Tuesday, December 11, 2018

2018: 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 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 stood 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 region, though you might be able to order them from the winery or an online store, dependent on your state's shipping laws.

1) 2014 Domaine Albert Mann Extra Brut Crémant d'Alsace ($24)
This Crémant d'Alsace is a blend of Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. With a fine golden color and a myriad of tiny bubbles, it possesses an alluring aroma, with elements of fresh fruit. On the palate, the Crémant is fresh, crisp and dry, with delicious flavors of green apple, pear and hints of lemon. Though it is fruit driven, there is complexity in the palate as well, with a touch of minerality and hints of spice. There is a light, elegant creaminess to this wine with a lengthy, pleasing finish, ending with more fruit notes. At this price point, it is also an excellent value.

2) 2014 Domaines Schlumberger "Les Princes Abbés" Pinot Noir ($25) Pinot Noir from Alsace is rare and that needs to change. This wine is produced from 100% Pinot Noir, from vines of an average age of 19 years. The wine is fermented in stainless steel and then aged on the lees for about 8 months in old wooden foudres. This is a wine of silky elegance, of bright, fresh red fruit flavors, a hint of spice, and a wisp of earthiness. Excellent acidity, some floral accents, soft tannins, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. Such a well balanced and delicious wine, its elegance is so compelling and its complex melange of flavors pleases me immensely.

3) 2016 Georges Duboeuf Domaine les Chenevieres, Macon-Villages ($21.99)
This French wine is made from 100% Chardonnay, with vines that are over 20 years old, this wine has a 12.5% ABV and sees only stainless steel. It has an interesting and fresh taste, lots of crispness with flavors of green apple and citrus, with a backbone of minerality, and a lingering finish. This wine would go very well with goat cheese, as well as many types of seafood.

4) 2016 Georges Duboeuf Jean Ernest Descombes, Morgon ($21.99)
Another French wine, fro the Morgon Cru, this wine is made from 100% Gamay (vines from 50-100 years old), with a 13% ABV. It was vinified and aged in cement tanks. It possesses a captivating aroma, one that quickly lures you into the bottle. The red and black fruit flavors are intense, with crisp acidity, spice notes, and an earthy undertone. It is elegant and complex, intriguing and delicious.  Many of my favorite Beaujolais wines come from the Morgon Cru and this is an excellent example of what that Cru has to offer.

5) 2015 Darting Winery Pinot Meunier ($21.99)
This German wine is made from 100% Pinot Meunier, from the Pfalz region, and has a 13.5% ABV. It is rare to find single varietal Pinot Meunier. This wine has a light red color, with a touch of sediment, and a mild, pleasing aroma of red fruit and spice. It is a light-bodied wine, subtle and elegant in its presentation, with delicious flavors of cherry and cranberry, a mild spicy backbone and a hint of earthiness. Nice acidity, a lingering finish, and interesting. Overall, it is delicious and paired perfectly with a dinner of lamb lollipops.

6) Gonzalez Byass La Copa Vermouth ($25)
Vermouth is actually a wine, an aromatized wine, and many people seem to forget that fact, which is why you rarely see Vermouth on Top Ten Wine lists. They are worthy though of more recognition. The La Copa Vermouth is a blend of 75% Oloroso Sherry and 25% Pedro Ximinez Sherry. It is rare to find any Vermouth made from Sherry. Some of the botanicals that are used in this Vermouth include wormwood, angelica, savory, clove, orange peel, nutmeg, quinine, and cinnamon. On the nose, its complexity is first experienced, a wonderful melange of spices, salted nuts, and citrus notes. On the palate, you will be intrigued by its complexity, balance and elegance. There is a superb blend of spices and herbs, with nuts, caramel, a touch of plum, candied orange and more. The Sherry influence is prominent and well integrated. There is balanced sweetness with hints of bitterness, exactly what you want from a fine vermouth. It's smooth with a lengthy, satisfying finish and is wonderful on its own, though it also works well in a Manhattan.

7) 2015 Post Scriptum de Chryseia ($20-$25)
This Portuguese wine is impressive, a blend of 64% Touriga Franca, 28% Touriga Nacional and 8% Tinta Roriz, spending about 12 months in French oak. It has bright red fruit flavors, nice acidity, a spicy backbone and an elegant nature. Definitely very approachable, with good complexity, a lengthy finish and a wine that is very food friendly. Simply delicious.

