Tuesday, December 15, 2015
2015: Top Ten Wines Under $15
As 2016 approaches, it's time once again to reflect upon the past year, to remember and savor many pleasant memories. As 2015 winds down, you'll see plenty lists of the Best and Worst of the past year. As I find value in at least the Best lists, I'll post my own series of Favorite Lists for 2015 over the next few weeks, covering food, wine, sake and spirits. These lists should provide a comprehensive summary of my favorites from this past year, allowing my readers to more readily locate such gems, the best of my recommendations.
My first Favorites List of 2015 is my Top Ten Wines Under $15. This list includes wines that not only did I enjoy, but 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) 2013 Earthshaker Wines Pomp & Power Syrah ($14.99)
The people behind 90+ Cellars wines have created a few new labels, to better highlight wine terroir, and this Syrah is one such wine. From the Knights Valley in Sonoma, California, it is easy drinking but with complexity and character, making it a better value. Deep black fruit flavors, strong spice and restrained tannins. A perfect choice for lamb, a hearty Bolognese, or barbecue.
2) 2011 LangeTwins Family Winery Old Vine Zinfandel ($14.99)
From Lodi, California, a region well know for Zinfandel, this wine is produced from a blend of grapes from a 110 year old vineyard as well as much younger grapes. Inky dark in color, this is a rich, muscular and concentrated wine with lots of black fruit flavors, vanilla, and dark spices. Tannins are moderate and it is well balanced so that you won't notice the higher alcohol. For the price, you are getting a lot of wine, making it a very good value.
3) 2011 Castra Rubra Via Diagonalis White ($14.99)
The Castra Rubra ("red fortress") winery, located in Bulgaria, is a relatively new winery, with their first wines released in 2007. This white blend consists of a melange of Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, and Chardonnay. It is an intriguing wine with a complex blend of peach and pear flavors, with herbal accents and some minerality. It is crisp and dry, with a very satisfying finish. At this price point, I highly recommend this wine as it presents something more unique and tasty.
4) 2009 Castra Rubra Pendar Red ($11.99)
The Bulgarian winery also makes this interesting red blend of 55% Rubin and 45% Merlot. Rubin is an indigenous grape, a cross between Syrah and Nebbiolo. With lots of red fruit aromas and flavors, there is additional complexity with spice notes and hints of earthiness. The tannins are noticeable but restrained and there is a nice, spicy kick on the finish. This is an easy drinking wine with character, which could be enjoyed on its own though pairing it with food might be a better option. Highly recommended.
5) 2011 Quinta da Padrela Red ($12.99)
This Portuguese wine is a blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, and Touriga Nacional, and was aged for about 12 months in French oak barrels. This is a smooth, easy drinking wine but with the addition of some restrained tannins and spicy elements. There is plenty of tasty red fruit flavors, but also a bit of ripe plum. Though you could drink this wine on its own, I think it might be better paired with food, though again it only needs something simple, from pizza to tacos. This would also be an excellent BBQ wine.
6) 2011 DFJ Vinhos Vega Douro Red ($9.99)
The cheapest wine on this list is a Portuguese wine, which doesn't surprise me in the least. The Vega is a blend of three grapes, including Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz. I found this wine to be smooth with bright red fruit flavors and a touch of vanilla. It possesses more character than many similarly priced wines, and I could easily drink it on its own. I also would pair this wine with casual meals. from burgers to pizza.
7) NV Fermi Bohigas Rossinyol de Moragas Extra Brut Cava ($14.99)
This Spanish bubbly is produced by Fermi Bohigas, which has been involved in working the vineyards for over 800 years. The wine is produced from a blend of traditional Cava grapes, Macabeo, Xarello and Parellada and is made in the Champenoise method. It is organic and low production, and at this price is an excellent value. With a nice golden color and plenty of tiny bubbles, this is a dry, crisp and delicious Cava. There are tasty flavors of apple and pear, with a tiny hint of toast. It is hard to find such compelling bubbly at such a low price.
8) NV Domaine Schoenheitz Edelzwicker ($14.99)
This intriguing wine is a blend of Chasselas, Sylvaner, Auxerrois, Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris & Gewurztraminer (with proportions that change every year). This white wine comes in a one-liter bottle as Alsatian law prohibits them from selling wine in a box. The liter bottle is less expensive and a good choice for restaurants, especially as this wine is designed to be something casual for food. This aromatic wine is light, dry and easy drinking with pleasant citrus and mineral notes. A very good wine at this price point, it has more character than many similarly priced wines from other regions. It is an excellent food wine too.
9) 2013 Bodega Garzon Sauvignon Blanc ($14.99)
Uruguay, with a strong wine culture, is exporting a small portion of their wines and I'm sure their exports will grow each year. They are a region to watch as they are producing many excellent wines. This Sauvignon Blanc appealed to me, being bright and crisp, with summery tastes of citrus and grapefruit. There were not any grassy notes and it was more on the leaner side, an excellent wine for seafood or a warm summer day. Nicely balanced, it had plenty of character for the price, and should appeal to many consumers.
10) 2013 Vincola Salton 013 Salton Classic Tannat Reserva Especial ($10.99)
Also from South American, this wine is from Brazil and is made from 100% Tannat, which is the signature grape of Uruguay. It is dark red in color with an aroma of chocolate and black fruit. On the palate, it is a bit rustic, with moderate tannins, and flavors of chocolate, blackberry, black cherry and some herbal accents. This is a wine that would benefit from pairing with food, especially burgers and BBQ. It is a good wine, just not as soft as many Uruguayan Tannats at this price point, but that is merely a matter of preference, not quality.
Seven countries made the list this year, as opposed to only four last year. California, Bulgaria and Portugal all have two spots on the list and Spain, Brazil, Uruguay and France (Alsace) each have one spot. A number of these wines were tasted at the Boston Wine Expo, and unfortunately I missed the Mohegan Sun Wine Fest, which usually uncovers a few value gems too, California wines don't make this list too often as I often don't find their wines especially compelling at this price point but there are always welcome exceptions. Keep an eye on the wines from Bulgaria, Brazil and Uruguay as you should start to see more of their wines on store shelves and they bear checking out. As for wine types, the list is also broken down into 1 Sparkling Wine, 3 Whites, and 6 Reds.
I have other recommendations for wines under $15 on my blog and you just have to search for them. You can find value wines all over the world, in every region, though some regions provide a greater range and diversity of value wines. 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 staff for advice and suggestions. For more advice on finding value wines, please check out my prior article on the subject.
If you have some of your own recommendations for excellent wines under $15, please add them to the comments.