What can be said about 2012 in wine terms? It seemed to me to be status quo, with not much change in the interests of the consumer and the trends. There were of course some interesting twists, especially the increased appeal of Moscato. Yes, I said Moscato…You can thank the music industry for that. In 2012 Moscato usurped Sauvignon Blanc in white wine sales in the United States, taking the third spot behind #1 Chardonnay and #2 Pinot Grigio/Gris. Also the green wine of Portugal, Vinho Verde saw a spike in sales this year. For that matter, the wines of Portugal in general continue to see stronger sales as they get more exposure and become easier to attain. As far as “Bang for the Buck”, they are some of the best you’ll find.
It is sad to see merlot still sputtering along even though there are some stellar examples out there that are great values and worthy of the glass. At the store I work at, there seems to be more interest in syrah then in the past year which I find very encouraging. Let’s hope that continues. Chardonnay and cab are still the top dogs with malbec riding its’ wave of popularity that started some five years ago. French and Spanish wines continue to hold their spot in wine buyers hearts, as Australian wines continue to plunge in sales. I am a little nervous at what I am seeing in the sales of Italian wines, at least in my market area. There is a definite decline, which is a little disturbing to me considering the stronghold these wines have had over the years. Italian wines are the bomb, and there are so many great values to be found. I hope this trend I am seeing does not gain strength.
Interest in bubbles is increasing as consumers realize that this is a wine that can be enjoyed on any occasion, not just the big ones. Pinot Noir sales continue to slow down but are still pretty good. Pinot Grigio (Gris) is still very popular as well as the “blends” category. Red blends in particular continue to experience continued growth in sales and there seems to be an endless variety available, with new ones coming out on a monthly basis. Well made “kitchen sink” reds with some of the best names and labels you will find out there.
The one thing that stood out to me this year in particular is the peak in sales of Riesling in my department. On a weekly basis, this section got wiped out! I love Riesling and you will find a number of them in my top forty list. Not just because I love them… They deserve to be there because they are well made wines and they are great values. On that note, let’s discuss my top forty list and how I came about selecting the wines.
Obviously, they have to be wines that you can get for under twenty bucks. The prices I use are based on what they are offered to the consumer on a monthly basis at the store I work at. The prices should be what most of you will see at your local store and in some cases you might find them at a lesser price. (At least I hope you can!)
The position of the wine on my list is based on the score I gave it in my personal notes. I use the 100 point scale, and all the wines on the list scored 90 points or higher. A wine may have a higher score, but is placed lower on the list simply because the wine with a lower score was a better value for the price. Quality to price ratio (QPR) plays a huge part in my selection process and in my scoring.
A wine that I put on the list must be one that is readily available for purchase, or I won’t even consider it. I hate it when a wine publication puts out a top wine list and many of the wines listed are sold out, or nearly impossible to get. I want you to be able to go to your local wine shop, find these wines and try them. I’m not in this for the winery, I’m doing it for the consumer. The wines I list are also the wines that were made available to me (samples from the vendors or purchased) over the last eleven months. There are many great wines out there that I did not get to try and I am sorry that I was not able to discover them for you. However, it was one of the best years ever for me as far as how many wines I did get to taste.
My desire is to turn you on to some excellent wines for under twenty dollars. This is a great price point, and many of the wines on this list come in at under fifteen, which is even better. I now present to you my top picks for 2012 under twenty bucks along with my tasting notes and score. I hope you find this both interesting and helpful. Cheers!
#4o) 2011 Milbrandt Vineyards “Traditions” Riesling (Columbia Valley, Washington) … $9.99
The “Traditions” label is Milbrandt’s second tier behind “The Estates” wines. Although I say “second tier”, this does not indicate anything about the quality. This is a top-notch Riesling for a stupid price of only ten bucks. Classic nose on this baby of rubber boots, apples and a dusty mineral component. Some writers like to use the word petrol in their aroma descriptor, but I think rubber boot is closer to what you are going to find. This is a good thing if you are really into Riesling; especially from Alsace.
