Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.
—The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
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(greyed-out entries are yet to come)
Some Personal Favorites
About This List
I often wonder what the vintners buy . . . .
If we have skills, those are not primarily as wine tasters and evaluators ourselves; rather, our expertise, assuming we have any, is in "meta-review"—searching the work of many other tasters and evaluators to see where there seems to be consensus on good wines (within our self-imposed price limit of not over $20).
Nonetheless, it is inevitable that anyone visiting a site like this must wonder what the webmasters themselves find appealing in the wines they present. So, we have made this list. It is important, as we discuss more fully on our page about published wine reviews, that you keep in mind not only what limitations the reviewers (here, us) may have, but also that different people have different preferences. To belabor the obvious, Wine A may appeal strongly to us and Wine B not so much, whereas you might love B and scorn A—even if both are widely reckoned very good or even excellent wines. The difference would be the wines' styles and your and our preferences in style.
A side note: for not a few varietals, our current preference is tentative, meaning that while we liked them, there are still a fair number of candidates that we haven't yet gotten round to sampling, and we mark those choices accordingly. What we do not do, however, is list any wine just to fill in a varietal; if, for a given varietal, no specimen we have tried so far has really appealed to us, we just leave that varietal off this list as if we hadn't tried any of it at all yet. For most varieties, we list only one choice, for simplicity's sake (occasionally two if, for example, there are strongly differing styles, as with oaked Chardonnay and unoaked Chablis chardonnay).
Also for simplicity, we do not present any evaluations of our own, unless they seem especially germane; the mere fact of selection is, we feel, sufficient comment. In any event, though, each of these wines appears on the page for its type (in the list, each wine type name is a link to the page here on that wine, where you can find discussion of the type plus all sorts of quotations about the particular wine.
The wine names are almost all links to tabulations of individual consumers' comments on the wine as posted at CellarTracker, a popular forum. (In the rare few cases where there are no posted comments there, the link is to some other ideally germane note on the wine.) We do not necessarily agree with all of those comments (which, in any case, often disagree considerably among themselves), but you can see what actual non-professional consumers have had to say.
One final note: we were amazed, as we compiled the list, how very often we kept saying, with only slight variations in phrasing, "This is yet another sadly little-known and under-appreciated varietal." There are so very many wonderful and distinctive wine types out there that many wine drinkers just don't hear about. (We modestly hope we can help steer you to some of them.)
Very well, then, let's cut the cackle an' get to the hosses.
Gaia Notios Red ($11 - $17); tentative choice.
Caparone ($16 from the winery with generous quantity discounts available and remarkably reasonable shipping). The Caparone Winery is one of the best-kept secrets in this country (especially as to their Italianate types).
Martin Codax Burgans ($10 - $19); tentative choice.
Domaine Eugene Carrel et Fils Roussette de Savoie Altesse ($13 - $19); tentative choice.
Hatzidakis Santorini ($16 - $21). Our sample changed character quite significantly after being open an hour or two: from the usual modest fruit, acidity, and minerality, it blossomed into substantial richness and depth, an almost unctuous quality that is unusual for this variety.
Rocca Felice Barbera d'Alba Superiore ($10 - $15); tentative choice.
Zuccardi "Serie A" ($13 - $16); tentative choice.
Sottimano 'Mate' ($14 - $21). Initially "rosy" as advertised, but with open-bottle time becomes less rosy but somewhat deeper.
Old World style:
Joel Taluau "L'Expression" St.-Nicholas-de-Bourgueil ($13); tentative choice.
Caparone ($16 from the winery with generous quantity discounts available and remarkably reasonable shipping). The Caparone Winery is one of the best-kept secrets in this country.
Anakena Carmenere Tama Vineyards Selection ($13 - $14); tentative choice.
Tasca d'Almerita Tascante "Buonora" Carricante Terre ($17 - $24); tentative choice. This old wine type has so newly re-emerged that even The Oxford Companion to Wine has no entry for it.
