Friday, December 8, 2017

2017: Top Ten Wines Under $15

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

As 2018 approaches, it's time once again to reflect upon the past year, to remember and savor many pleasant memories. As 2017 winds down, I'll be posting my annual series of Favorite Lists 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 2017 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) Cricova Crisecco Vin Spumant Alb Brut ($12-$14)
A Moldovan Sparkling wine! This wine is a blend of 90% Fetească Albă (an indigenous grape) and 10% Muscat, produced by the Charmat method (like most Italian Prosecco). At 12.5% ABV, this bubbly is aromatic, with a distinctive Muscat nose enhanced by some citrus notes. On the palate, it is dry, crisp and tasty, with flavors of apple, pear and subtle citrus. A very pleasant and easy-drinking Sparkling wine, this is also an excellent value and highly recommended.

2) Telavi Wine Cellar NV Marani Sparkling White Brut ($11)
Another excellent value Sparkling wine, this bubbly is from the country of Georgia, which has over 500 indigenous grapes. This bubbly is a blend of Rkatisteli, Mtsvane and Kisi (three indigenous grapes) and has a 12.5% ABV. It is dry and lightly effervescent, with bright peach, citrus and almond notes, and a hint of toast. A tasty and easy drinking bubbly, with plenty of complexity at this low price point.

3) 2015 Batono Chinuri ($12)
Another wine from Georgia, this white wine is produced from 100% Chinuri, another indigenous grape. I found this wine to be interesting and delicious, with notes of ripe pear and melon, accompanied by some intriguing herbal accents. It was easy drinking but with some complexity, good acidity, and a nice texture. An excellent value wine offering a fascinating taste profile at this price point.

4) 2015 Cuvée René Dopff Pinot Blanc ($12.99)
The French region of Alsace has long had a special place in my heart and this white wine is a fine example of some of the values found in this region. Produced from 100% Pinot Blanc, the wine sits on the lees for about 4 months, is then filtered, and sits in stainless steel for several months before bottling. With a light golden color, it has a delightful fruity aroma, and on the palate, there are bright notes of peach, citrus and lemon. It has a rich mouthfeel, with a nice crisp acidity, and a clean finish. It is an easy drinking, but not single-note, wine and a very good value at this price.

5) 2016 Maetierra Atlantis Albariño ($12)
Spain is another country which produces some excellent value wines, such as this one. From the Rias Baixas D.O., this wine is made from 100% Albariño, sees no oak and is only 12.5% ABV. With a light golden color, the wine presented an appealing, fruity aroma and on the palate, it was crisp, dry and delicious. There were tasty flavors of apple, melon and pear with a medium-body and a pleasing finish. An easy drinking wine, it presents with more complexity than many other wines at this price point.

6) 2015 Hugel Gentil ($12)
Alsace offers another great value wine for this list. The Gentil is a blend of 50% Sylvaner & Pinot Blanc, 22% Pinot Gris, 15% Gewurztraminer, 7% Riesling and 6% Muscat. I should note that the 2015 vintage was considered exceptional in Alsace. This is an excellent value white wine, with lots of character and complexity at this price point. From its aromatic nose to the delicious melange of flavors on the palate, this is a wine for everyday drinking, especially with food. There were tasty flavors of pear, lemon and melon, with a hint of spice, and plenty of crisp acidity. It was fresh with a pleasing finish and pairs well with seafood. 

7) 2014 Montes Clares Reserva Tinto ($13.99)
It's certainly no surprise that Portugal appears on this list, as it always does, because I believe they have some of the best values in the wine world. This red wine is a blend of Trincadeira, Aragonez, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tinta Caiada, which was matured for about 12 months in new French and American oak and then 6 additional months in the bottle. With rich flavors of plum and blackberry, there was a strong spicy undertone with a subtle earthy element, especially on the finish. Tannins are manageable and it has a fairly lengthy finish, especially for such a value wine. Pair this wine with meat, from wild boar to steaks, though it would work with a juicy burger as well.

8) 2012 Costa Do Pombal Red ($8-$10)
Another Portuguese wine, this is an incredible value as you would be hard pressed to find a wine from another region priced under $10 that offers as much as this wine. This red wine is a blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, and Tinta Barroca which is a fruity and easy drinking wine, with low tannins, a hint of spice, and a pleasing finish. It is more than a one-note wine, possessing more character than most wines at this price point. Highly recommended.

9) 2015 Ruhlman Pinot Noir Cuvee Mosaique ($14.99)
About 90% of Alsatian wines are white, so it is more difficult to find their Pinot Noirs, but you should seek them out. This wine was absolutely delicious, an easy drinking Pinot with a nice melange of flavors. It is very light red in color as well light-bodied on your palate. It offers bright red fruit flavors, cherry and raspberry, a hint of an underlying earthy element, and a decently long finish. At this price point, this is one of the best value Pinots you'll find and highly recommended. I'd buy this by the case to enjoy on its own or with dishes from burgers to pasta.

10) 2015 Proyecto Garnachas de Espana La Garnacha Salvaje del Moncayo ($11.99)
This Spanish wine is another killer value, made from 100% Garnacha and with a 13.5% ABV. It is fermented in stainless steel and then is aged for five months in new French oak barrels. It possesses a more subtle aroma on this wine, mild fruity notes with hints of spice. On the palate, the wine immediately impressed, presenting delicious black fruit flavors, enhanced with a touch of earthiness and spice, and there was even some minerality beneath it all. The tannins were well integrated, presenting a smooth and easy drinking wine, with a moderately lengthy and satisfying finish. You could easily enjoy this on its own, or accompanied with food, from pizza to ribs.

Five countries made the list this year, as opposed to six last year. Alsace took the lead with three spots on the list, with Georgia, Spain and Portugal each occupying two spots. Moldova occupied the last spot. Five of the wines on this list were tasted at the Boston Wine Expo, an event where I often find a number of excellent value wines. There are no real surprises on this list, though I'll note you probably start seeing more Georgian wines on local shelves as more people find the treasures being produced in that country. Moldova is the newcomer to the list and I suspect you'll see more on these lists in the near future, if not on another list this year. As for wine types, the list is also broken down into 4 Whites, 4 Reds and 2 Sparkling. Last year, there weren't any Sparkling Wines on the list.

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.