My picks are influenced by basically just two criteria. I pick wines that are either a great example of a certain grape variety or region and wines that are stylistically “outside the box” and just plain fun. All of these wines are $20 or under (with just a few exceptions) and will hopefully change your view on what a wine from a certain grape, region or price range can express. Of course, keep in mind that part of what makes wine fun is that it is so subjective and everyone perceives it differently. These are just my humble opinions. That being said, have fun and I hope you enjoy!
Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc ‘08 – Santa Ynez, CA – Vivid aromas of mango and papaya induce a day dream of enjoying perfectly ripe, juicy fruit on an exotic beach somewhere. These tropical fruits carry over to the palate where beautifully balanced acid supports a long, fresh finish.
Domaine du Salvard Cheverny ‘09 – Loire Valley, FRA – This 85% Sauv Blanc, 15% Chard blend hails from the Cheverny AOC near Sancerre. A great spring wine, white peach, green apple and lots of minerals are present on the nose with the apple and more minerals taking over on the palate. The finish is long, dry and refreshing.
Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris ‘09 – Willamette Valley, OR – A very versatile wine, the Raptor Pinot Gris is a joy to drink by itself yet also begs to compliment a sweet scallop or other light shellfish meal. Big pear, green apple, grapefruit and light floral notes are present on the nose. The pear and citrus continue on the palate where a very faint hint of sweetness rounds out the package.
Newton “Red Label” Chardonnay ‘09 – Napa/Sonoma, CA – Harmony is the word that comes to mind with this little gem. Yellow apple, pineapple, vanilla and just barely browned toast highlight the complex nose. The ripe fruits really come out on the palate where honeydew joins the party. The finish is rich, crisp, refreshing, fruity, toasty… fruity? toasty? fruity?….harmonious.
Za Za Garnacha Rose ‘09 – Campo de Borja, Spain – This wine is like Snickers…it just satisfies. Bright raspberry and strawberry fill the nose. More of the same on the palate only mixed with a subtle hint of cream (which makes everything better). The creamy, red fruit goodness sticks around on the finish. Grab a bottle, sit outside, enjoy life.
Crios Torrontes ‘10 – Salta, Argentina – For those not familiar with torrontes, it’s one of those “best of both worlds” grapes. A perfumed, floral quality strikingly similar to viognier dominates the nose with aromas of peaches, white flowers, pear and citrus. On the palate this wine is more similar to sauvignon blanc in weight and acidity. The rich fruit flavors still come through but in a light, crisp fashion that leads to a long, dry and refreshing finish. A really fun wine!
Root 1 Carmenere ‘08 – Colchagua Valley, Chile – A big nose of deep black fruit with underlying green olive, green pepper and herbs that may compel a brief hesitation but don’t let this scare you. On the palate, the herbs take a back seat. Ripe black plum and blackberry laced with smooth, silky tannin make for a juicy, fun wine that is enjoyable alone but great with a range of different foods.
Corvidae “The Keeper” Cab Franc ‘08– Columbia Valley, WA – This one is a “thinkers” wine. Red and black fruits, leather, smoke and spices all make you think the Keeper is a brooding beast. Take a taste and everything is still there but the wine is soft, smooth and refined. This wine is a great example of complexity and power mixed with pleasurable drinkability; sans the need for cellaring for 10 years or more.
Vega Moragona Tempranillo ’09 – La Mancha, Spain – If the film “The Usual Suspects” had a wine, this is it. This one starts off with big, juicy blueberry and acai berry on the nose and palate. At first, everything is silky smooth. Then, just as you are about to gulp it down, the tannins take a firm but pleasant grip like the unseen twist at the end of a good film.
Hedges Red Mountain Blend ’08 – Red Mountain, WA – Okay, so it’s a little more than $20 but it drinks like it’s $50! It’s everything you want in a good cab blend with aging ability. Rich dark fruits, leather, tobacco, oak, vanilla, smoke and cocoa are all present and accounted for. The Hedges is an incredible value. This wine drinks beautifully now and all those little nuances will only intensify with age.
Calistoga Cellars Zinfandel ’07 – Napa Valley, CA – I like the Calistoga because it’s unique and appeals to zin and non-zin drinkers alike. The ripe red and black fruit are there along with the zesty spice but this one isn’t too jammy or overly ripe. This wine is great on its own but also a great food match. Try BBQ.
Araldica Barbera D’Asti ’07 – Piedmont, Italy – Barbera is the everyday red wine of Piedmont and for good reason. Light body and high acid make it a great food partner especially with the many tomato and herb based dishes of the region. The Araldica is a stunning example for the price. Dark cherries, raspberries and tar start the show and after breathing for a bit comes coconut, almond and chocolate. The acid is quite high so sip on a glass while cooking and enjoy the rest with your lasagna.