Monday, December 11, 2017

2017: 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. Last week, 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 I enjoyed, 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) Julien Brand La Bulle De L'Oueste Petillant Brut ($20.00)
A Sparkling Muscadet? This was my first such wine and it won't be the last. Made from 100% Melon de Bourgogne grape, this French wine is certified organic and was fermented by the Methode Ancestrale, also known as Pétillant-Naturel. It has a low 9.8% ABV, meaning you can have an extra glass without worrying much about getting too tipsy. As I raised the flute to my nose, visually delighted by the tiny bubbles, I was entranced with this wine, loving its appealing and intense aromas, such beautiful fruit with a wisp of the ocean. On the palate, there was lots of crisp acidity, delicious citrus notes, and a steely minerality with an herbal hint. It was fresh and tasty, each sip making you crave more. Highly recommended!

2) 2016 Vigneto Saetti Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce ($18.99)
This Italian Sparkling Lambrusco was produced from 100% Salamino di Santa Croce, from 40+ year old organic vines. The wine was a deep, almost purple color, with an alluring aroma of berries, violets, mild spices, and a hint of earthiness. On the palate, it has a creamy effervescence, with enticing, dry and juicy flavors of black cherry, raspberry, and ripe plum, with an underlying earthiness and mild spice notes. The tannins are well-integrated, the acidity is strong, and the finish is lengthy and pleasing. It was easy drinking but with plenty of complexity, the type of addictive wine which you'll likely finish the entire bottle before you know it.

3) 2011 Artevani Qvevri Aged Rkatsiteli ($30-$35)
One of the top three wines I enjoyed at the Boston Wine Expo, this Georgian wine is impressive on many levels. Artevani is a family-owned winery, seeking to produce more natural wines, reflective of terroir, and combining ancient traditions with modern technology. This wine is made from 100% Rkatsiteli, from seventy-year old vines, and is fermented in qvevri for about 24 days and then aged in qvevri for another 8-12 months. With a rich amber color, the wine presented with a fascinating aroma, an alluring mix of herbs, spices, and dried fruits. On the palate, I found a complex and intriguing melange of flavors and it was actually difficult to describe everything happening in my mouth. It was full bodied, with nice acidity, and a lengthy and satisfying finish. This is the type of wine you slowly savor, enjoying the new and surprising flavors you encounter with each sip.

4) 2016 Valdespino Ojo de Gallo Palomino Fino ($15.99)
This Spanish wine is made from 100% Palomino Fino, the grape usually used to produce Sherry, but the producer chose to make an unfortified version. The organically cultivated grapes are 20-25 years old. Fermentation occurs in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts, and then it is aged for about 6 months on the fine lees. With a 12% ABV, it has a nice golden color and the nose reminded me immediately of a Fino Sherry. On the palate, it also was reminiscent of Fino Sherry with a bright salinity, citrus flavors, a strong minerality backbone and savory notes. It was crisp and very dry, with a lengthy and pleasing finish. It was fresh, elegant and complex, an intriguing wine that certainly shows the potential for Palomino Fino in unfortified, still wines.

Bonny Doon Vineyard, based in Santa Cruz, California, produces a fascinating range of intriguing and delicious wines. Another of my top three wines from the Boston Wine Expo was their 2014 Clos de Gilroy “Cuvée Particuliere", which is produced mainly from Grenache with a little bit of Mourvedre. It was more of an Old-World style wine, with bright red fruit flavors, some peppery notes and a mild earthiness. It was complex and intriguing, an elegant and delicious wine that calls out for lamb or wild boar, or a hearty Italian ragu. The wine easily seduced my palate and it was hard to refrain from draining the bottle on my own.

6) 2015 Metrick Mourvèdre ($31)
Alex Russan, with his Alexander Jules Sherries, has been on these prior lists multiple times and this year he earns a spot for his non-Sherry wines. His Metrick Wines explore the different wine regions of California and the 2015 Metrick Mourvèdre is a blend of 85% Mourvedre, 5% Marsanne, 5% Counoise, and 5% Syrah. The wine was fermented in 50% stainless steel and 50% concrete. 95% of the juice was free run, and it was then aged for about 11 months in concrete. It was bottled unfined and unfiltered, and has a 12% ABV. This wine was thoroughly impressive, a light bodied and savory elixir. A complex blend of herbs, olives and earthiness dominated the taste, with subtle hints of berry. It was so ethereal on the palate, with a compelling taste, including a lingering finish, which made me crave a second and third glass. I would pair this with an herbed, roast chicken or a mushroom risotto, or maybe a venison steak.