8) 2015 Bodegas Garzón Cabernet France Reserve ($27)
Uruguay is producing some interesting and delicious wines, and this wine, made from Cabernet France, is an impressive example of their potential. With a rich purple color, the wine has alluring aromas, lots of ripe fruit and hints of spice. On the palate, there are delicious black and blue fruit flavors, enhanced by mild spice notes and a hint of herbal notes. There isn't a prominent flavor of green peppers, which delights me. The tannins are well integrated, the finish lingers, and there is a touch of mint on the finish too. This would be a great wine to pair with grilled meats or even a pizza.

9) 2015 Scheid Vineyards Pinot Noir ($36)
From California, this wine is made from 100% Pinot Noir, a blend of grapes from two estate vineyards, and it is aged for about 9 months in neutral French oak. With a 14.1% ABV, the wine has an appealing nose of red and black fruits with a hint of spice. On the palate, the wine is light bodied and silky, with a complex melange of flavors, from cherry to blackberry, cranberry to plum, with subtle spice notes, a touch of vanilla, and a hint of smoke, especially on the lengthy finish. An elegant Pinot, this is a wine to slowly savor over the course of an evening.

10) 2015 Kocabağ Öküzgözü ($19.99)
This is the first wine from Turkey that I've ever reviewed and it won't be my last. Öküzgözü is an indigenous grape with high acidity and mild tannins, tending to make soft, easy drinking wines similar in some respects to Gamay or Pinot Noir. This wine possesses a medium-red color with an interesting nose of black cherry and raspberry, with a few spice notes. On the palate, it is light bodied, with plenty of acidity, and delicious ripe plum and black cherry flavors, enhanced by a mild earthiness and hints of spice. It has a very Old World feel to it, with mild tannins, a moderately lengthy finish, and is simply tasty.

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) 2016 Alto do Joa Tinto ($15-$17)
This compelling Portuguese wine is a field blend of 20 grapes, including Alvarelhão, Bastardo, Chasselas Suíça, Cornifesto, Dona Branca, Folgasão, Formosa, Jaen, Mourisco, and Tinta Amarela. With a dark red color, and an alluring nose, I was captivated by this wine from my first taste. It is elegant and silky smooth, with well-integrated tannins, good acidity, and a touch of rusticness. Its complex melange of flavors includes ripe plum, black cherry, fig, dark spices, and a subtle earthiness. A long and lingering finish tantalizes and satisfies. It over delivers for the price and was pure pleasure on the palate.

Another Portuguese wine, this Sparking wine is made from 100% Touriga Nacional, which is certainly more unique. Almost a Rosé in color, and with tiny bubbles, there are mild red fruit notes on the aroma. As soon as I tasted a sip, bright berry flavors burst on my tongue, such a pleasurable taste and sensation. Dry and crisp, once I got past the berries, there were subtle notes of almond and plum, as well as a lingering finish. If I could have easily transported it home from Portugal, I would have bought a case of this bubbly.

Portugal is taking dominance on this Honorable Mention list. This Port has an amazing taste and aroma, being more dry than sweet, with concentrated black fruit flavors, notes of dried fruit, spicy accents, and plenty of complexity. Well balanced, this is a powerful Port yet still restrained, more elegant than muscular. And you can easily enjoy it now without a need for further aging. Pure deliciousness at a very reasonable price.

And one more Portuguese wine, a rare aged White Port, made from a blend of at least Malvasia Fina, Gouveio, Moscatel Galego, and Rabigato. It is fermented in traditional lagares, granite treading tanks where the grapes are trod on by foot. It was aged for about 9 months in stainless steel and then for at least more 20 years in wooden casks. Sniffing your glass, you'll be seduced by an alluring blend of honey, floral and herbal scents, with wisps of citrus. On the palate, the complexity of the aromas is still evident, with each sip bringing something new to your mouth. There is a mild sweetness, well balanced by its acidity, with bright honey notes, citrus flavors, and touches of herbs. It is more full bodied and rich, with a long, lingering finish that soothes and satisfies. It is well worth the effort to seek it out, especially due to its complexity and superb taste.

