As 2020 approaches, it's time once again to reflect upon the past year, to remember and savor many pleasant memories. As 2019 winds down, I'll be posting my annual series of Favorite Lists over the next few weeks, covering food, wine, spirits and other drinks. 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 2019 is my Top Ten Wines Under $20. For the previous 11 years, this list has included only wines Under $15, but over time, wine prices have obviously risen and it has been more difficult to find compelling wines under this price point. I've finally decided to raise the price point of this Favorites list, although these wines still remain excellent values. You can still find some compelling wines under $15, but it gets harder each year.
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 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 region, though you might be able to order them from the winery or an online store, dependent on your state's shipping laws.
1) 2016 Dow Vale do Bomfim ($12.99)
This wine is a blend of 30% Touriga Franca, 20% Touriga Nacional and 50% Field Blend of indigenous grapes. With a dark red color, it possesses an appealing fruity aroma with floral accents. On the palate, there is a tasty melange of red and black fruit (especially cherry and plum), peppery spice with some licorice notes. Mild tannins, a moderately long finish, and decent complexity for this price point. This is an excellent example of the great values you can still find in Portugal.
2) 2017 Herdade do Rocim Amphora Vinho Tinto ($17.99)
A blend of indigenous Portuguese grapes including 50% Moreto, 30% Tinta Grossa, 15% Trincadeira, and 5% Aragonez. The vineyards are organic and the wine was fermented in a talha (amphora), without any temperature control and using indigenous yeasts. At only 12% ABV, the wine has a deep red color with an interesting nose of earth and red fruits, with a mild floral note. On the palate, it was fresh, with deep and complex flavors of plum, black cherry, and blackberry, an earthy backbone, and a mild tomato accent. The tannins were well integrated, the acidity was good, and the finish was fairly long. And at its price, it is a good value for the quality, complexity and taste of this wine.
3) 2017 Chateau Mercian Yamanashi Koshu ($16.99)
You probably can't buy this wine in the Boston area, but there is a single restaurant in Massachusetts, Kamakura, that carries it, and this is where I tasted it. The wine is from Japan, made from the intriguing Koshu grape. This was an excellent summer wine, with plenty of acidity, bright citrus and peach notes, a streak of mineralogy, and a pleasing and fairly lengthy finish. There was a mild richness to the wine as well as a touch of salinity. This would pair great with seafood, including raw oysters.
This is another wine which I first tasted at a local Greek restaurant, the new location of Gre.Co in the Seaport. They only have two wines, a white and a red, both from the Karavitakis winery. This red wine is a blend of 65% Kotsifali and 35% Mandilari, both indigenous Greek grapes. The wine is smooth and easy drinking, but there is still depth to this wine, with pleasant black fruit flavors, including plum and black cherry. There is a freshness to this wine as well, and it pairs very well with a lamb gyro.
5) NV Cricova Crisecco Vin Spumant Alb Brut ($11.99)
This Sparkling Wine, from Moldova, is a blend of 90% Fetească Albă (an indigenous grape) and 10% Muscat, and is produced by the Charmat method (like most Italian Prosecco). I enjoyed it at a wine dinner at the Moldova Restaurant in Newton. 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, and at this price point, an excellent value as well.
6) NV Mirco Mariotti "Set e Mez" Rosato ($19.99)
I tasted this Italian Sparkling wine, from the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy, at BISq, pairing it with their Fried Chicken. The wine is produced from the indigenous Fortana grape, made by the méthode ancestrale, with native yeasts. It was delicious, dry and complex, with pleasing red fruit flavors and a touch of earthiness. A nice depth of flavor and it worked great with the Fried Chicken.
7) 2015 3 Rings Shiraz ($19.99)
This Australian wine, made of 100% Shiraz, possessed a dark purple color and a nose of black fruits enhanced by spice notes. On the palate, it was a full bodied and muscular wine, with deep and complex flavors of plum, black pepper and raspberry, with a vein of pepper and other bold spices. However, it wasn't a jammy fruit bomb, and the alcohol was well balanced. The finish was fairly lengthy, the tannins bold but not overwhelming, and it has a spicy kick. This is a wine of power, but it isn't overpowering. The complex taste will please and with a juicy steak, the wine shines even greater.
8) 2017 Laurent Cazottes Champetre Blanc ($17.99)
On their wine list, Forge & Vine in Groton, has some interesting natural wines, including this one from the Gaillac region of south western France. It is produced from 100% Mauzac Blanc, a grape that is indigenous to this region. The wine is fermented in stainless steel with native yeasts, aged in tank on its fine lees, and isn't fined or filtered. The wine is also certified organic and Biodynamic. With a 12% ABV, this was an impressive white wine, one would like to enjoy all summer long. It was crisp and light, fresh and clean, with delicious citrus, especially lemon and pear notes. Excellent acidity, a lengthy finish, and a few floral hints. Pure pleasure and it would be a great pairing with seafood too.
9) 2018 Westmount Pinot Noir Rosé ($19.99)
From Oregon, where Pinot reigns king, this Rosé certainly was impressive. With a 12.9% ABV, it possessed a medium pink color and an alluring nose of fresh red fruits with a hint of tropical fruit. On the palate, it was dry, crisp and fresh, with bright strawberry and watermelon, and subtle hints of more tropical fruits and citrus. A tasty, refreshing and well-balanced wine, it was excellent on its own though it would also be very food friendly.
10) Bodegas Williams & Humbert Canasta Cream Sherry ($19.99)
Made from a blend of Oloroso and PX, this Spanish Sherry had a rich, brown color, and an alluring nutty aroma, enhanced with dried fruit notes and a little brown sugar. It has an excellent complexity, with a silky, creamy body and only a mild sweetness. The Oloroso was the primary star of this sherry, with a minor, but important, supporting role from the PX. The melange of flavors intrigued my palate, with enticing notes of nuts and caramel, a touch of raisins and dried figs. The finish was persistent and satisfying, prolonging the pure enjoyment of the taste. A killer value in a dessert wine.
Eight countries/regions made the list this year, more than the five from last year. Portugal took the lead with two spots on the list (the same as last year). The other countries/regions on the list included Japan, Greek, Moldova, Italy, Australia, France, Spain, and Oregon. There is plenty of diversity on this list, and it is also the first time that Japan has appeared on these lists. As for wine types, the list is also broken down into two Rosé, two Whites, four Reds, one Sparkling, and one Fortified.
One interesting trend this year is that half of the wines on this list were tasted at restaurants. Obviously their price at a restaurant will be two to four times the usual retail price, but most of these wines can also be found at your local wine shop, or they will be able to order them from you. Restaurants with good wine programs can present delicious and intriguing wines, and you simply have to be adventurous to find those wines. Ask the sommelier for some recommendations and be willing to be a vinous explorer.
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 article on the subject.
If you have some of your own recommendations for excellent wines under $20, please add them to the comments.