Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2010: Top Ten Wines Under $15

What were some of my favorite wines of the past year?

2011, the start of a new year, nears and it is time for reflection upon the past year, to remember and savor pleasant memories. At 2010 winds down, many in the media will publish their lists of the best and worst of the past year, everything from books to movies to music. You will find Top Ten lists, Top 100 lists, and much more.

As usual, there will be plenty of lists, in magazines, newspapers and blogs, of the best and worst food, restaurants, wines and more. Like these others, I will be posting some of my own Favorite Lists for 2010, covering food, wine, sake and spirits. You will be able to find those lists posted here over the next couple weeks. These lists should provide an excellent and comprehensive summary of the favorite items I have encountered this past year, allowing my readers to more readily locate such gems, my top recommendations. 

For my first List of 2010, you will find my Top Ten Wines Under $15. This list includes wines that during the past year I have enjoyed very much and which I also found to be particularly compelling for various reasons. They might be especially delicious, something more unique or just excellent values for the price. They all stand out for some particular reason above the other wines I tasted this past year. 

This is a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" wines out there. It is primarily the wines which spoke to me the loudest, even when they were subtle wines.  These are all wines that I highly recommend and which I believe many other wine lovers will also enjoy.

The wines are not listed in any particular order and all are definitely worth your consideration. Each of the choices is linked to my more detailed prior review.  Please also note that the actual price of the wine may vary in your area.

1. 2007 Fox Run Vineyards Cabernet Franc/Lemberger, Finger Lakes, NY ($14.99)
With all of the hype over white wines from the Finger Lakes region, such as their Rieslings, one cannot overlook that they are producing some excellent reds as well.  This red blend is very easy drinking, providing delicious fruit flavors, and makes a great choice for an everyday red.  I consider it a top value wine. 2007 was considered a very good vintage, and you should seek out other reds from this year from the Finger Lakes region. And you will be seeing more New York wines in my other Top Wine lists.

2. 2009 Yellow+Blue Rosé, Spain (about $12)
Last year, the 2008 vintage of this wine made my Top Ten Under $15 list, and the new vintage has also earned a place on my new list.  It is simply a very compelling and delicious Rosé, and I like the fact that it is not only organic but also comes in a one-liter Tetra Pak, giving you more wine than a standard bottle.  It is so portable, and perfect for the beach, a boat, camping and more. I eagerly look forward to the new Yellow+Blue release, a Spanish Monastrell, which will be released early in 2011, as that is one of my favorite grapes.

3. 2008 Poggio Bonelli Chianti Villa Chigi, Italy (about $10)
A superb value wine, this Chianti stood out amidst a field of about ten others at a Chianti tasting, offering much greater complexity than usually found at this price point. I enjoy Chianti and this wine impressed me.  It would be a very good food wine, and sure to please your guests.  At this price, you would be hard pressed to find another Chianti of comparable quality.    

4. 2008 Chateau de la Rogotiere Vielles Vignes Black Label 'Stelvin' Muscadet, France ($14.99)
At a large Loire wine tasting, I found plenty of tasty Muscadets, most which were good values too.  They were often aromatic, with nice fruit flavors, and sometimes some minerality.  Muscadet is a classic pairing with oysters, and would pair well with plenty of other seafood too.  Out of the few dozen Muscadets I tasted, this one though was my favorite, possessing the best combination of aroma, taste, complexity and value. If you could only choose one Muscadet at this price point, go with this one.     

5. 2008 Cedre Heritage Malbec, Cahors, France ($13.99)
Though there is much talk about the Malbecs of Argentina, usually considered to be good value wines, people often forget that France is the homeland for this grape. You can find some interesting Malbecs in France, such as this wine. This Malbec possessed intriguing tastes of black fruit as well as some pleasant earthiness, separating it from many of the average Malbecs you might be used to. Its price is comparable to many Argentina Malbecs, but I feel this is a better choice, offering more depth and character in your wine. This will be a killer BBQ wine too. 

