Wednesday, December 14, 2016

2016: Top Ten Wines Over $15 (But Under $50)

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. Please also note that this is technically a Top 12 list as three Sherries are tied at one spot.

1) 1995 Caves Sao Joao Poco do Lobo Branco ($34.99)
This Portuguese wine is produced from 100% Arinto and for a 21 year old wine, it is priced reasonably, especially considering its quality. The wine is made in an oxidative style and reminded me very much of an aged Sherry. It has crisp acidity, with citrus flavors, briny notes, herbal accents, and a strong umami component. It is complex and intriguing, with a lengthy finish, and should continue to age well for at least several more years. An impressive wine that I highly recommend.

2) 2012 Ultreia St. Jacques Mencia ($29.99)
Produced by the Spanish producer Bodegas y Viñedos Raúl Pérez, it is made from 100% Mencia from an organic vineyard which was planted in 1889, pre-phylloxera. It is fermented with wild yeasts, partially in stainless steel, barrique and oak vats, and then is aged in 1,500 liter oak vats for about eight months. It is elegant and subtle, not a wine of power, and is something to slowly savor to revel in its complex and intriguing melange of flavors. With fresh fruit flavors of raspberry and black cherry, there are spicy elements, a touch of earthiness, and herbal accents. There is so much going on in each sip and I was quite taken with its taste. And at this price, it is a steal for a wine of such complexity and quality.

3) 2012 Jakeli Saperavi ($36.99)
A Georgian wine, made from a certified organic vineyard, is produced from 100% Saperavi, with indigenous yeasts, and spent about 30 months in stainless steel. The wine is a deep, dark red, nearly opaque and it has a more restrained nose of spicy black fruit. On the palate, it is a muscular wine, with intense black fruit flavors, rich spices and hints of earthiness and smoke. There is a touch of the exotic to it, something that is hard to put into words or nail down, but it enhances the complexity and allure of this wine.

4) Alexander Jules Sherries ($40)
Alexander Jules, a kind of negociant company, seeks out special Spanish sherry barrels, creating fascinating and delicious blends. Their previous Sherries have ended up on prior Top Ten lists and the latest three Sherries I've tasted from this company strongly deserve a place as well. These Sherries include Alexander Jules Manzanilla 5/41Alexander Jules Fino 4/65, and Alexander Jules Amontillado 3/10These are Sherries to slowly enjoy each delectable taste, relishing the wonders found within each glass. I placed these three together because they are all special, share similar characteristics, and showcase the fine palate of the company's owner, Alexander Russan. And it's just too hard to select one as my favorite of the three.

5) 2013 Bonny Doon Vin Gris Tuilé ($26)
An unusual California Rosé, it is a blend of 55% Grenache, 23% Mourvèdre, 10% Roussanne, 7% Cinsaut, 3% Carignane, and 2% Grenache Blanc. It is made to be a vin tuilé , a solarized "brick wine," and sat in glass demijohns out in the sun and elements for about nine months. It has a more brownish-pink color and its aroma immediately brought to my mind the smell of sherry. And on the palate, it definitely tasted like a sherry as well, savory and nutty, with that oxidized element. There are some subtle notes of citrus and caramel, contributing to the complexity of the wine. As a sherry lover, I loved this wine.

6) 2014 Filipa Pato Post-Quercus Branco ($18)
A fascinating Portuguese wine, this is made from 100% Bical, from an organic vineyard. It is fermented with indigenous yeasts and then aged in clay amphorae which were buried underground. On the nose, I found this wine to present some appealing stone fruit aromas with floral accents and a slight herbal note. On the palate, it possesses bright and juicy peach & pear notes that are accompanied by some briny accents and hints of minerality. It also has a smooth texture with a mildly creamy aspect and a lingering, satisfying finish. There is plenty of complexity and each sip is both intriguing and delicious.

7) 2013 Orgo Kisi ($25.99)
From a small, artisan winery in Georgia, this wine is made from indigenous Kisi grapes from 50 year old vines, and is fermented and aged in qvevri for 6 months with skin contact for the entire time. Native yeasts are used, the wine is unfiltered and it possesses low sulfites. This is a delicious and aromatic wine, with an interesting and complex combination of black tea and ripe pear notes, with subtle hints of tropical fruit. A unique and delicious wine, showcasing the appeal of the wines of Georgia.