This wine is delicious on the palate with notes of tangerines, pears and apricots coming through up front backed by balanced acidity. There is a beam of sweetness on the mid-palate leading into a bracing finish of tangerine and mandarin orange that lingers for some time. The “rubber boot” element lingers slightly in the background from start to finish. A beauty for ten bucks! 90 points
#39) 2010 Shingleback “Red Knot” Shiraz (McClaren Vale, Australia) … $9.99
Even though Australian wines are struggling in the marketplace it doesn’t mean you should give up on them yourself. There are some excellent wines to be had at great prices as this one shows.
Fairly intense aromas of blackberry jam and black currants. Nice intensity on the palate without going over-the-top with fruit. Notes of blackberry jam up front with an edge of black tea and minerals. Nice hit of white pepper on the mid-palate. Nice balance, long finish, with a mineral and blackberry jam edge to it. Australia has some excellent Syrah that is not all about fruit bombs and Coca Cola if you know what I mean. 90 points
#38) Vina Ventisquero “Yali Wetland” Sauvignon Blanc (Chile) …$8.99
Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favorite varietals and you will see a few more on my list. It really ticked me off to see Moscato over-take Sauvignon Blanc in wine sales in the U.S…. It’s just not right. This Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is a classic example of what you can get.
Aromas of fresh cut grass, kiwi and lemon with a hint of gooseberry. Very New Zealand like. Jazzy on the palate with a grassy minerality. It fattens up a bit on the middle with grapefruit notes coming through. Nice clean, crisp finish of grapefruit and grass. Nice balance of fruit and acidity, this baby livens up your taste buds and leaves them begging for more. 90 points
#37) 2010 Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah (California) … $10.99
Talk about a work horse in the wine world, this has been around for a long time as a best seller in not only my store but many others. There is of course a reason for this… It is consistently good. I have to say that it is not always a top wine for me, but I never feel bad about leading a customer to this bottle of juice.
This vintage has a nice intensity on the nose with notes of blueberries, licorice and cherry backed by some nice perfumed red flowers. Silky tannins with notes of blueberries and black licorice up front. A nice spice element shows up on the mid-palate with notes of chocolate, cherry and tobacco leaf. A little leather hit on the finish which has nice length. Very smooth, very delicious and very interesting. 90 points
#36) 2009 Alexander Valley Vineyards Merlot (Alexander Valley, California) … $16.99
I really enjoy Merlot and I don’t care about the bum rap that it gets. I know that there is a lot of junk on the market, but a lot of wineries are cleaning up their act and putting out serious juice. I also have to say that I feel sorry for anyone who would let Hollywood influence their wine decisions. It’s just a movie!
This is serious Merlot. Aromas of perfumed violets and red flowers backed by notes of red and black currants. Chalky, sturdy tannins back notes of blackberries and cassis. A core of acidity drives the fruit notes across the palate into a finish with hits of green tobacco leaf and tea bag notes. There is a nice “grip” on the finish that lets you know this wine will stick around for a few years and improve. I dare you to lay it down for about five more… I believe you will be rewarded for your patience. 90 points
#35) 2010 Albert Bichot Macon-Villages (Burgundy, France) … $15.99
A Chardonnay shows up on the scene! This baby is unoaked with aromas of melon, pear and minerals coming through on the nose. This white will please the acid freaks out there, but don’t be mistaken, it has excellent balance. Bright notes of pears with an underlying spiciness and hits of white licorice that come through on the mid-palate. Nice long finish of pears, grass and minerals. A classic example of what chard can be without the oak. 90+ points
#34) 2008 Donati Family Vineyards “Paicines” Claret (Monterey, California)… $14.99
A blend of Cab, Merlot, Malbec, Petite Verdot, Cab Franc and Syrah. Sort of a Bordeaux style with a little Syrah on the side. Aromas of rose pedal, spice, tobacco, plums, blackberry and a touch of smoke. I think I got a little carried away with this description but I really enjoyed the nose on this baby. Dark fruits and sweet tannins on the palate. There is some tobacco and BBQ spices on the mid-palate flowing into a long finish with a hint of green tomato stem. This is a “New World” red with a little Bordeaux attitude to it. I really like this wine for it’s personality and complexity. I checked to make sure the ’08 is still out there and it is. 90 points
#33) 2009 Barnard Griffin Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley, Washington)… $13.99
This is one of my favorite Washington wineries when it comes to finding the best bang for the buck. Rob Griffin has a knack for delivering high quality wines at a very reasonable price. The winery is about to celebrate their thirty year anniversary in 2013.