6. 2009 Ferreira Esteva, Douro, Portugal ($11.99)
This list would probably be incomplete if it did not have a Portuguese wine. I think that overall, Portugal is offering some of the best value wines, especially for the under $10 range. Though this wine is over that price, it still over delivers for the price, with an appealing red fruit aroma and tasty red fruit flavors, some spice and mild earthiness on the palate. It possesses that distinct Portuguese smell and taste which I find quite enticing. Portugal remains a region of excellent value wines.

7. NV Marsuret Prosecco, Italy ($13.99)
Champagne just does not deliver at this price point, so your best choices often are Cava, Prosecco or American sparkling wine.  This Prosecco was particularly appealing, with a clean, delicious taste.  It will surely appeal to most people who are seeking an inexpensive bubbly, especially if they dislike the yeasty flavors of some Champagnes. I brought some of this to a recent party, making a "champagne cocktail" with it, and it was a huge hit.

8. La Guita Manzanilla and Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla, Spain (about $10-$12)
I selected two wines here, both Manzanilla sherries, as they are equally worthy of a spot.  Dry sherries are not too popular in the U.S., but consumers are missing out on these special wines. They are great food wines, with everything from almonds to seafood.  To me, the flavors often remind me of a crisp briny apple, as if an orchard grew undersea.  And at this price, they are a very good value too.  Please give a Manzanilla a try, but taste it with food for the best experience.

9. 2007 J. Lohr Estates Los Osos Merlot, Paso Robles, California ($14.99)
With all the simple and uninspiring Merlot out there, it was a pleasant surprise to find one which stood out, which impressed with its flavors and complexity, especially at this price point.  This Merlot had plenty of character, easily elevating it above many other Merlots, and showing that not all Merlot needs to be dull and boring.  If you have avoided Merlot for a time, come back and check this one out.

10. NV Domaine Vassiliou Retsina, Greece ($13-$14)
Like many, I had preconceptions about Retsina, and had previously tasted some rather unpleasant examples of such, reminiscent of Pine Sol. But this wine changed all of that. The pine element was in the background, adding an interesting element to the wine without overpowering and it also possessed a pleasant herbal character.  I really enjoyed this wine and it gave me a new appreciation for Retsina. It helped that I had a second example of Retsina which I also liked. It shows one needs to keep trying wines that you might generally dislike, as you never know when you might be surprised and find one you like.

Reviewing my list, there are some interesting items that arise. Like last year, there are two wines on my list from the U.S., though this year one comes from California.  Last year, no wines from the West Coast made the list.  To me, I usually more easily find value wines elsewhere than in California.  One shouldn't overlook the other states in the U.S., as they all now make wine, and you can find some excellent value wines in your local area.

No single country dominated this list, though Spain had the most with three wines (which includes the two tied Manzanillas).  France and Italy both had two wines on the list, with Portugal and Greece each having one. South America did not make an appearance on the list, and this is partially due to the fact I did not drink many of their wines this year. But I do believe you can find value wines all over the world.

On the list, you will find diversity, including a Sparkling Wine, a Rosé, five Reds and four Whites. Last year, six of my choices had been White wines. This year there seems to be more balance to the list.  I have other recommendations for wines under $15 on my blog and you just have to search for them. There remain many good buys available in this price range, wines which exceed much of the common plonk out there.

It is important to remember that though wine stores sell plenty of wines in this price range, not all of them are of equal value.  Wines in this price range do not have to be one-dimensional wines that all taste the same. You can find wines of character and complexity, though you might need to spend a little more time seeeking them out. Wine blogs can help you in that regard, pointing out wines that you might not otherwise know about. Tasting the wines before you buy them is another way to find such values. Or simply ask your trusted wine store owner for advice and suggestions.

If you have some of your own recommendations for excellent wines under $15, please add them to the comments.

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