What were some of my favorite wines of the past year?
The start of a new year approaches and it is time to reflect upon the past year, to remember and savor many pleasant memories. As 2012 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 I find some value in such lists, I will post some of my own Favorite Lists for 2012, 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, the best of my recommendations.
My first Favorites List of 2012 is my Top Ten Wines Under $15. In actuality, I have listed twelve wines, pairing a couple together from the same producer. 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 would 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) 2010 Adega Condes de Albarei Salneval Albarino ($11.99)
This Spanish white wine was produced by the Adega Condes de Albarei winery, a cooperative of 362 grower/owners equipped with advanced winery technology. I love Albarino and this wine was crisp and clean with a delightful and dominant melange of peach, pear and melon. There was also a subtle minerality with hints of honey and spice. A more voluptuous wine, this can be enjoyed on its own or paired with food, maybe something spicy. An excellent value.
2) 2005 Sella & Mosca Terre Rare Carignano del Sulcis Riserva ($14.99)
At a major wine event, with hundreds of wines, this was one of my overall favorite wines, especially at this price point. This Italian wine is made from 100% Carignan and aged for three years in French barriques. It is a stunning, complex and interesting wine. Spicy and bold, with delicious black fruit flavors, vanilla, a silky mouthfeel and hints of earthiness. Would love to drink this with pork, venison or lamb. An amazing value.
3) 2011 Calamares Vinho Verde ($7-$8)
Yes, it is named after squid and there is even a picture of a squid on the label. It might be easy to dismiss this wine as a gimmick but it is not. This Portuguese white wine is a blend of 40% Arinto, 30% Trajudura and 30% Loureiro with a low alcohol content of 9%. This is an easy quaffer, a wine to drink and enjoy, without any need to think about it. Slightly effervescent, it has plenty of acidity and flavors of grapefruit and lemon, with some mild mineral notes. For under $10, this is a very good choice.
4) 2009 L.A. Cetto Chenin Blanc ($10-$12) and 2010 L.A. Cetto Chardonnay ($10-$12)
L.A. Cetto is a winery in the Baja region of Mexico. Mexican wine you might ask? I haven't tasted many Mexican wines but this winery is doing a great job, especially at this price point and is well worth seeking out. The 2009 Chenin Blanc is made from 100% Chenin Blanc, sees no oak and is crisp and fresh, with delicious fruit flavors of melon, pear and peach and hints of herbs on the finish. The 2010 L.A. Cetto Chardonnay is produced from 100% Chardonnay, sees no oak and is also crisp and clean with delicious flavors of apple, pear, lemon & guava, with a touch of minerality. Both wines have more complexity and character than many similarly priced wines. I will be seeking more Mexican wines.
5) 2010 Castello di Querceto Chianti Classico ($15)
While gorging myself on five courses of beef from an amazing restaurant in Tuscany, I tasted an assortment of Chianti Classico wines. Out of that group, the Querceto stood out, pairing so well with the beef tartare and steaks. The Querceto, made from primarily Sangiovese, is a silky smooth and elegant wine with nice red fruit flavors and a hint of earthiness. It showcases the best of Tuscany at this price point and it would be best served with food.
6) 2011 Elisabetta Geppetti Fattoria Le Pupille ($13-$15)
This Italian red, from the Morellino Di Scansano DOCG, is a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Malvasia Nera and it sees no oak. It is fresh, fruity, rustic and with hints of spice. A very easy drinking, it has a nice character, good complexity and is simply quite delicious. It can be drank on its own or paired with food, such as a wild boar ragu.
7) 2011 Kanonkop Kadette Pinotage Rosé ($12),
This South African Rosé is from a winery that produces some of the best Pinotage in the world. The Rosé is produced from 100% Pinotage and if you tasted this blind, you probably would never guess it was Pinotage. It is an easy drinking Rosé with tasty red fruit flavors, especially raspberry and cherry, some minerality as well as excellent acidity. It is more Old World than New, with plenty of character and a satisfying finish. It is the type of wine that I could easily drink all day. It is an excellent food wine as well as enjoyable on its own. Highly recommended.
8) Cave Messias 2003 LBV Port (about $15)
The Cave Messias produces an assortment of Portuguese wines from Dão, Bairrada, Douro, Vinho Verde, Beiras, Terras do Sado and Vinho do Porto. Their 2003 LBV Port is a great value, presenting nice complexity, plenty of delicious red fruit flavors and some intriguing spice notes. It was silky smooth and presented a lengthy and satisfying finish. Might be hard to find a better LBV Port at this price point.
9) 2010 Biohof Pratsch Gruner Veltliner ($13) & 2009 Biohof Pratsch Zweigelt ($13)
Austrian wines, both red and white, have much to offer and the Biohof Pratsch, an organically certified winery produces some great value wines. Both of these wines are produced in one-liter bottles, which is 1/3 larger than a usual wine bottle, and cost only $13, which would be equivalent to about $9.30 for a regular 750ml bottle. What a bargain! The Gruner is crisp and dry with bright citrus flavors and hints of spice. A very refreshing wine that would be excellent with food or just as a summer sipper. The Zweigelt is light bodied and smooth with plenty of tasty red fruit flavors. Another easy drinking and flavorful wine. Both are strongly recommended.
10) 2010 Vera de Estenas P.G. Bobal ($13)
This Spanish winery is located in the D.O. of Utiel-Requena and is the oldest winery in that region. The wine is produced from 100% Bobal, an indigenous grape, and spent a few months in oak. It is light bodied with delicious red fruit flavors complemented by a subtle earthiness and hints of spice. I was really amazed at its quality and complexity at this price point and it is a wine I highly recommend.
Once again, there are no U.S. wines on the list. I often find it more difficult to find compelling domestic wines for under $15, especially from California. They exist but I find them much less common than value imported wines. Six different countries made this list and no single country really dominated, though Italy had the most wines on the list with three, partially due to my trip to Chianti Classico last spring. Spain, Portugal, Mexico and Austria all had two wines on the list and South Africa had one. The list is also broken down into 1 Rosé, 5 Whites, 5 Red and 1 Fortified wines.
You will find many excellent value wines from Portugal, including a fair share under $10. Spain has some very good values too, though it seems you need to look a bit harder now than you once did. Austria remains an overlooked region with some excellent values which you should consider. Mexico was the big surprise this year and I need to seek more of their wines out. 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.