This cab displays aromas of black currants, anise and dark cherries. Plush on the front of the palate with notes of black currants and cherries coming through. A nice little leather/tannin hit on the mid-palate with a dose of cocoa dust and mocha coming through on the back end. There is just a slight green edge on the long finish. This is a classic cab that is very drinkable now, but will hold for a few more years. 90 points
#32) 2009 Carmen Gran Reserva Petite Sirah (Maipo Alto, Chile) … $14.99
Aromas of bright blueberry and blackberry with an undertow of tar and tobacco. I love the nose on this baby. Intense blue and black fruits with a tar and mint element coming through on the front side. A little spice shows up in the middle flowing into the finish, meeting notes of black currants and cherries. At 14.5% alcohol it never really shows the heat. Nice balance and good intensity, it screams for some grilled meats. 90 points
#31) 2009 Woodhouse Family Cellars Hudson Shah Malbec (Columbia Valley, Washington)… $14.99
I really get excited when I find a domestic malbec for under twenty bucks that shows this well. It’s hard to compete with Argentina when it comes to quality to price, but I think these folks have found the way.
Aromas of red currants, blackberries, tobacco leaf and mocha. (Not a bad start) Silky yet structured on the palate with notes of black currants and chocolate up front. There is a very interesting backbone of earth and minerals which I really enjoy. Seamless across the palate with hits of tobacco leaf and black tea on a medium to long finish. This Malbec has a ton of personality and is stiff competition for our friends down south. 90 points
#30) Ranga Ranga Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand)… $11.99
This one may catch some off guard, because it is a little stinky on the nose with hits of gooseberry. I personally don’t let “stink” bother me because in a lot of cases the wine is excellent. Notes of fresh cut grass, minerals, gooseberries and herbs come through on the front of the palate. Nice, bracing feel on the palate leading into notes of grapefruit and crushed rock on the long finish. There is nothing boring about this juice, not your typical Sauvignon Blanc, but very interesting and delicious. 90 points
#29) Corvidae Wine Co. “Ravenna” Riesling (Columbia Valley, Washington)… $9.99
Aromas of rubber boots, dust, apples and slight pear notes. Reminds me a lot of a Riesling from Alsace or Germany. Ripe pears and apples on the palate. The sweetness has a cutting edge to it backed by bracing acidity that comes through in the middle. Almost a pear custard with lime peel and lychee nuts with hits of spice on the finish. This well made Riesling starts off sweet then shows the acid and finishes dry. Nice job by David O’Reilly of Owen Roe fame who is one of my favorite Northwest wine makers. 90 points
#28) 2011 Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc (Casablanca, Chile)… $9.99
Aromas of melon, grapefruit, Vaseline and hits of peach. Vibrant on the palate with nice mineral notes coming through backed by notes of kiwi, grapefruit rind and hits of gooseberries. Mouthwatering finish of kiwi, lime and grapefruit with a little lychee nut hit on the medium to long finish. I know New Zealand gets a lot of press for their Sauvignon Blancs, but I have to say that I have found quite a few excellent examples from Chile as this one attests. 90- points
#27) 2010 Borsao Garnacha (Borja, Spain)… $6.99
Jorge Ordonez is one of my favorite Spanish wine importers. He recently got some good press from Robert Parker Jr. and he deserves it. He has a knack for finding excellent values so you will see a few of his wines on my list this time around. This wine is “silly good” for a prayer.