7) 2015 Alapiani Shavkapito ($25)
Another Georgian wine, I was thoroughly impressed with this wine produced from the indigenous Shavkapito grape which is even in Georgia. Its name means "vine with a black cane" and is said to be terroir-reflective. The grapes were sourced from a vineyard in the Okami village of the Shida Kartli region and the wine was fermented and aged in qvevri. With an alluring aroma of black fruit and herbs, the wine presented with a fascinating melange of flavors, including ripe plum, blackberry and black cherry, along with herbal accents, a smoky note, and a touch of spice. Lots of complexity, smooth tannins and a lengthy, pleasing finish.

8) 2016 1865 Pinot Noir ($18)
Finding excellent Pinot Noir for under $20 is difficult so I was extremely taken with this Chilean wine. Made from 100% Pinot Noir, from the El Platero Vineyard in the Valle Del Elqui, the wine was aged for about eight months in a combination of foudres, concrete eggs and barrels. With a 13.5% ABV, the wine has a light red color, and an alluring and complex nose of red fruits and touches of earth and spice. Those aromas will draw you in and you won't be disappointed once you taste it. The wine is elegant and light bodied, with a complex and fascinating melange of flavors, including bright red cherry, more subdued black cherry, subtle spice notes, and underlying hints of earthiness. There was excellent acidity, mineral notes, and a lingering, satisfying finish. It was well-balanced and compelling, reminding me in different ways to Burgundian Pinot as well as Oregonian Pinot, yet still with its own unique character.

9) 2013 Ktima Gerovassiliou Avaton ($47)
I love Greek wines and this is a killer wine, compelling and delicious. It is a blend of three indigenous Greek grapes, including 50% Limnio, 25% Mavrotragano & 20% Mavroudi. This wine is fermented and aged in French oak, has a 14% ABV, and has an inky dark red color, with an alluring aroma of black fruit, mild spice, and a touch of earthiness. On the palate, the wine is muscular and big, though it is still elegant and the tannins are well restrained. There are complex & rich flavors of ripe plum, black cherry, and blackberry, enhanced by a spicy backbone, good acidity, and a hint of herbs. It is delicious and well-balanced, with a lengthy, pleasing finish. It would be great paired with hearty dishes, from a grilled steak to a leg of lamb.

10) 2016 Rară Neagră de Purcari ($22-$23)
Another tasty wine from Moldova, this Rară Neagră de Purcari was impressive, luring me in from my first sniff of its compelling aroma. The wine is made from 100% Rară Neagră, was fermented in stainless steel, aged in French oak barriques and has a 14% ABV. The aroma is very savory, with black fruit accents and subtle spicy notes. On the palate, it is medium-bodied, with soft tannins and good acidity. It presents an intriguing melange of bold flavors, ripe black fruit, spicy notes, hints of vanilla, and an almost meaty undertone. A lengthy finish completes this well balanced and delicious 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) 2015 Metrick Chardonnay ($36)
This Metrick Chardonnay is made with grapes from the Sierra Madre Vineyard, planted in 1971 and sustainably farmed, in the Santa Maria AVA. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged on the lees, in stainless, for about 11 months. It underwent malolactic fermentation, allowing it to be bottled unfiltered, and has a 12% ABV. I found this wine to be crisp and clean, with bright citrus notes and some minerality. There was some richness in the mouthfeel and it came across as elegant and delicious. I paired this wine with some stuffed clams and it was an excellent pairing. It was obvious that this Chardonnay would be perfect with seafood, from sushi to oysters.

2) 2015 Batono Qvevruli Tetri ($20)
This Georgian wine is an intriguing blend of three indigenous grapes, 40% Kisi, 40% Mtsvane and 20% Rkatsiteli. It was produced in both qvevri and oak, and was a fascinating and delicious wine with a unique melange of spice, dried fruit, herbal accents and a touch of eucalyptus. Each sip brought a new flavor combination to my palate and this is a very good value wine to savor and enjoy over time. This wine would work well with seafood dishes and roast chicken.

3) 2016 Alpha Estate Rosé ($19.99)
You should enjoy Rosé year-round and this Greek Rosé should please you. Made from 100% Xinomavro, it spent two months on the lees and has a 13% ABV. With a bright pink color, this wine has a delightful fruity nose and on the palate, it is crisp, dry and fruity, with tasty flavors of strawberry and cherry and subtle floral notes. It has a medium-body, with a lengthy, satisfying finish.  This would certainly be a food-versatile wine, from oysters to burgers, roasted chicken to pizza. Though sipping it on its own, while relaxing poolside, would be quite the pleasure as well.

4) 2013 Adega de Borba Reserve ($18-$19)
Another excellent value Portuguese wine, this is a blend of Aragonez, Trincadeira, Castelão and Alicante Bouschet. The wine spent about 12 months in French oak, and then another 6 months in the bottle. This is a delicious, complex wine and though it is also powerful in some respects, that power is restrained within a velvet glove, presenting a silky smooth taste. There are lush black fruit flavors, plenty of intriguing spice notes, and some exotic herbal accents. This is another wine which would benefit from pairing with meat dishes.

5) 2013 Vallegre Vinhas Velhas Reserva Especial (about $21)
Another tasty Portuguese wine, this is an intriguing blend of Tinta Amarela, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Sousão and Tinta Francisca, from 60+ year old vines. It presents as deep and dark, complex and smooth, spicy and tannic. Concentrated flavors of Rich ripe plum and flavors, with hints of chocolate and leather. A well-balanced wine with plenty of acidity and a lengthy, satisfying finish. So much going on in this wine, it is sure to impress.

6) 2015 Artevani Saperavi ($24)
The Georgian winery of Artevani also produced a compelling organic Saperavi, made from an old recipe and which sees no oak. With a dark red color, it presented with a fruity aroma, and a rich palate of red fruits with a hint of earthiness. It was smooth, with low tannins, good acidity, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. A wine that would pair well with plenty of different foods, from pizza to burgers.

7) 2011 Ktima Biblia Chora Biblinos ($35)
Another fascinating Greek wine, the Biblia Chora Biblinos is made from 100% of an unknown grape that was discovered on the slopes of Mount Pangeon. DNA testing couldn't identify the grape but it was able to verify that it was vitis vinifera, of Greek origin. Essentially this is a lost grape, one whose origins could extend back to the ancient Greeks, and it might never be identified. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and then aged in French oak for about 12 months. With a 14.5% ABV, the wine is inky dark in color with an interesting aroma of black fruit with some light floral notes, like wild violets. On the palate, there is an intriguing and complex melange of flavors, with ripe plum, blueberry and black cherry up front and leading to some spicy and savory notes, especially on the long and lingering finish. Good acidity, some rich voluptuousness up front, and well-integrated tannins. The savory aspect, hints of herbs and roast meat, was compelling and I was well enamored with this wine.

8) 2013 Ramat Negev Ramon Petit Verdot ($39.99)
This Israeli winery saw its origins back in 1997, with a desire to establish a winery that was based only on local produce. Their Petit Verdot, from a single vineyard, spent about 18 months in new French oak and then six months in the bottle. With a powerful spicy aroma, this wine is deep and dark but with restrained tannins. It possesses juicy blackberry and plum flavors with a touch of blueberry, a spicy aspect, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. This is a wine that is probably best paired with food and it should also impress many wine lovers.

9) 2015 Survivor Pinotage ($18-$20)
This South African wine is made from 100% Pinotage and it was aged in 95% French and 5% American oak for about 18 months. Pinotage can be a divisive grape but I've always been a fan, and this example was compelling. I found it to be smoky and spicy, with deep flavors of plum and black cherry, with hints of vanilla, spice and bacon. The tannins were well integrated, it had a lengthy finish, and would be an excellent accompaniment with lamb, steak, or other roasted meats.

10) 2014 Enderle & Moll Basis Pinot Noir ($30)
Pinot Noir is probably not something you think of much when you consider German wines but maybe you should based on this fine example. It has only an 11.5% ABV, an amazingly low alcohol level compared to most other Pinot Noirs. This wine has a very light red color and on the nose, its present an alluring scent of cherry, mild spice and a touch of earthiness. On the palate, you'll be impressed with its elegance and complexity, its bright acidity and delightful flavors of red fruit, spice notes, earthy elements and a touch of herbs. With a lengthy and pleasing finish, this is a killer Pinot, one that can easily compete with Pinots from any other region. It seems like a wine reflective of place, and it was easy to finish the bottle over the course of an evening.


Eight countries made the list this year, as opposed to seven last year. Georgia and California occupy the most spots on my Top Ten list, each with two spots. The rest of the list is occupied by France, Italy, Spain, Chile, Greece, and Moldova. The list is also broken down into two Sparkling Wines, two White wines, one Rosé, & five Reds.

On the Honorable Mention list, seven countries made the list and Georgia, Greece and Portugal occupy the most places, each with two spots. The other regions include California, Israel, South Africa and Germany. The list is also broken down into two Whites, one Rosé, & seven Reds.

When you combine the two lists, Georgia is in first place with four spots while California and Greece are tied for second place with three spots each. Portugal has two spots while France, Italy, Spain, Chile, Moldova, Israel, South Africa and Germany all have only one spot. In addition, you'll find two Sparkling Wines, four White wines, two Rosé, & twelve Reds. Eight of the wines on these lists were tasted at the Boston Wine Expo.

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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