Wednesday, December 16, 2015

2015: Top Ten Wines Over $15

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

Welcome to my second Top Ten Wine List. Yesterday, I posted my Top Ten Wines Under $15, which I hope you enjoyed and found useful. Now it is time for my Top Ten Wines Over $15, though these wines also cost less than $50.

Like the prior list, 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 highly 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 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) NV Domaine Schoenheitz Cremant d'Alsace ($19.99)
Made from 100% Auxerrois, this Alsatian Cremant wine is aged on the lees for about two years. It is an impressive sparkling wine, with a silky creaminess, lots of bright fruit flavors, good acidity and a touch of minerality. Drink one glass of this Cremant and you'll crave another and then another. Cremant is often an excellent and less expensive alternative to Champagne while also possessing more quality and character than cheaper bubbly like sweeter Prosecco. Enjoy a bottle of this Cremant with a big bag of potato chips.

2) 2010 Villa Franciacorta Boké Rosé ($24.99)
This intriguing Italian sparkling wine is a blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir and spent at least 36 months in the bottle on the lees. The 2010 vintage was a bit rainy during the growing season but the harvest took place under ideal conditions. I am impressed with this wine, loving its bright and fruity nose. It is crisp and dry, elegant and complex, with plenty of red fruit flavors, enhanced with some mineral notes. It possesses a lengthy, satisfying finish and is plain delicious, one of those wines that you finish and immediately ask for another glass (or bottle). Highly recommended. The best wines are definitely those that have you seeking more.

3) NV La Clé de la Femme Champagne ($34.99)
As I mentioned yesterday, the people behind 90+ Cellars wines have created a few new labels, to better highlight wine terroir, and this is another of those wines. This is authentic French Champagne, a blend of 80% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay. This is a more unusual blend as Pinot Meunier rarely headlines a Champagne, most often being a minor player in a blend. I loved the flavors of green apple, red berries, and underlying spice and nutty notes within this bubbly. It is dry and crisp, an easy drinking Champagne with plenty of character for the price. This Champagne can easily compete with many House Champagnes that cost $50 or more. An excellent value choice.

4) 2012 Klinker Brick Winery The Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel ($37.99)
This winery, located in Lodi, California, owns 15 vineyard blocks where the Zinfandel vines are aged from 40-117 years old. This wine is made from the very best of their 90+ year old vines and is aged for about 18 months in 40% French and 60% American oak barrels. This wine is inky purple in color, with a nose of dark spice and dark berries. On the palate, it is a supple, rich and elegant wine with concentrated ripe plum, blackberry and black cherry flavors, accented by dark spices, hints of vanilla,and a touch of eucalyptus. Good complexity, well balanced and with a long and satisfying finish. An impressive wine which is fairly priced, and indicative of the wonders that old vines can bestow.

5) 2011 Adega de Borba Cork Label Reserve ($18.99)
This Portuguese red wine is a blend of Aragonez, Trincadeira, Castelão and Alicante Bouschet. This is a big wine yet it is still silky smooth with lush black fruit flavors and a long, spicy finish. There is a herbal undertone with an exotic element that will tantalize and intrigue your palate. It possesses plenty of complexity and a balanced taste that will please almost any wine lover. It is would benefit from a food pairing, such as a nice steak or lamp chop. At this price point, it is also an excellent value.

6) 2013 Joan d'Anguera Altaroses ($16.99)
From the Montsant region of Spain, this wine is made from 100% Granatxa, the old Catalan term for Grenache, and the grapes are from vines that are about 15-40 years old. The vineyards are organic and certified Biodynamic. The wine was crafted to resemble the traditional wines of the region, a lighter style of Grenache. It is light red in color, with a pleasing aroma of red fruits and spice. On the palate, it is light bodied but with a compelling melange of flavors of dark cherry and strawberry, rich spice, and an earthy undertone. Mild tannins, nice acidity, and plenty of elegance. It is an easy drinking wine, but with plenty of character, especially at this price point.

7) 2011 Château La Tour Grise Chenin Blanc “Les Fontenelles,” ($24.99)
From the Loire Valley, France, this organic wine is made of 100% Chenin Blanc and had an intense orange-brownish color, which will change to a more clear, yellow color if left decanted over night. The wine had a mild, funky aroma though it generally dissipated with some time in the glass. It intrigued my palate with its complex and intriguing flavors, from its strong minerality to its honey and apricot notes. Plenty of acidity, floral notes, a savory aspect, and more led to an impressive wine. The wine's umami aspect means it pairs well with a variety of foods. If you are seeking something different, this is a wine you should check out.