Aromas of ripe blackberries and dark cherries with a freshness underneath. Dark cherries and blackberries are dense and intense on the front of the palate. There is a spicy element that shows on the mid-palate with hits of char and tobacco leaf. Cherries and blackberries linger on the finish. This is one of the best eight dollar bottles of wine I’ve tasted in recent memory. 90-
#26) Haystack Needle “The Eye” Red Non-Vintage (Columbia Valley, Washington)… $9.99
Since this wine is non-vintage, I re-tasted it recently and my impressions are confirmed. This is a great wine for ten bucks! Notes of red flowers, currants, spice and cedar shavings come through on the nose. On the palate, notes of cedar, currants and cherries with a nice intensity from start to finish. The cedar notes linger on the backside of the long finish with a little grip to it. This wine has nice balance and the acidity makes the fruit notes “Pop” on the palate. There is a lot to this wine for ten bucks. 90 points
#25) 2010 Los Nevados Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina)… $10.99
No surprise seeing a Malbec from Argentina on the list. It’s still one of the hottest categories in the wine world and many of them deliver some amazing juice for under twenty bucks. I’ve gotten a little picky with this varietal because I find many of them are delicious but quite simple. This one falls in the interesting category for me.
Notes of menthol, black berries and black licorice come through on the nose. There is an interesting minerality on the palate backed by notes of blackberries and mixed berries. A little herbaceous on the mid-palate flowing into notes of tobacco leaf, bramble berries and white pepper on the lingering finish that has just a slight tannic grip to it. Nothing boring about this Malbec. 90 points
#24) 2009 Ramos Pinto “Duas Quintas” Red (Douro, Portugal)… $12.99
Very interesting aromas on this wine. Almost a beefy element comes through on the nose with notes of dark fruits and a little stink action, which I of course like. Sweet tannins with ripe dark fruits up front. Nicely layered with notes of tobacco leaf and earth coming through on the mid-palate. Finishes with a little leather, grip and spice mingled with dark fruits that linger. I love getting a complex, delicious wine that is just a little dirty for thirteen bucks. 90+ points
#23) Fidelitas M-100 Red (Columbia Valley, Washington)… $19.99
A true Bordeaux style blend made up mostly of Cab and Merlot with a splash of Malbec, Petite Verdot and Cab Franc. If you want to see what Charlie Hoppes is capable of as a wine maker, this is your chance for under twenty bucks.
A blackberry/cherry medley on the nose with hits of bittersweet chocolate. Dark cherries and chocolate hit you on the front of the palate on fresh tannins. There is an interesting citrus hit on the mid-palate. Seamless flow across the mouth into a finish featuring notes of leather, tobacco leaf and black tea mingled with dark fruits that linger. Nice balance with good acidity. I know Charlie made this to be drunk young, but I think it will get even better over the next 3-5 years. 91 points
#22) 2010 Quails Gate Chenin Blanc (Okanagan Valley, Canada)… $13.99
Aromas of wet wool (usually found in Vouvray) and red delicious apples. This is for the person that likes some serious minerality in their whites (that would be me). Crushed rocks all over the palate with a little celery action mingled in. Granny Smith apple skins penetrate the palate through the finish with a little red grape skin action that lingers. This is one of those whites that you can enjoy all by itself, but would make an excellent compliment to shellfish. 91 points
#21) 2010 Joan d’Anguera Garnatxa Red (Montsant, Spain)… $16.99
Intense blackberry and boysenberry jam notes on the nose with hints of black currants. Vibrant blackberry and currant notes with hits of tobacco and blackberry jelly coming through on the mid-palate. Seamless flow across the palate into a finish of blackberry, leather and black pepper. This is a classic example of what Grenache can be out of Spain. 91 points
#20) 2009 Bogle Vineyards Phantom (California)… $17.99