Jose Maria da Fonseca Periquita; very tentative choice. The problem is just which Fonseca Periquita one is drinking: there are three, with differing degrees of Castelão in them (Original, 72%, $6-$12; Classico, 100%, $8-$10; or Reserva, 45%, $11-$19). But all are good drinking.
oaked style - Edna Valley ($7 - $18).
Chablis - Jean-Paul & Benoît Droin Chablis ($18 - $27).
Monmousseau Vouvray ($11 - $17); tentative choice; note that this is the J. M. Monmousseau Vouvray, not any of the Alexandre Monmousseau (aka Chateau Gaudrelle) Vouvrays.
Birichino "Bechthold Vineyard" Old Vine California Cinsault ($18 - $33); tentative choice.
Zenato Valpolicella Superiore ($10 - $17); tentative choice.
Steele Writer's Block Counoise ($14 - $16); tentative choice, but there aren't a lot of monovarietal Counoises to choose from at least at under $20. It'll be hard to beat this delightful rendition of this Rhône varietal.
Mastroberardino ($15 - $20).
Cousiño-Macul "Isadora" Sauvignon Gris ($10 - $18); tentative choice. French versions are typically named "Fié" (or "Fié Gris") while South American renditions tend to call the grape (and wine) "Sauvignon Gris", though that is a guideline, not a hard and fast rule. Either way, it's an interesting and distinctive wine.
Castillo de Monseran Carinena ($6 - $19); tentative choice. And at under ten dollars. Wow.
Zind Humbrecht ($18 - $30). The famous Trimbach is a close runner-up here, and the distinction may be a matter of personal style preference. To us, the ZH seemed a little fuller and more expressive of the type.
Vinos Sin-Ley 2006 GRA2 "Traza" ($10 - $17). VSL has now ceased making two kinds of Graciano, and thus the most recent vintages drop the "GRA2" designation (GRA1 was always hard to find anyway). This particular wine, and even this type in general, seem woefully little-known and under-appreciated, which is a shame; don't miss out on Graciano.
Terredora Greco di Tufo Dipaolo "Loggia della Serra" ($15 - $23); tentative choice.
Domaine des Cassagnoles Gros Manseng Reserve Selection, Vin de Pays des Cotes de Gascogne ($11 - $14); tentative choice. We need to try several more, but if anything materially beats this one, we'll be surprised (pleasantly, but surprised). Another undeservedly little-known varietal.
Gobelsburger Kamptal ($13 - $19). The most pleasing so far for this variety we think generally over-rated.
Bodrog Bormuhely Dereszla ($22); tentative choice; this is over our nominal $20 price limit, but this varietal is hard to find, especially so for decent, non-sweet bottlings (Patricius, not yet sampled, is about the only plausible alternative).
Fekete Bela ($22 - $29, hard to find, try Blue Danube or K&L). This is a thoroughly unusual, love-it-or-hate-it varietal, characterized by a sort of turpentine quality (which is much more appealing than it sounds), slightly sour and almost oily. "Savory and smoky" it says on the label, and that's about right; powerful. Over our price limit, but, to its partisans, well worth it.
Kiona ($10 - $15). Never a profound wine, but always a good drinker; suitable for strong foods against which a subtle wine would fight a losing battle.
Porto Carras Limnio ($15 - $21); this is Hobson's Choice for Limnio in the U.S. (and scarce at that), except perhaps for the listing just below, also included under this wine-type heading. This specimen is roughly like a light Pinot Noir or a Gamay, which the next was not (to us).
Zafeirakis Limniona ($19 - $24). Whether "Limniona" is a different grape from "Limnio" is a matter of some controversy, as is whether the Zafeirakis Limniona is a worthy wine. While we agree that it is not terrifically distinctive—one is unlikely to taste it and call out "Oh, yes, Limniona"—it seemed thick and rich enough to be a pleasant change now and then. (Don't confuse this with the rosé Zafeirakis makes from the same grape.)
Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos Loureiro ($9 - $16); tentative choice. Regrettably, it seems that many amateur reviewers assume that every inexpensive Vinho Verde must be nothing but a casual "summer sipper", and one tends to find what one looks for. But pay attention to what you're drinking and (we feel) you'll be rewarded. The Loureiro grape doesn't get enough respect, possibly because it is rarely bottled as such, but rather as a blending ingredient in Vinho Verde wines (the name does not refer to the color but to the wines' youth and hence freshness—there are, though scarce, red "tinta" Vinho Verdes). But Loureiro is a fine grape that can make elegant wine when handled with respect, as in this specimen. Note! Be sure to include the "Loureiro" when searching for or ordering this wine, else you may get Mendes' Albariño Vinho Verde or his "Eschola" blend.
Gerovassiliou Malagousia ($8 - $14) tentative choice.
Zuccardi "Serie Q" Malbec ($14 - $24) tentative choice. We haven't tried their slightly lower-tier "Serie A", but it's probably pretty good, too.
Birichino ($14 - $21). This wine is from the same vineyard as the Bonny Doon Malvasia Bianca (which, regrettably, is no longer made), and is made by some of the same people who used to make it there. It is a fine wine from an under-appreciated grape; you have to take Malvasia for what it is, which is a quite distinctive quality, and not try to interpret it as if it were a poor man's version of some other more common grape. It has a profoundly floral nose that suggests it will be rankly sweet goop, but it is in fact bone dry and always, above all, itself (as this rendition is).
Marc Ollivier Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie ($10 - $30). Ollivier makes quite a few Muscadets: this is the basic "Sur Lies" bottling. Muscadet (a regional name for wines from the Melon grape) has, like Picpoul de Pinet, one basic job in life: to be crisply acid with deep minerality, and this one is, as the old saying puts it, as good as many and better than some.
Losada Vinos de Finca "El Pajaro Rojo" ($12 - $20); tentative choice. Mencia is another seriously under-appreciated variety, which fortunately allows terrific bargains like this specimen (though there are a good number of competitive others).
alternative:Columbia Crest "Grand Estates" ($7 - $10) — if a Caparone order is inconvenient for you, this is an amazing wine, for its price or for a lot more; very fleshy and chocolate-y, but with depth and power.
Duck Walk Vineyards ($9 - $12). An extraordinary wine made doubly so by the low price. Yet another fine varietal under-appreciated through lack of exposure.
Domaine Jean Vullien et Fils St-Jean de la Porte Mondeuse Vin de Savoie Mondeuse Noir ($13). There is not a lot of Mondeuse available in America, which is a crying shame. It gets repetitious: another wonderful quasi-unknown grape variety available at risible prices.
Citra Montepulciano ($5 - $7); tentative choice. There are many very modestly priced Montepulciani, and this one wins so far as much as anything else because it is about the cheapest of the cheap (you can buy a magnum for $8 or $9) while still having definite virtues. Indeed, while Montepulciano may make an excellent bargain wine, it is very far from being plonk—top-line specimens surpass the triple-digit price mark (as with Emidio Pepe Montepulciano D'abruzzo 2001 at $105 the bottle, or the 1982 currently at $220). We quite agree with Loren Sonkin:
The fact of the matter is that I have never tasted a poor Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. The grape lends itself to making quality wines at every price point. If you see a bottle in the grocery store, try it. If you want to explore what heights this grape can reach in the hands of a master producer, pick up a bottle from one of [Illuminati, Cataldi Madonna, Faraone, Umani Ronchi, or Valle Reale]. I think you will be happy.
Juan Gil Jumilla ($11 - $20); tentative choice. Another example of the remarkable bargains available in Iberian wines. (This maker has several similarly named wines; this is the basic Jumilla, which is 100% Monastrell.)
Skouras ($10 - $22).
Bodegas Juan Gil Moscatel Seco ($8 - $12); tentative choice. It's hard to find a really dry "dry" Muscat, but this one is, while yet presenting the rich qualities of this arguably most distinctive of all grape types.
Caparone ($15 - $20, or $16 from the winery with generous quantity discounts available and remarkably reasonable shipping). The Caparone Winery is one of the best-kept secrets in this country. This is arguably the best Nebbiolo in the western hemisphere, and competitive with many Old World bottlings.
