The monumental task of declaring my top 40 wines under twenty bucks has begun. Contrary to what you might think, I enjoy this self-appointed assignment. It has always been my passion to find the best “bang for the buck” when it involves wine. If I can find a ten-dollar bottle that tastes as good as a twenty-dollar bottle of wine, I have succeeded in what I am trying to accomplish. It brings me great satisfaction to save my readers some dollars, and at the same time bring them a good if not great bottle of wine.
With that thought in mind, it has been an awesome year for great values under twenty dollars. Instead of scratching my head and searching for the last five wines, I have much more than forty to choose from. As a result, I think you are getting some pretty d*^n serious wines for less then a twenty-dollar price tag.
My list is meant to include wines that should be available for purchase. Many top 100 lists or whatever, often include wines that are no longer on the market. I understand why this is the case, but I have a problem with publishing a list of wines that you cannot purchase and decide for yourself if they should have the honor that is heaped upon them. What good is a list, if you have no chance of getting anything on it?
I have no advertising by wineries on my blog, so I have no reason to be loyal to one brand over another. I am sure that the big boys (or girls) of wine periodicals will scream to the rooftops that they are totally impartial when it comes to scoring wines. I will leave that debate for another day. However, I will have to say that when I saw the Jolie-Pitt Miraval Rose in the top 100 wines list of a popular wine magazine for 2013, I have to call foul. How transparent is that my friends? It’s good rose, but it does not deserve the distinction of a “Top 100″ wine (sorry Brad and Angelina…Just have to call it like it is). I suppose I could declare it the best rose in the world in hopes that Brad and his lovely wife would show up at my office to offer profuse thanks for such a declaration. That would be fun and all, but hardly honest.
I do have a weakness, I must admit. I have developed many friendships over the years as a wine guy in a busy wine store with wine makers and distributors. Sorry, I meant a grocery store with an awesome wine department (Thank you Verne). There are times when I have to dig down deep inside myself and make sure that I am evaluating a wine based on its qualities, instead of trying to please a friend. I can only hope that I have succeeded in this attempt, but I can’t guarantee it (sorry!). I try my best and I hope for the best. I am just trying to be honest here. Sometimes I try too hard not to please a friend and this can work against the wine I am analyzing. Either way, I do try my hardest to look at each wine in the same way and judge it on its’ own merits.
In compiling my list I had to leave out non-vintage wines,since you can never be sure when the vintner changes the blend. I use the A thru F grading system, so the wines that get an A grade are at the top of the list, and nothing lower than a B+ made it on the list this year, although I found a ton of fantastic B grade wines. There are many great wines that I have tried that are more than twenty bucks, and I’m thinking of doing a separate list for them. For now however, I will deal with the task at hand…Here are my “Top 40 Wines Under Twenty Bucks” for 2013…Enjoy!
#40) 2012 Oak Grove Shiraz (California)… $8.
This value brand comes through year in and year out for me. The quality is there for next to nothing. The only thing I can hope for with this label is that they switch back to calling it Syrah, I think putting Shiraz (The Aussie way of saying Syrah) on the label, is a marketing mistake. However, that does not diminish what you get in the bottle for eight bucks.
Notes of brambleberries and hits of vanilla come through on the nose with a backdrop of boysenberries (I know its a brambleberry, but it is more specific…Lay off will ya!). Full boysenberry and plum notes hit the front of the palate with just a touch of vanilla and a hint of brightness. Solid wine front to back with a core of blueberries coming through (which I think is the brightness), and a hit of black tea on the medium length Finnish. I’ve said this before and I will say it again…If your local wine merchant doesn’t carry Oak Grove wines, ride them until they do. (B+)
#39) 2012 Firesteed Pinot Gris (Oregon)… $10.
2012 was such classic vintage for both Oregon and Washington, and I have had fun discovering some of the gems like this one for next to nothing (seriously…Ten bucks?). Slightly challenged on the nose with hints of apples and peaches coming through. When it hits the palate there are some nice FAT fruit notes of peaches and mangoes with trace minerals. Solid fruit notes front to back as it dries out a bit on the long finish. Nice balance of fruit and acidity, and a “10″ in the delicious category. (B+)
#38) 2011 For A Song Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley, Oregon)… $18.