This is the second year in a row that I really liked this wine. A blend of old vine Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and old vine Mouvedre this wine displays aromas of tar, black fruits and some petroleum and blackberries. Just a slight hit of alcohol comes through. (14.5%) Delicious ripe fruits up front backed by some nice earth tobacco leaf and tar notes. Spice element comes through on the mid-palate flowing into a long finish of dark fruits and spices. There’s a lot going on with this wine and I got a little Rhone action with some love handles on it. This is one you will want to put away for about 3-5 years to see what will happen. I have a feeling you are going to like the results. 91 points
#19) 2009 Lorinon Crianza Tinto (Rioja, Spain)… $12.99
Aromas of red currants, blackberries and dusty leather. Sweet tannins on the palate with notes of red and black currants flow seamlessly across the palate into a leather and ripe blackberries. There is a purity to the fruit in this wine and it is a “ten” in the delicious category. Good integration of fruit and acidity with a nice spice element from start through the lingering finish. I got exited about this wine on the first sip. 100% Tempranillo. 91 points
#18) 2010 Alexander Valley Vineyards Chardonnay (Sonoma, California)… $15.99
This is a classic example of a Chardonnay that integrates acidity, oak and fruit into a fine-tuned bottle of juice. Pear, oak and pineapple come through on the nose. Bright on the palate with notes of pear,pineapple and hints of apple. Nice intensity in the mouth with a little oak showing up on the finish. Nothing flabby about this Chard and it screams for food. 91 points
#17) 2009 Barnard Griffin Merlot “Tulip Label” (Columbia Valley, Washington)… $13.99
I think the two classic regions for Merlot are the right bank of Bordeaux (of course), and our very own Washington State. Another wine from wine maker Rob Griffin makes it in my top 40 and this time it’s his Merlot.
Aromas of black plums, currants and anise. Excellent balance and structure with notes of black currants up front and dark cherries and blackberries coming through. Seamless across the palate on sturdy, approachable tannins. There is an interesting leather hit on the lingering finish. Merlot got a bum rap with that movie and some of the poor quality stuff coming out of the central coast of California. For fourteen bucks you will find a reason to become a fan of Merlot once again. 91 points
#16) 2009 Milbrandt Vineyards “Traditions” Merlot (Columbia Valley, Washington)… $13.99
What do you know, another Washington Merlot in the top 40! Milbrandt, like Barnard Griffin is a winery that puts out some serious juice at an excellent price. This is Milbrandt’s entry level juice, but there is nothing entry level about it.
Aromas of char, currants, cherries and a brooding element of spice. Intense black currant notes dominate the front of the palate, flowing into notes of char, vanilla and mocha on the mid-palate. There is a nice hit of spices on the back end of the mid flowing into a long finish met up by notes of leather and tobacco with a little “grip” to it. Some very serious juice for fourteen bucks, and another reason to be a fan of Merlot again. 91 points
#15) 2009 Domaine Schlumberger Pinot Gris (Alsace, France)… $17.99
My notes were a little brief on this one and I think it was because I was so caught up in the wine itself. I know Turkey Day is past, but this would be a beauty if you decide to turkey it up at Christmas.
Aromas of toasted apples with a little honey coming through. Nice and full on the palate with notes of honey and Red Delicious apples with fig showing up on the mid-palate. Fig and honey notes linger on the finish. Both rich and elegant at the same time, it blows you away without totally knocking you out. It’s a steal at this price. 92 points
#14) 2010 Oisley & Thesee Sauvignon Blanc (Touraine, France)… $7.99
This wine has always amazed me for what it delivers at eight bucks. It’s been eight bucks for a long time and it’s been good if not great for just as long. It was a sad day when Moscato overtook Sauvignon Blanc in sales in the U.S. this year. That trend will not last…Of that I am sure. It is the consummate food wine and in many cases is enjoyable all by itself. Just look at this little gem from the Loire Valley.
