Tuesday, December 6, 2011

TOP 20 UNDER $20!

It’s time!  The long-awaited compilation for those with thirsty palates and savvy wallets has arrived.

Now that I’ve wrapped up the list, the theme of 2011 was generally out-of-the box ideas.  Not surprisingly, there were strong showings from France, Italy and Spain.  But South Africa provided three of the top 20, and Portugal, Argentina, Australia, Greece and Germany were also represented.  (I was shocked to realize no US wines made the list this year but 'that's the way the grape juice ferments'.)   Grape varieties were also all over the place, with some indigenous varieties, classic red blends, and TWO Rieslings!

The point of all this is to share with you some of my favorite wines that I have tasted over the past year that were incredible values.  Out of hundreds (if not thousands) of wines, I have culled these memorable standouts.

Read, take notes, get inspired, and most importantly – get out there and TASTE FOR YOURSELF!

#20) 2008 Vietti Moscato d'Asti Cascinetto, Italy ~$18
Very light and lightly sweet, with refreshing notes of peach & pear, this is a slightly sparkling wine perfect to get things started or wind things up. Charming and appealing.

#19) 2008 Azul Portugal Ribatejo, Portugal ~$12
A white blend of the Portugese indigenous grapes Trincadeira, Arinto and Fernão Pires. Lemony nose, with light acidity and notes of herbs, yellow apple, white flowers, and peach. Interesting and different. 

#18) 2009 Georges Duboeuf Morgon Jean Descombes, Beaujolais France ~$15
Notes of crunchy red fruit and violets. Good acidity, light in style but balanced with a lot going on.  Great example of Beaujolais.
#17) 2010 Pazo Señorans Albarino, Rias Baixas Spain ~$19
Perfumey and warm floral nose, with melon and a bit of spice. Round peachy fruit and jasmine florals.  Balanced acidity, rich but not heavy. 

#16) 2009 Bodegas Caro Amancaya, Mendoza Argentina ~$17
70% Malbec/ 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. Velvety plumminess, very smooth, with dense, dark fruits and herbs. Perfumey acidity lifts out blackberry and blueberry fruit.  Yum.

#15) 2008 Blason d'Aussieres Corbieres, Languedoc France ~$19
Great values continue to come from Southern France. This shows sage, cassis and cranberry couched in herbs. Looong finish, well-balanced, spicy and tart, notes of pepper, licorice, hint of barnyard. Great all-around.

#14) 2006 Annie Lane Cellars Clare Valley Riesling, Australia ~$12
Nose of round stone fruit and florals, with grass and white flowers. Bracing acidity. Light grassy aromatics, and a long, tart finish. Additional notes of honey and petrol show the few years of age.

#13) 2010 Nikiforou Cellars Moschofilero, Greece ~$12
Vibrant floral nose, with grapefruit, pear, florals and a some herb and mineral notes. Good balance and finish.  Wonderful example of the quality of Greek table wines of late.  Thirst-quenching!

#12) 2009 Protos Tinto Fino, Ribera del Duero Spain ~$15
Fantastic affordable Tempranillo.  Velvety plum and herby nose, behind-the-teeth sweetly tannic, good acidity but light in style, notes of bright plum and dark fruits – an all-around fun, ready to drink wine.

#11) 2010 Ken Forrester Estate Chenin Blanc Reserve, Stellenbosch South Africa ~$14
Light but well-balanced, with floral aromatics, rich and round notes of taffy, mountain flowers, and minerality.  Even with zippy acid, this is creamy and has a nice weight and long length with a bit o’ shpritz.  Perfect for food!

#10) NV Nino Franco Prosecco di Valdobiaddene Rustico, Italy ~$13
Sensuous nose of lime, florals and grass. Those notes also on the palate with a hint of lemon curd and underripe melon.  Rich mousse and sprightly acidity give a long finish with a nice weight.  Extremely worthy substitute for celebratory Champagne.

#9) 2010 Cercius Côtes du Rhône VV, France ~$14
Complex nose of red berries, earth, cola and floral perfume.  Great fruit expression with fresh herbs, licorice, lavender and a peppery finish.  Lightish in style but sumptuous with balanced acidity and soft tannins.

#8) 2010 Castello Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio, Italy ~$16
A pear explosion on the nose, with notes of florals, honeysuckle, melon and a bit of spice on the palate, with light citrus and good acid.  Tuscany’s first Pinot Grigio is a winner, a bit more evolved than many typical PG’s from Northern Italy.

#7) Clos de la Briderie Cremant de Loire, France ~$18
A sparkling blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc in the brut (dry) style. Clean citrus and grass with a roundness of peach and wax. Nice weight and mousse.  Interesting and different from the “usual suspects.”  Good fruit expression, well-balanced, and a bit of a flirt.

#6) 2009 St. Urbans-Hof Riesling Kabinett Goldtröpfchen, Mosel Germany ~$19
Pepper and honeysuckle florals.  Candied orange peel, wonderful fruit expression of passion fruit and mandarin, with minerality, white florals, hint o’herbs, perfectly balanced acidity, bright and rich.  Very slightly, barely sweet, but oh so balanced.

#5) 2009 Domaine Grand Nicolet Côtes du Rhône-Villages VV Rasteau, France ~$16
Very spicy, black bramble fruits and pepper nose.  Outrageously heavy-duty but still refined.  Layers upon layers of herbs, licorice, warm spice, blackberry liqueur, smoked meats, black cherry syrup and mocha with good acidity and silky tannins.

#4) 2009 Aviva Vino Bula Montsant, Spain ~$12
50% Carinena, 30% Garnacha, 20% Syrah. Wowowowowow. Dense, earthy, spicy and warm.  Great fruit expression of dark cherries, cocoa powder, mesquite and blackberry liqueur.  Rich and integrated, really incredible value and an across-the-board favorite at its tasting.  And for only twelve bucks!?!

#3) 2010 Boekenhoutskloof Wolftrap Rosé, South Africa ~$12
This rosé is a blend of 66% Syrah, 20% Cinsault and 14% Grenache.  Nose of green pepper and mint, bold and spicy on the palate with strawberries and watermelon. A true crowd-pleaser, versatile and scrumptious.  My mouth is watering just typing this...

#2) 2009 Ch. Peyraud Premieres Côtes de Blaye, France ~$12
Blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon with no oak influence.  Huge ripe crunchy red fruit, cranberry, cassis, nice acidity, silky tannins, lush & ripe & lovely.  What a surprise!  Incredible values coming out of this relatively new “Côtes” region abutting Bordeaux.  Do yourself a favor and dig some up!

#1) 2008 Spice Route Pinotage, Swartland South Africa ~$20
Deep fruit on the nose of torched berries. Sexy! Smooth & rich, blackberry and spice flavors inundate, so velvety and caressing, with a bit of tar mid-finish.  Drinking this is an experience! Pinotage is a South African grape variety that often passionately divides Wineaux.  But this wine is gorgeously tailored and was hands-down my favorite wine I tasted this past year.  (And did I mention SEXY?!)

As always, any errors or opinions are all mine.  Comments and questions heartily welcomed. 

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