Very light aromas of strawberries and cherries on the nose. Lighter on the palate but good fruit quality. Notes of rose petal and red cherries with a nice backbone of acidity. Not over-powering, good balance and elegant. Smacks of Burgundy in a good year, although this was a tough vintage in Oregon. Kudos baby! (B+)
#37) 2010 Chateau Ste Michelle Indian Wells Red (Columbia Valley, Washington)… $16.
Yes, even the big guns from Washington State make it on my list from time to time. This little gem was hard to ignore with its aromas of perfumed cherries, black licorice, vanilla and violets. Ripe black cherries all over the palate with a backdrop of licorice and spice. There is a little green tobacco thing going on towards the mid-palate as it expands into cherries and blackberries. Good structure and integration of oak which shows up a little on the long, delicious finish. A kitchen sink blend of mostly merlot and syrah. (B+)
#36) 2011 Olivares Altos De La Hoya Monastrell (Jumilla, Spain)… $12.
Aromas of ripe currants and tobacco with a splash of blackberries. Ripe and spicy on the palate without getting heavy. Black pepper and spices show up on the mid-palate with a hit of petrol (very interesting). Finishes with petrol and tobacco mingled with blackberries and currants. There is a charcoal element that lingers on the back-end. (B+)
#35) 2009 Quinta da Bica Colheita (Doa, Portugal)… $13.
I am finding more and more great values out of Portugal for next to nothing for the quality of the wine in the bottle. This is a classic example of what I’ve been running into.
Very meaty on the nose with notes of tobacco, currants and cherries. Nice spicy plum and boysenberry action on the palate with a hint of black licorice and tobacco. Some meat elements show on the mid-palate followed by a little green tea and grip on the finish. Minerals linger in the mouth. The challenge with Portuguese wines is remembering the grapes. This is a blend of Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Tinta Roriz and Jaen (spell check is going nuts here). (B+)
#34) 2009 Pico Maccario Cantamerli (Piedmonte, Italy)… $15.
Rose petal, cedar, cherries and rusty nails on the nose. Deep and rich on the palate (not old world), with notes of black currants and cherries. Silky smooth as it expands into black licorice, black currants and spices on a long finish with spices lingering. A “10″ in the delicious category. 60% Barbera, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. (B+)
#33) 2012 H.I.P House of Independent Producers Cabernet Sauvignon Sagemoor Farms Vineyard (Columbia Valley, WA)… $13
Aromas of cherries and currants with a hit of tobacco. Plush currants on the front of the palate backed by silky tannins. A hit of tomato stem and tobacco joins the currant notes on the mid-palate into the mineral driven finish. This is from a very good vintage out of Washington State and for some reason the cabs I have tasted like this one, are stellar. (B+)
#32) 2011 Casas Del Bosque Pinot Noir (Casablanca Valley, Chile)… $12.
Are you kidding me? A good pinot for less than thirteen bucks? Here it is folks. I am definitely on the Chilean Pinot Noir bandwagon and this little gem strengthens that stand. Aromas of cherries, baked earth, burnt match and a little pie crust element comes through. Fat notes of cherries and strawberries with a solid backbone of acidity which keeps the fruit in balance. The tannins are smooth but they have a slight edginess. The finish shows some rusticity with earth notes coming through and a little white pepper action that lingers. (B+)
#31) 2010 Kyra Dolcetto Purple Sage Vineyard (Wahluke Slope, WA)… $18.
Typically you find Dolcetto coming out of Italy, but occasionally you see domestic vineyards play around with this somewhat obscure variety. Kyra doesn’t just play around with it, she does an excellent job!
Aromas of plums blend with crushed red bricks, rose petal, forest floor and rust notes (love the nose on this little gem). Red berries come through on the palate backed by notes of rose petal and red flowers with a little black olive action coming through. Nice balance of acidity and fruit (this baby screams for some stew or roast beef), with a little white pepper lingering on the long, pleasing finish. (B+)
#30) 2011 Pico Maccario Barbera D’Asti “Lavignone” (Piedmont, Ital)… #13.