Castello Monaci Maru Negroamaro ($9 - $16); tentative choice. Negroamaro, when not "internationalized" (read "Parkerized") can be a most distinctive and pleasing wine that occasionally reaches the heights. We have lots more candidates to try, but this one was quite nice.
For this varietal, multiple choices: two eminently polished versions, plus a slightly more rustic one with charms of its own for when a simpler wine might be wanted. The two polished wines, equally good if just slightly different in style, are Valle dell'Acate "Il Moro" Nero d'Avola ($18 - $25) and Principi di Butera Nero d'Avola ($12 - $22); the slightly simpler "little brother" to Il Moro is the Valle dell'Acate "Case Ibidini" Nero d'Avola ($12 - $16).
Ruca Malen Reserva ($13 - $21); tentative choice. Since the loss of our beloved Escafeld Petit Verdot, we have been hunting for a replacement; this one is a good start. Well-made monovarietal Petit Verdot at a reasonable price is scarce stuff, which is a shame because, when made with respect, this is an awfully good (and insufficiently known) variety.
The Crusher [76% Petite Sirah, 13% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Tinto Cao, 2% Souza, 2% Touriga Nacional] ($9 - $16). Petite Sirah is not a noble variety, but this PS-dominated blend is just terrific easy drinking, fun all the way down the bottle. (It can, however, be argued that at 76% PS, this should really be classed a blend rather than a PS specimen; in that case, probably right now Bogle would become our PS choice.)
Hugues de Beauvignac Picpoul de Pinet ($7 - $12). Picpoul is sometimes called "the Muscadet of the south", and this one delivers its promise: steely, mineral-driven acidity with enough fruit to lighten it.
La Sibilla "Campi Flegrei" ($17 - $23); tentative choice. The fortunes of Piedirosso have risen dramatically in recent years, and it is now a wine To Be Taken Seriously—though, remarkably, its prices by and large remain reasonable. This was our first go at it; it is good enough to list here, but we suspect it will be displaced as we try more specimens. Kyle Phillips has a thoroughly read-worthy article on the type.
Willow Crest ($10 - $17). A thoroughly satisfactory rendition of the fruitier style, with decent acidity to balance the characteristic "creamy" base, better by far than the gallons of weak plonk marketed under that name.
Edna Valley Vineyard Paragon ($12 - $20). The phrase "bargain Pinot Noir" is an oxymoron. This specimen probably comes as close to that target as is practicable; still, a very tentative choice.
Fairview Pinotage ($11 - $15); tentative choice.
Lirica Plavac Mali ($13 - $20); tentative choice.
Bénédicte & Stéphane Tissot Arbois Poulsard ($19 - $29; only this and the Rolet Poulsard make our price range, and both only barely). Another fine but little-known varietal—very much like drinking apples (not apple juice, just apples).
Cave du Vin Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle "Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle" ($18 - $20); tentative choice. The label gets confusing: the wine type is Prié Blanc, but the wine made from it is called Morgex (shades of Altesse and Roussette). The "wine maker" is a regional co-operative named "Cave du Vin Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle", and the wine itself is, in its full title (which is a legally protected designation) "Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle". So in essence, the name in full amounts to Makers of X Wine's "X Wine". Oh, and the basic wine is not the same as the "Vini Estremi" bottling. There will be a quiz in the morning.
Le Carline ($10 - $16); tentative choice.
Trimbach ($11 - $18). This is a classic Alsatian dry Riesling from a classic Alsatian vintner; if you want a slightly less-dry Riesling, look below; this one is for people who like their table wines dry.
Gentilini Robola ($15 - $25); tentative choice, though there are only three or four Robolas available at all in the U.S. and most sources seem to rank Gentilini best.
Ameztoi Rubentis Getariako Txakolina ($16 - $31). The number of rosés is seemingly infinite, and lacking any clear "standard", personal tastes vary immensely; we found this pétillant Basque wine to fit ours to a T.
