alternative to glitzy Napa Valley. This is a warm-climate cabernet, so look for flavors of black cherry, baking spice and a hint of praline or toffee. There’s good acidity to balance and just a hint of ripe tannins on the finish, though certainly not enough to suggest aging the wine. It’s for now. In this format, it’s for travel, for parties, for “just another sip” as you clean up after dinner. A notable advantage of the boxed format is its lower carbon footprint (about half) compared with four bottles. There is also a delicious rosé of pinot noir from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, and the current online release is a pinot noir from the exciting San Luis Obispo Coast region. Certified SIP Sustainable. ABV: 14.5 percent. BW: No bottle!
Available from Really Good Boxed Wine. Available locally at Calvert Woodley.
Champagne, France, $38 for 375ml, $65 for 750ml.
I’m a big fan of half-bottles, for restaurants and at home. They are ideal for a first-course wine, or as with this outstanding champagne, a celebration for two to begin a meal. Unfortunately, half-bottles are not economically attractive for wineries, so we don’t see very many of them. This beautiful wine hails from Champagne’s Côte des Blancs, a chalky area where chardonnay achieves a special sparkle and finesse. Look for hints of peach, chalk and citrus blossom over a yeasty, toasty bead of bubbles. ABV: 12.5 percent. BW: (half bottle sampled).
Imported by Skurnik Wines. Distributed locally by Prestige-Ledroit Distributing Co.
Prices are approximate. For availability, check Wine.com, Wine-searcher.com and the websites of the wineries, importers or distributors.

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