Aromas of violets and roses dipped in currant and red plum juice. There’s almost a candied component to the nose with a slight hit of tobacco. Very plummy and smooth on the palate with a backdrop of minerals, black licorice and violets. Licorice and plum notes linger on the finish with a dash of tobacco and spice. (B+)
#29) 2010 Gifford Hirlinger Stateline Red (Walla Walla, WA)… $15.
Rustic on the nose with notes of coffee bean, minerals, leather, meaty cherries and a dash of anise. Plush on the front of the palate with notes of black plums, cherries and underlying chocolate tones. It expands on the mid-palate with a little mineral edge showing up. Finishes with chocolate cherry, black plums and coffee notes that linger for some time. This is a polished and smooth wine with a gritty edge to it. A very well made wine for the price and it hides the 14.7% alcohol. I love finding a wine from the Walla Walla appellation that doesn’t require you to take out a loan to get your hands on a bottle. (B+)
#28) 2011 Dourum Tons de Duorum Tinto (Douro, Portugal)… $13.
Aromas of perfumed red flowers, black plums and blackberries. Round notes of blackberries and cherries hit you on the front of the palate along with red flowers and a touch of rust. Crushed rock notes dominate on the finish with plum and cherry notes lingering on the backside. This little gem satisfies the old world and new world palate and represents another great value from Portugal. 30% Touriga Nacional, 20% Tinta Roriz, 50% Touriga Franca. (B+)
#27) 2012 Domaine De Pouy Cotes do Gascogne (France)… $8.
This is a ridiculous value! I know it’s the dead of winter, but if you are in the mood for a white to remember, this will do the trick and you will have hardly spent anything to experience it.
Very aromatic on the nose of perfumed peaches and tangerines. This baby has a ton of verve in the mouth. A tangerine and citrus medley dances on the palate and then it gets a creamy edge on the mid-palate followed by a finish of tangerine and lime sorbet that penetrates and lingers on the bracing finish. Sometimes it’s hard to do justice to a wine like this in tasting notes. Think oysters on the half shell baby! 65% Ugni Blanc and 35% Colombard (B+)
#26) 2008 Tertulia Cellars Redd Brand Red (Columbia Valley, WA)… $16.
Aromas of meat marinated in cassis, violets and anise with a dash of vanilla and herbs (very interesting indeed). Sage and dark cherry notes blend together on the front of the palate backed by chalky tannins. Tobacco and chocolate come through on the mid-palate flowing into a dark fruit, brooding finish with a little blueberry action on the back-end. (B+)
#25) 2012 Barnard Griffin Fume Blanc (Columbia Valley, WA)… $9.
As far as bang for the buck, Barnard Griffin pumps out some fabulous wines for the money as this Fume Blanc testifies. Aromas of honey and melon with hits of fig, white flowers and apple. Nice acidity on the front of the palate that “pops the notes of
apple, citrus and lemon pith. There is some underlying minerality front to back as it finishes with melon and citrus notes with a pithy edge to it. (B+/A-)
#24) 2010 Rivetto Nebbiolo (Langhe, Italy)…$19.
Aromas of rusty cherries and worn leather. Smooth on the front of the palate with notes of strawberries, blueberries and a dose of raspberries. On the mid-palate, it takes a turn into the old world. Gritty tannins, leather, rust and dirt are thrown into the fruit with a ‘grippy” finish. This is the quirky side of me coming out, but I love this wine and I believe it will come into harmony after about five more years. (A-)
#23) 2012 Willow Crest Sauvignon Blanc (Yakima Valley, WA)… $14.
I have to say that I am really picky about Sauvignon Blanc. This one hit the sweet spot in my opinion. Aromas of grapefruit, grass and a hint of bubblegum. Bright acidity on the palate (which is what I like in a sauv. blanc) with notes of apple and minerals coming through in spades. It shows some creaminess on the finish with hits of pears and minerals and a touch of white pepper that lingers. I love what it delivers for the dollars. (A-)
#22) 2012 Charles Smith Kung fu Girl Riesling (Washington State)… $11.
