What were some of my favorite wines of the past year?
The start of a new year, 2012, nears and it is time for some reflection upon the past year, to remember and savor pleasant memories. At 2011 winds down, many in the media will publish their own lists of the best and worst of the past year, everything from books to movies to music. As usual, there will be plenty of lists, in magazines, newspapers and blogs, of the best and worst food, restaurants, wines and more. You will find Top Ten lists, Top 100 lists, and much more.
As I find some value in such lists, I will be posting some of my own Favorite Lists for 2011, covering food, wine, sake and spirits over the next few weeks. These lists should provide a 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 2011, 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 at this price point that I have 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 strongly recommend and which I believe many other wine lovers will also enjoy.
The wines are not listed in any particular order and each choice is linked to my more detailed prior review. All of these value wines are worth your consideration but please also note that the prices are approximations and the actual price may vary in your area. In addition, some of the wines might not be available in your local area, though you might be able to order them from the winery or an online store, dependent on your state's shipping laws.
1) 2008 Quinta do Encontro Vinho Tinto ($9.99)
This Portuguese wine is made from the Baga grape, which is notoriously tannic, but this lush wine somehow avoids the heavy tannins. It possesses a tiny bit of Merlot but probably not enough to be the main reason why the tannins are tame. Whatever the reason, this is a value wine with plenty of character and intense flavors. Portugal is certainly producing a significant amount of value wines.
2) 2010 Esporão Defesa Rosé ($13.99)
I am a big fan of Rosé, and this Portuguese example, a blend of Syrah and Aragones (Tempranillo) really delivers. It is neither California nor French in style, rather possessed of its own unique identity. Dry, nice red fruit flavors, some complexity, and good acidity all combine in a compelling wine. It would be perfect for the summer, as well as for year round enjoyment. It is also very food friendly.
3) 2010 Casal Garcia Rosé Vinho Verde ($9.99)
Another Portuguese Rosé, this is also a Vinho Verde so it contains a light effervescence. It is a blend of three grapes you may never heard of before: Vinhão, Azal and Borracal. But that shouldn't dissuade you from this tasty and fun wine. With bright red fruit flavors, and a hint of sweetness, this should be very popular with many consumers.
4) 2010 Herdade do Esporão Duas Castas ($12.99)
This third choice from Portugal is white blend of Gouveio and Verdelho, two grapes which once were thought to be the same. It is an easy drinking wine, with an alluring nose, and a delicious taste of melon, tangerine, and pear with a mineral backbone. An excellent wine for seafood dishes, it indicates that Portugal is about more than just Port and red still wines.
5) 2009 Alente White ($9.99)
This is another compelling Portuguese white wine, a blend of Antão Vaz and Arinto, which impresses with its enticing aroma and taste. It has that exotic note which I often associate, and love, with Portuguese wines made from indigenous grapes. For the price, this is an excellent value due to its complexity and character. Plus, it is plain delicious.
6) 2009 Stadlmann Rotgipfler Anninger Classic ($14.99)
As for Austrian grapes, Gruner Veltliner and Zweigelt seem to get most of the publicity. They certainly make good wines, but there are some less common Austrian grapes which are also well worthy of attention. This producer understands this point and that is why they produce wines made from these rarer grapes. This Rotgipfler is an intriguing and tasty wine, that resembles a cross of Gruner and Gewurtztraminer, and one I strongly recommend. A delicious blend of fruit and spice.
7) 2009 Stadlmann Zierfandler Anninger Classic ($14.99)
From the same producer, this wine made from the Zierfandler grape is another worthy recommendation. This wine reminded me of a cross between Gruner and Riesling, and possessed some mild, sweet honey notes, as well as fruit and salty almond flavors. This wine should intrigue even the most jaded of wine lovers, and I want to try this grape from other producers.
8) 2009 Beyerskloof Chenin Blanc/Pinotage ($9.99)
This wine wins the prize for most unique blend I tasted during the past year. I have never seen any other producer blending Chenin Blanc and Pinotage before, and it might seem like an odd combination too many. But this producer successfully combines two of the most notable of South African grapes. Besides some tropical fruit flavors, there are underlying notes of strawberry with some herbal components. You would not guess that it contains Pinotage, but this white wine would remind you in some respects of the flavors you normally find in a red wine. For the price, this is a killer value.
9) 2009 Yellow+Blue Monastrell ($11.99)
For the third year in a row, Yellow+Blue has a wine on this list and this time it is for their newest wine, an organic, Spanish Monastrell, which is also one of my favorite grapes. This wine offers much for its low price, a wine of character and delicious flavors, including ripe plum and blueberry. It is an excellent choice for pairing with hearty meals, from burgers to pasta Bolognese. This producer has been maintaining its high quality, though I am still waiting for them to make a straw for their Tetra Paks.
10) NV Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Amabile ($13.99)
When I was younger, I drank plenty of cheap Lambrusco and I am sure many others did the same. But, there is plenty of quality Lambrusco out there as well, and this is an inexpensive example of one. I had some of this for Thanksgiving, and it was a big hit. Bubbles, a bit of sweetness, rich red fruit flavors. It is very easy drinking and consumer friendly.
Reviewing my list, I realize that there are no U.S. wines on the list. For me, I usually have an easier time finding value wines elsewhere than in California. Most of the California wines which cost under $15 just don't seem to excite me as much as the same priced wines from elsewhere in the world. I also note that Portuguese wines dominate this list, occupying half of the ten spots. Though there was only one Portuguese wine on the list last year, I attended a few Portuguese wine events this year and found some delicious and exciting value wines. As I tell people often, if you want a good value wine under $10, then choose Portuguese.
Austria made a significant showing, occupying two spots, with two wines, by the same producer, made from less common grapes. Though Austria might not always jump to your mind when you think value wines, it is an overlooked region which you should consider. South Africa, Spain and Italy all occupy a single spot on the list, and you definitely can still find good value wines in these regions. In fact, you can find value wines all over the world, in every region, though some regions provide a greater range and diversity of value wines.
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 seeking 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.