8) 2011 Ktima Brintziki Avgoustiatis ($19)
This Greek wine is made from 100% Avgoustiatis, which is a rare, indigenous grape, and is aged in new French barrique for about twelve months. This wine possesses a rich red color and an intriguing nose of red fruits, mild spices and savory notes, possibly a touch of olive. On the palate, the wine is dry with mild tannins, and tasty flavors of cherry, plum, savory herbs and mild spice notes. It is elegant, with nice acidity and a lingering, satisfying finish. This is a very food friendly wine, with a complex and interesting flavor profile.

9) 2013 Tsiakkas Vamvakada ($27.99)
A Cypriot wine, this is made from 100% Vamvakada, an indigenous grape which is also known as Maratheftiko. About 15% of the grapes are from old vines, over 80 years old, and this wine is aged, for about nine months, in 85% new French oak and 15% American oak. With a dark purple, opaque color, its subtle aromas are enticing and appealing, beckoning for you to taste it. And on the palate, it is a complex and compelling wine, with plenty of juicy ripe plum and black berry flavors, with hints of blueberries. It possesses low tannins, spicy elements and a mild herbal note, especially on the lengthy finish. So much going on in this wine, and each sip seems to bring something new to me.

10) 2010 Chateau Siaurac Lalande de Pomerol ($25)
This reasonably priced Bordeaux is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, from a sustainably farmed vineyard. This wine is aged for about 16 months in French oak, 30% new. With a medium-red color, the aromas are compelling with a delightful blend of black and red fruits with some herbal accents. On the palate, it has plenty of more acidity and moderate tannins though it is well balanced. It is a complex and intriguing wine, with delicious flavors of black cherry, ripe plum, and blackberries with dark spices and a hint of earthiness. A lingering and satisfying finish caps off this stellar wine, especially at this price point.

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) 2005 Vina Olabarri Gran Reserva ($28.99)
A Spanish wine from a winery founded in 1958 in Haro, Rioja Alta, this is a blend of 80% Tempranillo and 20% Manzuelo & Graciano. It is smooth and complex, with an intriguing melange of flavors, including black cherry, ripe plum, spice accents and a hint of herbal notes. The tannins are well integrated, it has a lengthy finish and is well balanced. An excellent example of Rioja at a reasonable price for wine with some aged. 

2) 2013 BOE Broken Land ($29.99)
Produced in Brooklyn, New York, this "orange" wine is a blend of 52% Gewurtztraminer and 48% Pinot Gris from the Finger Lakes. After fermentation, the wine sits on the lees for about eleven days and then it is pressed and aged in neutral oak for about nine months. On the nose, the wine provides enticing exotic aromas with earthy elements. On the palate, the wine is elegant, with a subtle earthy aspect, a complex melange of flavors of citrus, dried fruit, mild herbs and a briny element. It is a more subtle wine though, not as intense as other orange wines, which would make it an excellent introduction for wine lovers to the wonders of orange wines. 

Made from a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Amarela, and Tinta Barroca, this is made to be a fresh, easy drinking Port. Usually, these Colheitas are released after 10-12 years but this is an exception. With a pleasant nose of jammy fruit and spice, I found this Port to be elegant and approachable, with prominent bright fruit flavors, mild spice notes, and a little toastiness. The tannins are mild, it isn't overly sweet, and has a fairly lengthy finish. With this Port, they have accomplished their goal and it would be perfect for a chilly evening, accompanied by a hunk of pungent Blue Cheese. 

Made from 100% Nebbiolo, this Italian wine is fermented in stainless steel vats and then 50% is aged in large, used oak barrels for about eight months. This is intended to be a more entry level Nebbiolo, one lacking the aging found in Barbaresco and Barolo, and which is meant for drinking now. With a light red color, this wine has a pleasant nose of cherries with a hint of spice, and on the palate is smooth and fruity, easy drinking but far from simple. With soft tannins, good acidity, and a delightful blend of red fruit and spice flavors, it would be an excellent choice for many different dishes, from a simple pizza or burger, to a nice pasta dish.

This Italian Barbaresco is made from 100% Nebbiolo and was aged for two years in oak and eighteen months in the bottle. It has an intriguing nose of black fruit and subtle spices and a touch of floral notes. On the palate, it possesses restrained tannins, excellent acidity and deep, complex flavors of black cherry, blackberry, violets, black pepper and spicy accents. It is dry and elegant, with a lengthy finish. Absolutely delicious and an impressive wine that is well worth a splurge.