Bright and aromatic aromas of tangerine, slate, apples and peach…Very mouth-watering. Bracing on the palate with notes of citrus and apples with underlying slate notes. There is a touch of creaminess on the mid-palate, but finishes with mouth-watering citrus, steel and apple notes with a hint of grass. (A-)
#21) 2011 Cedergreen Cellars Sauvignon Blanc (Columbia Valley, WA)… $14. I love to drink sauvignon blanc, but it has to be interesting. This definitely falls into this category. A little stink action on the nose that is joined by minerals, crushed rock and grass notes (I know it sounds weird, but all these come together in a good way). Very interesting on the palate with notes of white pepper, minerals, herbs and grass. Apple notes sneak in on the mid-palate leading into a crisp, mineral and herb driven finish. Love it! (A-)
#20) 2011 Bergevin Lane Linen Red (Columbia Valley, WA)… $12.
A blend of 57% Merlot and 43% Syrah. The Syrah rears it’s head on the nose with aromas of sausage dominating, supported by plums and blueberries. Nice core of solid fruit on the palate. Notes of currants and plums with a backdrop of bacon fat. There is a nice tar edge on the mid-palate with some minerals sneaking in. Finishes clean with notes of blueberries and smoked ham lingering. Nice balance and good structure, this wine screams for some grilled meats or maybe some prime rib. At this price, it’s a steal! (A-)
#19) 2009 Belle Pente Pinot Gris (Willamette Valley, Oregon)… $18.
I’m not sure why they are still on the ’09 vintage, but I guess it doesn’t matter if it’s drinking like this one. Mouth-watering aromas of figs, orange pith and hints of honey. Nice viscosity in the mouth With delicious notes of peach and mango that flow smooth and effortlessly across the palate into a linger finish. This white is dangerous, because it goes down so easy. A “10″ in the delicious category. (A-)
#18) 2011 Foundry Vineyards White (Walla Walla, WA)… $19.
Tropical fruits all over the nose…Mango, papaya, pineapple and fig. Wow! Round notes of figs, mango and papaya on the palate, leaning towards fat but not sweet. Almost lush, with a backdrop of minerality that keeps it in check. White flower notes along with fig shows on the mid-palate flowing into a long finish that dries up a bit with white pepper notes lingering. (A-)
#17) 2012 Ala Vecchia Vermentino Toscana(Maremma, Italy)… $11.
I love Vermentino, it kind of reminds me of Viognier on steroids. It doesn’t get quite as floral and fruity as some Viognier can get.The Ala Vecchia has aromas of peaches, apricots, honey and traces of minerals. Figs, honey and pear notes penetrate the palate start to finish with a delicious intensity and a trace of minerality on the finish. If you want to get a little daring while you’re enjoying your Christmas ham, this would be a nice compliment to the meal. (A-)
#16) 2012 Milbrandt Vineyards “Tradition” Riesling (Columbia Valley, WA)… $11.
This little gem has the beautiful Riesling nose that I am looking for…Petrol (on the diesel side), bright peach and citrus notes with a steely edge. Mineral driven on the palate with notes of melon, honey tangerine and peach pit with a dab of petrol. Nice balance of acidity and fruit, this Riesling is on the drier side finishing with lingering minerality, citrus and apple notes. If you are a Riesling fan like I am, this is quite the bang for the buck. (A-)
#15) 2012 Alexandria Nicole Shepard’s Mark White Destiny Ridge (Horse Heaven Hills, WA)… $19.
Loads of tropical fruits on the nose…Mango, papaya and banana that are quite perfumed. On the palate the notes of mango, banana and papaya come through in spades with a tangerine element hitting on the mid-palate and into the finish. This is a beauty, with nice balance and a light acidity that keeps it from getting fat in the mouth. Great white for turkey or ham. (A-)
#14) 2012 Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand)… $19.
It is no surprise to see a New Zealander in the top 40. They do such a good job with Sauvignon Blanc, and the prices are crazy for the quality you get.
Aromas of grapefruit and grapefruit pith with a hit of sweet peas (seriously, that is what my notes read). Grapefruit and grapefruit rind on the palate joined by notes of cut grass and minerals. A little apple and gooseberry action joins the party in the middle flowing into a clean, long finish. Great balance of acid, minerals and fruit. (A-)
#13) 2008 Foundry Vineyards Fire Red (Walla Walla, WA)… $18.