8) 2012 Mellasat White Pinotage ($26.99)
This South African wine (pictured above) may be the only still white Pinotage made anywhere in the world. Under South African wine law, it cannot be labeled as a "white wine" because it is made from red grapes. Instead, it must be labeled as "blanc de noirs." In a blind taste test, it won't remind you of a typical Pinotage but you will find it complex, intriguing and delicious. There is a certain richness to the wine, likely due to the time on the lees, but there is plenty of crisp acidity to balance this richness. That may bring to mind a fine Muscadet. There is an interesting melange of flavors, including tropical fruits and bright citrus, as well as a backbone of minerality. Well balanced and with a lengthy, satisfying finish, Even if you think you dislike Pinotage, you are going to enjoy this wine. It is unique and interesting, delicious and compelling.

9) 2014 Big Flower Wines Rosé ($19.99)
Another South African wine, only 200 cases were produced and only 6 cases were imported into Massachusetts. The Big Flower Rosé intrigued me as it is a blend of 2/3 Petit Verdot and 1/3 barrel fermented Chenin Blanc. The wine possesses a nice salmon color and on the nose presents bright red fruit aromas as well as some floral notes .On the palate, it is crisp and dry, with subtle strawberry and raspberry flavors, along with notes of minerality and stone fruit. It has some richness, an interesting complexity and a lengthy, pleasing finish. I was impressed with this Rosé, which goes beyond a simple quaffing wine. It is very food friendly and I would also enjoy this year round.

10) 2008 Tenuta Castelbuono "Carapace" Montefalco Sagrantino ($36.99)
This wine is produced by the Lunelli family, which also produces excellent Italian sparkling wines under Ferrari Trentodoc (one which is in the Honorable Mention list below). Their Umbrian winery is certified organic and like all Sagrantino DOCG, is made from 100% Sagrantino (using their best grapes) and it was aged for 24 months in large oak casks and at least 12 months in the bottle. With an alluring nose of red and black fruit accompanied by hints of licorice, I was captivated by this wine. It was elegant, with well integrated, smooth tannins and a complex blend of flavors, including black cherry, blackberry, and raspberry. There were also hints of spice and licorice, with a lingering and satisfying finish. A very well-made wine.

This is always my toughest list to compile because there are numerous other excellent wines which I could have added. I had to ponder long over which wines to actually select for the main list, meaning that I had to eliminate other worthy wines. To give some credit to those other worthy wines, which almost made the Top Ten list, I have an Honorable Mention list. These are also wines you definitely should check out.

Honorable Mention
1) 2012 Domaine Schoenheitz Riesling Herrenreben ($22.99)
2) Vinicola Salton Salton Intenso Sparkling Brut ($15.99)
3) NV Ferrari Brut Rosé ($35.99)
4) 2014 Bodega Garzon Albarino ($15.99)
5) Warre's 10 Year Otima Tawny Port ($29.99)
6) Vermouth Del Professore Rosso ($25.99)
7) NV Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Rosé ($24.99)
9) 2011 Scacciadiavoli di Pambuffetti Montefalco Rosso ($19,99)
10) 2010 Perticaia Montefalco Sagrantino ($39.99)

France occupies the most places on my Top Ten list, with three spots. Italy and South Africa each occupy two spots while California, Portugal, and Spain each occupy one spot.  The list is also broken down into three Sparkling Wines, four Reds, one Rosé, & two Whites (considering the White Pinotage to be "white"). There are no real surprises on the list but it does get interesting when you taken into consideration the Honorable Mentions. In the Honorable Mention list, Italy dominates, occupying six spots. France, Brazil, Uruguay and Portugal each occupy one spot.

When you combine the two lists, Italy dominates with eight spots and France takes second place, with only four spots. Third place is a tie with South Africa and Portugal occupying two spots. Rounding it all out, are California, Spain, Brazil, and Uruguay taking a single spot each. The wines of Montefalco impressed me this year, accounting for their multiple mentions in these lists. In addition, when combining the two lists, you'll find six Sparkling Wines, showing that bubbly was important to me this past year. 

I have plenty of other recommendations for wines at this price point on my blog. There are top notch wines from countries all over the world, made from an incredibly diverse selection of grapes and you can still find plenty of values too. My advice is that you seek out wines outside of your comfort zone. Explore the multitude of diversity in the wonderful world of wine. Taste and try anything new, unique or potentially interesting.  I am sure your search will lead to new favorites.

If you have some of your own recommendations for wines that are over $15 but under $50, please add them to the comments.

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