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Posted by Robert Whitley on May 13, 2015 at 12:58 PM

Great Wine Buys for $15 (Or Less)


Creators Syndicate

I’m frequently asked, particularly at this time of year when weddings and large outdoor gatherings are being planned, to recommend exceptional wines priced for a crowd. The favored price points seems to be $15 or less, so the question on everyone’s mind is what they can get for $15.

As it turns out, plenty. Here are ten rock solid wines that will please even the most discriminating palates and not exceed the $15-per-wine budget.

Banfi 2013 Centine Rosso, Toscana IGT, Italy ($11)
– I refer to this as a baby “Super Tuscan.” It has impressive depth and complexity for a red wine in the price range, and benefits from Banfi’s vast vineyard resources in the Brunello and Chianti districts of Tuscany.

Bolla 2012 Soave Classico DOC, 883 Selection, Italy ($10)
– In recent years Bolla has been one of the most improved wineries in Italy, successfully breaking away from past inclinations to over-crop and produce thin, uninteresting wines. This Soave is a superb summer white.

Carmen 2012 Carmenere, Apalta Vineyard, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($15) – The forgotten grape of Bordeaux, Carmenere has found a home in Chile. In the warmer regions such as Colchagua Valley, it positively thrives. This is a great example.

Dr. Konstantin Frank 2014 Gruner Veltliner, Finger Lakes  ($15) – This region in upstate New York produces some of the finest white wines in America, and the Dr. Frank Gruner is right there at the top. It’s crisp and refreshing, and excellent with steamed or raw shellfish.

Paul Mas Estate 2014 Malbec, Gardemiel Vineyards, Pays d’Oc, France ($13)
– The Languedoc in the south of France is the world’s largest grape-growing region and for years suffered from over-production that yielded mediocrity. The Languedoc has changed dramatically, and there is a new emphasis on the attention to detail in the vineyard that makes for quality in the bottle. Paul Mas is one of the producers leading the charge, and this inexpensive Malbec is testimony to the Languedoc’s ability to deliver exceptional quality at a modest price.

Navarro Vineyards 2014 Pinot Blanc, Mendocino County ($15)
– One of California wines hidden treasures, Navarro is tucked away in western Mendocino County, the Anderson Valley to be precise, quietly making some of the finest wines in America. This Pinot Blanc is a stunner.

Giesen 2014 Pinot Gris, Marlborough, New Zealand ($15) – This family-run winery in Marlborough is best known for its scintillating Sauvignon Blanc and impressive vineyard-designate Pinot Noir, but the Pinot Gris is anything but shy and retiring despite all that competition. This is a mouth-watering example of a white variety that should be more widely planted than it is at the moment.

H & Q 2010 Priorat DOQ, Spain ($15) – The red blends of Spain’s Priorat region can be pricey and no one begrudges that because quality is generally very high, but it’s still nice to see one in that both delicious and modestly priced. The Garnacha in this blend shines through.

Sartori di Verona 2012 Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC, Italy ($15)
– Valpolicella is no longer the stepchild in the Veneto region of northern Italy, where Amarone has long ruled. In the hands of the top producers, the Valpolicella blends now have access to the finest grapes that were once reserved exclusively for Amarone, and the result is some seriously good red wine at prices the average person can afford.

Souverain 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast ($15)
– Over the more than 20 I’ve been writing this column, Souverain (formerly Chateau Souverain) has been one of America’s most reliable value wines. That’s because the longtime winemaker, Ed Killian, doesn’t compromise on quality. It was true then and it is true now. The brilliance of Killian can be found in this bottle. You would be hard-pressed to find a superior $15 Cabernet Sauvignon from California.

Chateau St. Jean, Sonoma County (California) Cinq Cepages 2010 ($75)
Long one of America's brightest lights in red wine, St. Jean Cinq Cepages is a national treasurer so consistently excellent that we almost take its captivating qualities for granted. This Bordeaux-style red blend is unique, too, in that the winery holds it back to give it more time to come together and evolve prior to release. The 2010 is on deck now and it is a brilliant vintage for this iconic producer, showing ripe cassis and blackberry fruit, a touch of oak vanillin, and smooth, supple tannins. The result is another stunning Cinq Cepages for this great winery in the Sonoma Valley.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
97 Robert Whitley

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This Issue's Reviews
 
Lake County's Irrepressible Rise
Linda Murphy

Hail, rain and gusty wind pummeled the white tent pitched atop Obsidian Ridge Vineyard. In mid-May. In a drought. It was surreal, to say the least, for the season, when the valleys below, in Napa and Sonoma, were bone-dry in the fourth consecutive drought. Underneath a tent, Peter Molnar, one of the vineyard's owners, tried mightily to talk over the freakish storm's din, to folks huddled there to learn more about viticulture and winemaking in Lake County. At 2,640-foot elevation, Molnar's vineyard normally would be basking in solar energy in May, its obsidian chunks and shards glinting in the sunlight. But on this day, the storm subdued the obsidian's sparkle and reminded that Lake County, and specifically the Red Hills Lake County AVA in which Obsidian Ridge is located, is not simply a northern extension of the Mayacamas mountain range that give Napa and Sonoma their viticultural personality, but also a distinctive place with terroir all its own.
Bargains Abound in Burgundy--If You Know Where to Look
Michael Apstein

Faced with a shrinking--or at best, not an expanding--supply and a rising demand, what is the Burgundy-lover to do? One solution is to win the lottery and buy the famed examples from Grand Cru vineyards that start at hundreds of dollars a bottle. A better strategy is to search for lesser-known areas, both within and outside of the famed Côte d'Or, where talented producers deliver more than the prices suggests. In these appellations, such as Marsannay, Santenay and Mercurey to name just three, the quality of the wines is rising far faster than their prices. But if history is any judge, these undervalued, lesser-known appellations will not remain unrecognized forever. Just five years ago, the white wines from St. Aubin, a village in the Côte d'Or hidden in a valley behind Chassagne-Montrachet, were selling for about $20 a bottle. Now, as their quality has increased and consumers recognize them, it's hard to find one selling for under $50.
Wine With
WINE WITH…Smoked Salmon with Potato Cakes


When beautiful spring weather finally chased away winter's gloomy chill, we wanted to prepare a dish that would be as light and lovely as the season itself. We were aiming for something relatively effortless, and that would call for doing most of the prep work in advance (giving us more time to spend out in the garden!). The dish we came up with exceeded our expectations in every way, from the charm and simplicity of the ingredients, to its delicately nuanced flavors and textures. The convenience of making the potato cakes in advance was a definite bonus. We enjoyed this dish as a light supper main course accompanied by a simple green salad, but it could also play a starring role at a brunch or a summery luncheon.
On My Table
Flavorful, Fun, and Comestible-Friendly
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

Bonny Doon Vineyard, California, 'Gravitas' 2014 ($16): Just look at the price and you know that this wine is not positioned in what marketers call the 'aspirational' category -- wines that people aspire to own but can't really afford. But the wine itself does have aspirations. Specifically it considers itself the antithesis of the typical affordable New World white wine. In fact, it is a very good wine and not at all a typical California white. This new white is a companion to the red wine, 'A Proper Claret,' released by Bonny Doon Vineyard in the 2012 vintage. Like the red, the label depicts a fusty Englishman circa early 20th century, who espouses what would now be considered antiquated notions about how wine should taste. Except that some wine drinkers agree with those notions, including, obviously, winemaker Randall Grahm, the alter-ego of the stuffy old Englishman named Reginald.