After talking about some favorites under $15, I thought I’d look at the next step up. Obviously, there is a great deal more territory under the $30 trellis, so I’m sure there are lots of favorites out there that I won’t mention. As with the under-$15 list, these are makers who year-in, year-out, consistently produce quality wines.
Bran Caia Tre (Italy): Wine Spectator has discovered this gem as well, putting it at #10 on their 2009 list. A blend of Sangiovese, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s right around $20. Tre, Italian for ‘three,’ refers to the three grapes. Bran Caia’s “Blu” got quite some press—the 2004 got 96 points from Wine Spectator and a #9 ranking in 2006—but also carries a $70+ pricetag.
Casa Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon Cuvée Alexandre Apalta Vineyard and Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay Cuvée Alexandre (Chile): Do not confuse either of these with the cheaper Casa Lapostolle wines. Stick to the Cuvée Alexandre. The Cab tends to express dark fruits and chocolate, while the Chard tends toward a honeyed nose with a nice balance between fruit and oaky flavors. Casa Lapostolle makes some wonderful high-end wines, and I think it’s always a great idea to drink the less expensive stuff from great houses. You can consistently get the Chard just over $15 and the Cab right around $20.
Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen Riesling Eroica (Washington): People are going to get tired of hearing me say that some of the best wines made in this country come from Washington State. We love the balance between the acidity and light sweetness of the wine. Crisp apple and tangy grapefruit flavors, it’s always a pleasure to drink, either as a ‘cocktail’ wine or with spicy food. Around $20.
D’Arenberg Galvo Garage (Australia): We’ve already mentioned that I’ll drink anything that d’Arenberg makes, and the Galvo Garage is one of my favorites. It’s d’Arenberg’s take on a Bordeaux-style blend, using juicy McLaren Vale Cab, Merlot, Petite Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. Right around $25.
Mollydooker Two Left Feet (Australia): I’ve already mentioned Mollydooker when I talked about the best $15 wine ever—and this is made by the people that made that. Another house that makes some ridiculously good high-end wines, when I want that in-your-face, no-holds-barred, as-many-dashes-as-possible style, I turn to Mollydooker. The Two Left Feet is Shiraz, Cab, and Merlot (the beautiful 2009 is 68/18/14%) that captures the rich fruit of the Shiraz, provides it with backbone from the Cab, and mellows it with Merlot. One of the favorite wines in our house, right around $25.
Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc (South Africa): South Africa’s wine gift to the world, Mulderbosch defines Southern Hemisphere Sauvignon Blanc—crisp grapefruit and citrus flavors, generously interspersed with lemon grass. Right around $20. It’d be our favorite (non-Champagne) white wine if not for the Eroica.
Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Noir (Oregon): We discovered Ponzi Vineyards while Disney World’s Artist Point restaurant, which features Pacific Northwest Cuisine and a relatively extensive wine list. Loving the style of Oregon Pinot, we also love the just-under $30 price point.
Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County (California): Not so long ago, this was a $15 secret that we whispered to our friends and bought in bulk. Wine Spectator got a whiff of this 100+ year old winery, and the 2007 Sonoma County Zin made their #10 in 2008, and the 2002 made #11 in 2004. Silky and seductive, it’s still a great value at $25.
Schramsberg Vineyards Blanc de Blancs and Brut Rosé (California): Our favorite American bubbly, Schramsberg’s efforts rival traditional Champagne houses. The Blanc de Blancs always shows a toasty nose and crisp, buttery flavor. The characteristic California Pinot Noir fruit shows through on the Rosé. They’re certainly our favorite ‘value’ sparklers, right around $30.
Terrabianca Campaccio IGT (Italy): This Sangiovese/Cab blend was our house wine for a while. We’ve had some trouble finding it since moving to Florida, which has depleted our stores. Always juicy, featuring soft but refined tannins, it’s the class act of Super Tuscans in the $25 price range.
Torbreck, “The Steading” (Australia): I think this tasting note from says it all: “Black cherries, whip leather, and aromatics on the nose. Fleshy plums, cherries, raspberries, and dark chocolate across the somewhat chewy palate. Medium body, wonderful lingering finish.” Australia’s version of the wines of the Southern Rhône. Getting it under $30 most likely on the case discount.
You could drink sub-$30 wines the rest of your life and never run out of great choices. This is just a jumpstart to a list that could easily be hundreds of wines long—one that we can all have quite some fun exploring.