Aromas of dark cherries, cassis and rose petal, mingled with raw meat and iron. Solid dark cherry notes on the palate mingled with earth, dried herbs and a splash of vanilla. A little black olive element comes through in the middle leading into a little veggie action on the finish joined by leather and a little grip from the tannins. The flavors linger in the mouth. 54% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Malbec, 9% Cabernet Franc. (A-)
#12) 2012 Villa Wolf Pinot Gris (Pfalz, Germany)… $12.
Aromas of Asian pear and honeysuckle. Notes of tangerine, mandarin orange and tangerine hit on the front of the palate with a backdrop of minerals. There is a creamy element that shows up on the mid-palate giving it a nice fullness that leads into the finish of citrus, honeysuckle and white pepper that lingers. The beam of acidity drives the citrus notes front to back. From the famous wine maker Earnest Loosen, this is a stupid price for such a good gris. (A-)
#11) 2012 San Juan Vineyards Chardonnay (Yakima Valley, WA)… $14.
Subtle aromas pears and coconut with a hit of citrus. Nice mouth-feel with pear notes coming in spades joined by kiwi, lemon and minerals. It expands on the mid-palate and finishes long with notes of green apple and pears lingering. Nice beam of acidity start to finish. There is no trace of oak on this baby, I believe Chris (the wine maker at S.J. Vineyards) told me it was aged in neutral oak barrels. The only chardonnay in my top 40 this year…Hard for even me to believe! (A-)
#10) 2012 Waitsburg Cellars “Cheninieres” Old Vines Chennin Blanc (Columbia Valley, WA)… $18.
This is one of three (yes, I said three) Chennin Blancs in my top ten. What’s up with that? It’s simple, Chennin Blanc or Vouvray from France is a delicious white that is quite versatile with food and very interesting when it goes wooly on you, which this one does.
Subdued aromas of wet wool, citrus and fig with a hit of crushed rock. There’s a lot of action on the palate with this wine. Notes of wool, melon and minerals up front with a slight honey edge. An herbal component shows on the mid-palate. Finishes with wool, herbs, minerals, white pepper and citrus peel that lingers. All I could think of while I was drinking this was… Oysters Baby! (A-)
#9) 2010 Chateau Sorbey Vin De Bordeaux (Haut-Medoc, France)… $15.
Aromas of concentrated black licorice, black currants and underlying red cherries with just a hit of raisins coming through. Silky, spicy, polished notes of blackberries and currants up front. It switches gears on the palate with a tannic grip hitting on the mid-palate joined by notes of blueberries and raspberries on the finish with hits of tobacco lingering. This wine has a little Sybil action going on… Starts of with a new world edge and then goes to the old world side. Lay this baby down for about five years and watch all the elements come together. At this price you can probably afford it, and I think you will find stellar results. (A-)
#8) 2012 Kyra Chenin Blanc (Columbia Valley, WA)… $13.
Two of my top ten are from Kyra winery out of Moses Lake Washington. Wine maker Kyra Baerlocher has an incredible touch with her wines and is deserving of more attention then I see her getting. I hope to change that in the near future.
This Chenin Blanc made my mouth water just smelling it with its notes of fennel, wet wool and red apples. Bracing on the palate with cutting acidity that drives the notes of Red Delicious apples across the palate with a touch of wool and fennel on the back-end. The apple notes are prominent and this baby zings across the palate and lingers on the finish, leaving you wondering why you don’t drink more Chennin Blanc (or Vouvray). (A-)
#7) 2011 Kyra Pinot Gris (Columbia Valley, WA)… $13.
Two in a row for the mighty Kyra Baerlocher from Moses Lake. Perfumed notes of pears and minerals with a bright core, come through on the nose. Nice and edgy on the palate with bracing notes of kiwi and apple backed by a steely minerality. Long finish with a hint of peach pit joining the party. (A-)
#6) 2010 San Juan Vineyards Merlot (Horse Heaven Hills, WA)… $19.
I’m pushing the price side on this one, but it well deserves it’s #7 spot. Soft cedar notes come through on the nose along with currants, cassis, vanilla, tobacco and red flowers. Smooth rich currant dominate the front of the palate and then goes to spicy on the mid-palate. It intensifies on the long finish of tobacco, licorice and currants and a touch of leather. Excellent structure with balanced acidity, polished tannins, and an edge of minerals. I’m a huge fan of Washington State Merlot and this is one of the best I tasted this year. (A-)
#5) 2009 Chateau Argadens Bordeaux Superieur (Bordeaux, France)… $15.