Novelty Hill Roussanne ($17 - $23); tentative choice. Alexandria Nicole's "Shepherds Mark" is also a very good wine, but being only 68% Roussanne (with 16% Marsanne & 16% Viognier), it really needs to be classed a blend.
Montalbera "La Tradizione" Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato ($17 - $24); tentative choice; there are surprisingly many bottlings available for such a little-known (but thoroughly delightful) variety.
Caparone ($16 from the winery with generous quantity discounts available and remarkably reasonable shipping). The Caparone Winery is one of the best-kept secrets in this country, and most especially their three Italianate wines.
Pheasant's Tears Saperavi ($17 - $20); tentative choice. This is a remarkable wine: explosive deep fruit and richness; not a lot of complexity, but a lot of pleasant drinking. The explosiveness of this wine seems a result of this particular winemaker's vinification, but the variety is distinctive and well worth trying (and having around).
Kim Crawford ($10 - $24). Our favorite white wine; despite a very definite SB character, it has subtlety and depth. We like it by itself or with most white-wine foods; for especially agressive foods, we go instead to the wine below.
Darting Durkheimer Fronhof Kabinett Scheurebe ($18 - $21); tentative choice. Scheurebe is a pretty exciting wine, but finding reasonably dry table-wine specimens at reasonable prices is quite a search (because, as Martin Amis famously remarked, "A German wine label is one of the things life is too short for," parodying Goethe's "Life is too short to drink poor wine.") This example is plenty good enough to list here for now, though there are possibly better.
Tyrrell's Old Winery Sémillon ($13); tentative choice. Clearly, the Australians know what to do with thias grape, which is more than most American wineries do.
Wimmer-Czerny St. Laurent ($21); very tentative choice (and over our $20 price limit). St. Laurent is clearly an important variety; we just need to taste more to find one we like at under $20.
Roederer Estate Brut, Anderson Valley ($16 - $25).
Purple Star Syrah ($16 - $20); very tentative choice. Syrah can achieve stupendous heights, but at stupendous prices. For a reasonably priced specimen, we are so far quite content with this, which shows typical Syrah character.
Pisano Tannat RPF (Reserva Personal de la Familia) ($20); tentative choice. The class of the field is said to be the Tannats from the H. Stagnari winery, but they seem unfindable in the U.S. Meanwhile, this specimen was a tad better than some others we've tried, but the door remains open.
Tamaral Ribera del Duero Roble ($11 - $20); tentative choice. Really first-class Tempranillo is superb but expensive. What can be found at risible costs is, however, still surprisingly good. This one is the best of the several we've tried so far, but there remain a good number of 90+ (by someone's reckonings) Tempranillo wines under $20 for us to try.
Carlos Pulenta Tomero Clasico Torrontes ($11 - $16). We find Torrontes an exciting varietal, but too much of what one finds is bland plonk that slanders the type; the Tomero, however, conveys the excitement well.
Quinta De Ventozelo Touriga Nacional Douro ($18 - $24); very tentative choice. The TNs we've tasted to date (and that's not a lot) do seem to be quite drinkable without being sit-up-and-blink good; we suspect that those wine writers who think Portugal's wine future lies in its traditional blends—where, as with Bordeaux, strengths in one ingredient can cover holes in another—rather than "internationalized" monovarietals are correct. But this is still good drinking.
Viñedos de Nieva "Blanco Nieva" Verdejo ($13 - $18). This specimen is an excellent vehicle to communicate the virtues of this charming grape.
Zudugarai "Amats" Getariako ($13); tentative choice. This listing is an oddball: Txakolina is not a grape, it is a generic Basque type of wine (see the full Txakolina page here for details). Our selection, however, happens to be 100% Hondarribi Zuri.
Tyrrell's Old Winery Verdelho ($13); tentative choice. Another charming grape well conveyed (but we have as yet to give Mollydooker's "The Violinist" its shot at this variety).
Plantaže Vranac ($7 - $13); tentative choice.
Weingut Stadlmann Anninger ($12 - $22); tentative choice. Still a lot of Zierfandler to try, but this was good enough to list for now.
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