This week is the premiere of a new biweekly segment from Chronicle wine writer Wes Marshall. In "Liquid Assets," Wes will spotlight affordable wine choices and offer food-pairing advice to complement them. Wines will be graded using Emile Peynaud's Le Gout de Vin 100-point scoring system, which awards 10 points for appearance, 30 points for aroma, 40 points for taste, and 20 points for overall impression. Wines scoring in the high 80s and low 90s would be considered B+ or A- wines. In alternating columns, he'll provide a short, in-depth study of a particular wine-producing region followed by a list of some of that area's best wines. Inquiries about wine can be sent to Wes Marshall at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Virginia B. Wood
1998 Antinori Santa Cristina Sangiovese, $9.99
Sangiovese is the grape used to make Chianti and Brunello in Italy. While those wines are usually pretty stout, this one is more medium-bodied with a beautiful cherry-red color. It's probably too mouth-puckering to drink by itself. However, the flavor has enough acidity to make this wine the perfect match for simple, rustic Italian dishes. Chop some fresh tomatoes, basil, and a couple of cloves of garlic and toss them on your favorite pasta with a healthy dose of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with a piece of crusty bread and a glass of Santa Cristina. Absolute heaven.
1998 Casa La Postelle Sauvignon Blanc, $8.99
Chile is currently the worldwide hotspot for value wines. Land and labor costs are relatively cheap and the grapes are superb. The La Postelle Sauvignon Blanc is a perfect example of what the Chileans are capable of. A wine of this quality from France or the U.S. would cost $15-25. Imagine a wine as full-bodied as Chardonnay, but with some sour green apple flavors and you have a good idea of the taste. This wine will mate perfectly with dishes like bruschetta, seafood risotto, or Caesar salad. One of the best "Under $10" wines available.
1998 Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel, $13.99. Score: 90
For years, the huge red Zinfandels of Sonoma were the bargain wines of California. Jammy, extracted, tooth-staining red wines; short on subtlety but long on passion. Unfortunately, the prices have galloped uphill over the last five years. $13.99 is now bargain pricing in Zins. But the Seghesio family has held the line, not just on price, but on quality. Their wine has classic Zin characteristics. Pair this up with some grilled meat for a startlingly great wine for the price.
1998 J. Lohr Chardonnay, $11.99. Score: 87
All J. Lohr wines have a house style (mostly due to their barrels) that features a heavy vanilla and butterscotch aroma. Their Chardonnay exemplifies the style. People either love this wine or hate it. It is extremely intense. But at least you can tell the winemaker spent some money trying to develop a recognizable style. If you are a Chardonnay fan, this one is worth trying, especially at the price, which is a bargain in today's market. A great before-dinner wine. Good food combinations take some creativity, but it is especially good with Thai food containing coconut milk or rich pasta dishes like pasta Alfredo.