Aromas of fresh cut grass, crushed rock and a little lemon-lime action. Mineral driven on the palate with notes of grass, lemon rind and kiwi. This wine has a real steely element up front with some slate notes coming through on the mid-palate. Excellent balance of acidity and fruit, it never gets mouth-puckering and never could be accused of being too fruity. The minerals and grassy lemon notes linger for some time. Seriously? Eight bucks? 91 points
#13) 2011 Volver Tarima Monastrell (Alicante, Spain)… $7.99
Here is another of those fantastic values from the Jorge Ordonez selection. Aromas of blueberry, tar, cherry jam and tobacco leaf. A pretty serious nose for a wine that goes for the stupid price of eight bucks. There is a big cherry jam core on the front of the palate backed by interesting crushed rock notes. A dark fruit medley plays across the palate with a tar/mineral edge to it and a little tobacco leaf on the finish. At 14.5% alcohol you might expect some heat but there is none. Well integrated and a nice complexity with a little tannic grip to it. This is seriously good juice for the price and you may want to get your hands on some quickly before it is long gone. 91 points
#12) 2011 Bodegas Breca Garnacha de Fuego (Calatayud, Spain)… $9.99
Once again, another Jorge Ordonez selection. You may be familiar with the bottle on this one. It is dark, with flames all around and it simply says Garnacha de Fuego…Very distinct. It has been o.k. in past vintages, but this one is head and shoulders above the rest. Boysenberry, black plum and grape jam all over the nose. Dense dark cherry jam notes hit you up front. Definite mineral notes come through on the mid-palate followed by notes of tobacco leaf, tar and leather on the long spice driven finish. There is a noticeable minerality on the backbone of this wine which I have never experienced from past vintages. For the stupid price of ten bucks (or less) you get this delicous Grenache. Hard to believe. Don’t look to age this however, it will drink nicely over the next three years. 91 points.
#11) 2011 Chateau Lamothe Bordeaux Blanc Grand Vin De Bordeaux (Bordeaux, France)… $14.99
As soon as I put my nose to this I had a feeling I was in for a treat. There is something about the smell of a good Bordeaux blanc that is really appealing. I will do my best to relay that to you.
Aromas of cut grass, slate, gooseberries with hits of melon and grapefruit. (Seriously mouth-watering) Nice fresh acidity on the palate with a steely edge to it. Gooseberry and melon penetrates the palate with a lemon-lime spine. There is a nice vibrancy to this white leading into a lingering finish of grapefruit rind and gooseberry. This is a beauty for fifteen bucks and could easily be my everyday white. 40% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Semillon, 20% Muscadelle. 91 points
NOW IT’S TIME FOR MY TOP TEN…ARE YOU READY?
#10) Dows Vale Do Bomfim Red (Douro, Portugal)… $9.99
I really struggled with where to put this on my list. Dows is a famous Port winery and this is a tinto that they produce which is quite fantastic for the price. There is some stiff competition and for ten bucks I think that this is where it should land. This is Portugal’s version of a “kitchen sink” blend with grapes I have never even heard of. Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca and Tinto Cao??? Maybe I should hit the books a little harder, but of the five grapes that make up this blend, I am only familiar with two of them (touriga nacional and tinta roriz). That being said, this is a great bang for the buck.
On the nose, deep and musky notes of tobacco, vanilla, currants, blackberries and grape jam with minerals coming through. Silky, structured tannins backed by notes of mixed berries, tobacco and black currants that penetrate the front of the palate. There is a nice flow across the mouth leading into a long finish of dark fruits, tobacco and spice with just a slight “grip” on the sides of the mouth. There is a nice bright jammy core that is the backbone of this wine, showing the acidity that will make it age-worthy. Don’t be afraid to lay this down for 3-5 years, it will only get better. 91 points
#9) 2010 MontGras Reserva Carmenere (Colochagua Valley, Chile)… $11.99
I have to say that I love Carmenere from Chile…They know how to do it right! If you have any doubts, or would like to try Carmenere for the first time, I suggest you start here.