Like I said, look for the unclassified Bordeaux from the ’09 vintage, and you will more than likely find a gem like this. Aromas of nutmeg, cinnamon, black tea and blackberries (it’s a beauty). Structured and smooth notes of currants, roasted meats, tobacco and spice notes hit the palate and flow effortlessly into a finish of cherries and tobacco notes that linger around with a touch of spice. This is a crap load of wine for the price, and if I were you I would buy a few extra and lay them down for five to eight years…Ka-chow baby! (A-)
#4) 2010 Barnard Griffin Merlot (Columbia Valley, WA)… $14.
Long time Washington wine maker Rob Griffin hits a lot of home runs, but he is very quiet about it (no performance enhancing drugs here my friend). This Merlot is a stellar example of what Washington Merlot is about for a stupid price.
Warm spice and cinnamon on the nose (it reminds me of passing a cinnabon kiosk in the mall), joined by notes of green tea, currants and a slight hit of menthol. Plush, yet controlled currant notes on the front of the palate joined by warm spices. Black licorice and tobacco notes show on the mid-palate flowing into a finish of leather, currants, and white pepper notes that linger. There is an interesting beam of mint that hides in the background start to finish.
This merlot has a wonderful balance of fruit, acidity and tannins. (A-/A)
#3) 2012 Waitsburg Cellars “Chevray” Old Vines Chenin Blanc (Columbia Valley, WA)… $18.
Very aromatic on the nose with notes of wet wool, fig, melon and hits of cut grass. Creamy and delicious on the palate with notes of topical fruits with a back-drop of honey and a hit of wool. Crushed rock notes hit on the mid-palate (which is very intriguing), continuing into a finish of buttery fig and mango with crushed rock notes lingering. Seamless on the palate and a “ten” in the delicious category along with a very interesting mineral edge. (A)
#2) 2012 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Gris (Willamette Valley, Oregon)… $19.
This might be the highest price wine you will ever see as #2 on my top forty list, but I could not resist the quality of this wine for the price. The aromas “pop” on the nose with notes of pears, peaches and tangerines that make your mouth water. There is a steely edge to this gris on the palate with cutting notes of tangerine sorbet up front. A fruit medley dances on the palate, driven by a beam of acidity that stays in balance with the fruit. There is a little watermelon action on the mid-palate as it zings into a mouth-watering, long, bracing finish that leaves you begging for more. Oysters on the half shell anyone? (A)
#1) 2011 Whidbey Island Winery Merlot (Columbia Valley, WA)… $16.
Forget that stupid movie Sideways (I actually enjoyed it), Merlot lives! Especially on the Right bank of Bordeaux, and in Washington State. Once you put your lips to a glass of this juice, you will understand what I am talking about.
Intense aromas of black licorice, violets and ripe black currants fill your olfactory senses. Black currants and licorice hit with intensity on the front of the palate on sweet, polished tannins. Seamless flow across the palate with excellent balance of acid and fruits. However, it doesn’t go down without a fight, showing a little grip action on the long, delicious and memorable finish. For those of you who still look down on Merlot, I dare you to drink a glass of this and disagree with me on the quality of this juice. When I tasted this, all I could do was say “Wow”. (A)
My list for 2013 is finished. I want you to keep in mind that this is my list, and you may disagree. That is o.k. and to be expected. I only hope, that I can help you find a great wine that is a value. The prices that I quote on the wines is what you should find in most retail stores. You may find some higher or lower, hopefully lower.
I love putting this list together, because I love helping folks find the best for the buck. I stand behind my choices, and I can’t tell you how hard it is to make some of these decisions. I taste a ton of wine over the course of a year, and I would love to give a shout-out to all the great ones I have drunk. NO Can Do. I am looking forward with keen anticipation to the coming year and finding some awesome values.
In the mean time, here’s to great wines and good health in 2014.
Cheers! Stan The Wine Man a.k.a. The Blue collar Wine Guy.