Holiday time = more festivities. More festivities = more opportunities to open a nice bottle of wine. But let's be realistic, here. In the days when buying a Christmas tree nearly requires another mortgage, a budget is especially appealing. So here are my Top 20 Wines Under $20!
Some are wines that taste as if they cost twice as much, some are amazing bangs-for-the buck, and some are great to keep on hand for a decent quaff when visitors pop by unexpectedly. (Even in the middle of the night. With a couple of reindeer.)
20) 2008 Il Faggio Montepulciano ~$9. Lots of great values are to be found in Italy - this has a nose of dusty red cherries and pizza dough. Very soft, red and black fruits, cocoa mocha. Appealing and quaffable for under ten bucks.
19) 2008 Famiglia Cielo Primitivo ~$9. Another Italian value - the Primitivo is characteristically earthy with a hint of barnyard on the nose. Tart cherry hits you at first, then it softens into a warm, easy-drinking red.
18) 2009 Franz Etz Grüner Veltliner ~$13 (1-liter bottle). Grüners from Austria are notably crisp and refreshing, and the '09 Etz is no exception. Lemony acidity, some herbs, good minerality, and the characteristic "groo-vee" note of white pepper.
17) 2007 Jelu Pinot Noir ~$15. This perfectly pleasing pinot is from Patagonia. (How about that?) Light earth and dried cherry on the nose. Nice acidity, with herbs, black cherry and plum.
16) 2008 Montgras Quatro ~$18. While we're in South America, let's pop over to Chile for this red blend: nose of tobacco, herbs and spice with black fruits. Deceptively smooth, with black cherries, blueberries, and a hint of cherry cobbler. Very light tannins but very decent finish.
15) 2008 Woop Woop Shiraz ~$12. While there are many values in the world of Australian shiraz, in a large tasting I ran last year, this wine appealed to every single person in the room! Fairly intense black fruits, spice box & licorice, with a well-balanced finish.
14) 2009 Burgans Albariño ~$14. This Spanish white is tremendously appealing, with abundant notes of peach, candied orange peel, honey, a hint of nuttiness and a nice acidity. Alone or with food, Albariño may be the best white you've never heard of.
13) 2009 Le Bourcier Macôn "Cuvee Elena" ~$16. 100% Chardonnay from this region in Burgundy, this amazing value exhibits minerals, white peach, lemon and Granny Smith apple. Zippy acidity combines with those flavors for a long finish.
12) 2009 Charles Smith "Boom Boom" Syrah ~$19. Renowned winemaker Charles Smith is cementing Washington State's place on the winemaking map. You may indeed go "boom" with this incendiary red - loads of dark fruits, spices, tobacco, incredible finish.
11) NV Gruet Brut ~$16. Amaze your friends when you tell them this fantastic Methode Champenoise (ie., Champagne-style) sparkler is from New Mexico. Great green apple and citrus notes are balanced by a warm toastiness. Don't wait for New Year's!
10) 2009 Mapuche Sauvignon Blanc ~ $10. This Chilean SB has a nose of kiwi, lime and orange blossom. It is very tart, with a refreshing minerality and a predominant note of Lemonheads (yes, the sour lemon candy.) I actually wrote in my notes: "party in your mouth!" Great to pair with food.
9) 2009 Terra Andina Carminère ~$9. Another wonderful value from Chile with a nose of inky violets and dark fruits. Abundant notes of cola, pencil lead, cocoa, cassis, black cherry and licorice with late-arriving soft tannins. Interestingly intense flavors and yet lighter and not overpowering mouthfeel.
8) 2008 Joel Gott Cabernet Sauvignon 815 ~$16. The first of three US Cabs to hit the top 10 of this list, the Gott 815 has earth and sweet cherries on the nose, with a great body, lots of fruit (blueberry, cassis) and mesquite and pine notes.
7) 2009 Terredora Falanghina Irpina ~$17. This southern Italian white shows honey, pineapple and strong grassy notes. Rich and complex with apricot, pear, and a citrusy finish with good minerality.
6) 2007 Ex Libris Cabernet Sauvignon ~$19. Proving that Washington State is vying with California for US Cab fame, this incredible dense, intense CS is full of cassis, cedar, cherry, herbs, some vanilla, and a well-balanced finish that goes on and on.
5) 2008 Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino ~$14. There is a voluptuousness to this Sardinian white, perhaps from the combination of peach, pear, spice, lemon-lime citrus, baking herbs, minerals, some tropical fruit and perfectly matched acidity.
4) 2008 Albert Seltz Riesling ~ $17. It is the burden of many wineaux to convince neophyte wine-lovers that Rieslings are not sicky-sweet cringe-inducing wines. Share this with them: light golden honey in color with a typical Riesling viscocity, and a nose of cantaloupe, pineapple, spice and orange peel. Forward but not-too-intense acidity with key lime, honeysuckle, melon, spice, green apple and minerals and a hint of residual CO2 "shpritz."
3) NV Sigura Viudas Brut Rosé ~$10. This rosé Cava from Spain is another incredible sparkler. Don't be fooled by the deep pinky-red color, this wine is incredibly light and refreshing, quite dry, bubbles for days, great acidity, and notes of strawberries, citrus, plum, and a hint of earthiness. I suggest buying a whole case - for toasting, gifts, holiday aperitifs or even pairing with pizza.
2) 2008 Juan Gil Monastrell ~$19. A true knock-your-socks-off wine from Jumilla, Spain. 100% Monastrell (Mourvedre) - inky dark, intense, smoky, dense black fruits, earth, spice, oak, sweet tannins. Absolutely screams to be paired with roast lamb and steak (sorry, vegetarians... also sauteed mushrooms, roasted eggplant and blue cheese!)
1) 2005 Teatown Cellars Right Bank ~$17. My number-one wine in this list is a merlot-based Bordeaux-style blend from this Californian "virtual winery." Keep your socks off lest they be knocked away again by the prominent cassis and blackberry syrup on the nose. In the mouth, it is lush and warm, with great notes of herb, eucalyptus, red and black berries, a hint of spice box and earth, and a lovely, long finish. A simply gorgeous strong yet stylish wine.
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I hope you enjoy the above wines, I know I for one do! (Ahem, if anyone is looking for a Christmas, Hannukah or Kwanzaa gift for the Wine Minx, just scroll the list, and I will be a happy wineaux this holiday season.) Cheers!