Aromas of black olives, tobacco leaf and dark fruits with a hit of green bell pepper and currants. Very plush and silky smooth on the palate without being flabby. Notes of black currants up front followed by minerals, green tobacco leaf and tomato stem on the mid-palate. Black currant notes and the plush mouth-feel dominate and balance the herbaceous element of the wine leading into a medium finish with a white pepper note that lingers. A very layered wine with dark fruits, herbs and minerals all wrapped up in a plush, silky blanket. Hard to beat for twelve bucks. 91 points
#8) 2011 Dalila Vinho Verde (Portugal)… $7.99
The “green wine” of Portugal has definitely seen a rise in popularity the past couple of years. In most cases it is a simple white with a little sparkle to it. However, I have discovered a couple that have set the bar a little higher…This is one of them.
Aromas of dusty rocks, apples, lemons and melon. There is a nice minerality that persists on the palate balanced by notes of lemon and fresh cut grass. Lingering finish of green apples blended with apricots. An excellent example of Vinho Verde can be, and the price is stupid. 92 points
#7) 2010 Pendulum Red (Columbia Valley, Washington)… $14.99
Very deep, sultry nose on this red. Subdued dark fruits along with notes of chocolate and oak. Very plush on the palate but not flabby. Dark fruit medley (blackberries and dark cherries) backed by warm spices. Wood tannins come through on the mid-palate flowing into a long finish of dark fruits, spice and minerals with just a little “grip” on the back end. A true “kitchen sink” red with Merlot, Cab, Syrah, Sangiovese, Malbec, Petite Verdot and Malbec making up the blend. 92 points
#6) 2011 San Juan Vineyards Riesling (Columbia Valley, Washington)… $13.99
This winery is in my own back yard and I continue to be impressed with what wine maker Chris Primus is able to accomplish. Most of their reds fall in the above twenty dollar category so they do not qualify for this list. However, if you have the good fortune to try some of them, I highly recommend the Cab, Merlot or Cab Franc. They are all well made reds and they go for under twenty-five bucks. This Riesling happens to be one of the best I have tasted from this winery in some time.
Bright tangerine and peach on the nose with hits of lemon drop and crushed rock. Ripe tangerine and mandarin notes come through on the palate backed by a bright core of acidity and minerality. This Riesling starts out on the sweeter side and dries out on the long finish with a little apple/honey hit on the back of the tangerine and mandarin. This wine is a “Ten” in the delicious category. 91+ points
#5) 2009 Borsao Berola (Campo de Borja, Spain)… $13.99
This blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon is a lot of wine for the dough. A hint of stink on the nose with notes of black olives, black currants, blackberries, tar and tobacco leaf. This is one of those wines you can sit with and just savor the smells. On the palate, deep and seductive, intense and structured from start to finish. Dark cherries, blackberries and cassis with a hit of white pepper on the finish. Seamless across the palate with an edge of spice. Minerals and tar linger on the finish. Given the balance and intensity of this wine, I can see it hanging in your cellar for 5-8 years. Hard to believe you can get a wine this good for fourteen bucks. 92 points
#4) 2011 Loosen Bros. “Dr L” Riesling (Mosel, Germany)… $12.99
I remember when I first started getting serious about wine, and I would read about how most of the wine geeks loved Riesling. At the time I didn’t get it, but now I do. When you happen upon a good one, it is an ethereal experience. This is the fourth Riesling in my “Top 40” list, so I guess I have graduated into the wine geek group. I think once you try these you will understand the infatuation.
Subdued apple and melon notes come through on the nose with a little apricot soap and a touch of nuttiness. Bracing on the palate with intense mandarin and tangerine notes that penetrate. Hits of white flowers and minerals show up with a little rubber boot on the mid-palate. Smooth and vibrant across the mouth leading into a finish of tangerine sorbet and white flowers. The wine persists on the finish, and as I am writing these notes, my mouth is watering as I think about tasting this Riesling. I may sound a little over-the-top, and I’m sorry if I’m geeking out a bit…But I really like good Riesling. Really! 93 points
#3) 2009 Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere (Apalta Vineyard, Chile)… $14.99
Now here is a varietal that flies under many folks wine radar. And this is one you have to be careful with if you are not a fan of flavors like green bell pepper, celery or tomato stem in your wine. There are a few of us out there that enjoy this type of wine, but I am a realist, and therefore hold back from recommending such a wine unless I am absolutely sure of the persons palate preference. This wine however strikes a nice balance between fruit and herbaceous.
Peppery on the nose with aromas of tobacco leaf, dark fruits and tomato stems. Dark fruits rest on smooth tannins with an undertow of acidity and notes of tobacco leaf. Notes of currants and boysenberry come through in the mid-palate with hits of tomato stem and green bell pepper. Long finish with a little leather action and warm pepper/spice notes. The fruit balances and integrates nicely with the veggie notes making for an enjoyable, complex wine. 93+ points
#2) 2010 Ventana Estate Pinot Noir (Arroyo Secco, California)… $17.99
Ventana, Ventana…My new discovery this year and what a discovery it is! Their Chardonnay almost made it in my top forty being as it is some stiff competition for Rombauer at a mere thirteen bucks. However, it is what it is and I just can’t turn back now. The Pinot for the price, is one of the best I’ve run across in awhile so here it is at number seven.
Very earth driven on the nose with an interesting minerality (reminiscent of Burgundy) along with notes of dark cherries and raspberries. Again, very earth driven on the palate showing a lot of character backed by notes of dark cherries and black tea. The finish stood out to me with notes of tar and black tea with the dark cherry lying underneath. This is Burgundy meets California with Burgundy winning out in the end. A Pinot Noir like this should go for much more, but I’m glad it doesn’t and you should be too. 94 points
#1) 2011 Coeur de Terre Pinot Gris (Willamette Valley, Oregon)… $17.99
Coeur de Terre means “Heart of the Earth” and although this has reference to a huge heart shaped rock found during the development of the winery and proudly displayed, it is also an apt reference to the style of wine that wine maker and owner Scott Neal strives for in his wines. Every wine I’ve tasted from Coeur de Terre expresses the terroir from which the grapes were harvested. This Pinot Gris won my heart as the best wine I’ve tasted in 2012 for under twenty bucks.
Loads of minerality (wet stones) on the nose with notes of fresh cut grass, lemon and lime. This white cuts across the palate with bracing acidity and minerals in spades. Delicious mouth-watering notes of lime and mandarin oranges with a hit of lychee nuts that dances across the palate. Lively and bright, it has a finish that lingers for some time. Let’s talk oysters, let’s talk mussels, let’s talk on the couch watching a football game. Actually, I don’t think you need an excuse to open this bottle; just open and enjoy. 94 points
Another year has gone by, and I have to say that this is the first time that my list included only wines 90 points and above. Remember, these are my personal scores…I understand that all palates are different, so that is why I put my tasting notes in there so you can see why I liked them. I hope they are helpful for you.
There were many wines that fell in the $19.99 range that I left out except for the Fidelitas M-100. Because of the variation in retail, many of them could have fallen in the above $20 category. I am going to post another list of my “Top Ten” wines for the year, where price is not an object. Keep and eye out, it is coming soon.
I am looking forward with keen anticipation to what 2013 has to offer for the wine world. Here’s to finding great values in wine and enjoying them. *Clink* Cheers! Stan The Wine Man