An intriguing California Rosé that is a blend of 44% Grenache, 20% Grenache Blanc, 12% Carignane, 11% Mourvèdre, 7% Cinsaut, and 6% Roussanne. This wine is made in the vin gris style, from grapes, picked at optimal ripeness, with minimal skin contact. It also experiences some bâtonnage, which is intended to add some creaminess to the texture. This Rosé is a pale pink in color, resembling a typical Provence Rosé, and its aroma and taste are similar as well. This is an elegant and more subtle Rosé, crisp and dry, with restrained red fruit flavors with mineral notes. There are also some subtle floral notes and a touch of savory herbs. It is complex and intriguing, with a lingering, satisfying finish. Absolutely delicious and refreshing, something you can enjoy on its own or with seafood or a light chicken dish.

Franciacorta, from Lombardy, Italy, is one of my favorite styles of Sparkling Wine. This wine is a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir, spending at least 60 months on the lees. This is an extremely impressive sparkling wine, with a great intensity and an earthy element. There are pleasant fruit flavors, though more subtle, and it also possesses a lingering and compelling finish. Highly recommended.

8) 2014 Orgo Rkatsiteli ($19.99)
A Georgian wine, it is made from 100% Rkatisteli and is fermented and aged in qvevri for about six months, with skin contact for that entire period. It is also made with wild yeasts and is unfiltered. It presents with a more unusual, yet intriguing, aroma, a melange of spice and fruit. On the palate, the spice notes dominate with more subtle undertones of citrus and peach and a touch of honey. It is fresh and crisp, complex and well-balanced. This wine would pair well with a variety of foods, from seafood to chicken, cheese to charcuterie.

This Greek wine is made from 100% Tinaktorogos, a rare, indigenous grape that is so ancient that it might have been mentioned by Homer. It might even be the only 100% Tinaktorogos in the world. On the nose, there are alluring notes of stone fruits and light floral elements. On the palate, it is crisp and dry, with delicious flavors of apple and pear, with floral hints and a touch of tea. There is some round, creaminess to the wine, balanced with its nice acidity. The finish is long and pleasing and it certainly has a slightly different taste than many other white wines. It pairs well with a diversity of food.

Another Cypriot wine, it is produced from the indigenous Xinisteri grape and the vines average about 50 years old. The wine is fermented in stainless steel and sees no oak. Possessing a light golden color, it possesses a pleasant aroma of apples and citrus. On the palate, it is crisp and dry, with lush apple and peach flavors, enhanced by some minerality. Easy drinking, it would be excellent with seafood, such as oysters.


Spain occupies the most places on my Top Ten (or Top Twelve) list, with four spots. Portugal and Georgia each occupy two spots while California, Cyprus, Greece and France each occupy one spot. The list is also broken down into three Fortified Wines, five Reds, one Rosé, & three Whites. On the Honorable Mention list, Italy dominates, occupying three spots. Spain, New York, Portugal, California, Georgia, Greece and Cyprus each occupy one spot. The list is also broken down into one Sparkling Wine, one Fortified Wine, three Reds, one Rosé, & four Whites.

When you combine the two lists, Spain is in first place with five spots while Portugal, Georgia, and Italy are tied for second place with three spots each. California, Cyprus, and Greece, each have two spots while France and New York both have only one spot. In addition, you'll find one Sparkling Wine, four Fortified Wines, two Rosé, eight Reds, and seven Whites.

As with my list of Top Ten Wine Under $15, a number of the wines on this list were tasted at the Boston Wine Expo. On the above Top Ten list, the first three wines are from the Boston Wine Expo while on the Honorable Mentions list, the first three wines are also from the Expo.

It is also interesting to note that four of the wines from the combined lists were tasted at Committee, one of my favorite Boston restaurants. These wines include 2011 Ktima Brintziki Avgoustiatis,  2013 Tsiakkas Vamvakada, 2014 Ktima Brintziki Tinaktorogos, and 2015 Tsiakkas Xinisteri. Committee has an excellent wine list and also hosts some compelling wine dinners so it is a great place to find some intriguing and delicious wines. 

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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