This fascinating Sherry is produced from Palomino grapes all sourced from the Macharnudo Alto, making it a single-vineyard Sherry, which is rare in the Sherry industry. It is also one of the few Sherries that is still fermented in cask, in American oak, with nearly all other Sherries fermented in stainless steel. This Amontillado begins its life by spending from eight to twelve years under flor, like a Fino Sherry, and then spent another five to eight years without flor, aging oxidatively, averaging about 16-18 years in total. This Sherry has a compelling aroma, and the complex taste is nutty with rich caramel, vanilla and spice, as well as lots of acidity. It also possesses a long and pleasing finish. When I think of this Sherry, I think of it as delicious and comforting, fueling my belly and soul.

An En Rama Sherry is unfiltered or lightly filtered, which tends to produce a Sherry that is more intense and complex. With a 15% ABV, the Tio Pepe Fino En Rama has a bright golden color and is aromatic, with intriguing notes of toast and the briny nature of the sea. On the palate, it is fresh and dry, with a complex and intense melange of citrus, almonds, and the taste of the ocean. The finish has a tinge of bitterness, which doesn't detract from the taste, and lingers on your palate for quite a time. It is not as light and subtle as more heavily filtered Fino Sherries. I'm a big fan of this style and love the intense expressiveness of this Tio Pepe.

Made from 100% Pinot Noir, this Alsace bubbly is produced by the méthode champenoise and remains on the lees for about 12 months. With an appealing nose of red fruits and a touch of spice, this is a delicious and lush Crémant with ripe flavors of strawberry, cherry and raspberry. Dry, crisp, and clean, with a fine effervescence, this is a true crowd pleaser. At this price, it is an excellent value for the taste and complexity found within the bottle. 

This Italian wine is made from 100% Sangiovese, which spent about 24 months in oak, 20% in small barriques, and 1 year in the bottle. It is made in a more traditional style, which is my preference, and is quite good, with nice acidity, notes of cherry and black fruit, mild spice notes, and low tannins. It is delicious, but definitely does best when paired with food, especially meat or a hearty dish. To me, this is an example of a very good traditional Chianti Classico.

From Uruguay, thus wine is made from 100% Albarino, selected from the best seven plots in the vineyard. About 80% of the grapes were fermented in large, concrete tanks (without epoxy) and the rest were fermented in untoasted oak barrels. The wine spent about 8 months on the lees. This is an impressive wine, elegant and complex, something meant to be slowly sipped and savored. It has a richer texture, great acidity, and more savory notes with only underlying and subtle fruit notes. The finish is long and satisfying, simply a stellar wine. 

10) 2015 Windvane Carneros Pinot Noir ($45)
This California Pinot Noir, from the Carneros region, possesses a medium red color and an enticing aroma of red fruit with mild, underlying spice notes. On the palate, the complex wine presents delicious and intense flavors of red cherry and blackberry, enhanced by mild spice notes and plenty of acidity. Medium-bodied, the finish is fairly lengthy and satisfying, ending with a silky crispness. Paired with Chinese sausages, the acidity of the wine helped to balance the sweetness of the sausages, and its flavors worked well with the spices and flavors of the sausage.


Eight wine countries and regions made the list this year, the same amount as last year. France dominates, occupying four spots, which include two wines from the Alsace region. The rest of the list is occupied by Germany, Spain, Portugal, Uruguay, Turkey and California. The list is also broken down into one Sparkling wine, one Aromatized wine, one White wine and seven Red wines.

On the Honorable Mention list, six countries made the list, compared to seven last year. Portugal dominates this list, with four spots, and Spain takes second place with two spots. The rest of the spots were taken by France (Alsace), Italy, Uruguay, and California. The list is also broken down into two Sparkling wines, four Fortified wines, three Red wines, and one White wine. Last year, there weren't any Fortified wines on this list.

When you combine the two lists, France (with three from Alsace) and Portugal are tied for first place, each with five spots. In comparison, last year's leader of this combined list was the country of Georgia with four spots, while Portugal had two spots and France only one. This year, Spain occupied three spots while Uruguay and California both had two spots. Rounding out the combined list are Germany, Turkey and Italy, each with one spot. In addition, the combined list includes three Sparkling wines, four Fortified wines, one Aromatized wine, two White wines, and ten Red 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.

No comments: