My friend Ted, who is from the US, now lives in England. I helped Ted a little along his journey when he was just getting into wine, so every now and again he asks me to make some suggestions for him. He’s returning to the US for a long vacation and asked for some suggestions to stock up on for his visit, in the $15-30 range (I assume he’s still familiar with our currency and meant dollars, not pounds—because if so, this list will get even more interesting), with a few even nicer ones creeping toward $50.
I know at home he has access to plenty of French wines, probably at pretty good prices, so we’ll stay away from those. I know he dislikes both Merlot and Malbec, and while finding Pinot Noir drinkable, it isn’t really his favorite. His wheelhouse includes Cabs, Australian Shiraz, and two I’m pretty sure I turned him onto, Old Vine Grenache (we had quite some adventures with Clarendon Hills, which I fear has crept well over that $50 line) and Old Vine Zins.
The first thing I’ll point him toward is a list of under $30 wines that I did about two years ago. My opinion on that list hasn’t changed. In fact, Mollydooker Two Left Feet might still be the best wine on the list, and it’s right in the middle of the price point. It’s also widely-available. I’ll also point him to the list of wines under $15 that I did a few weeks earlier. The wine I’ll point out to Ted off of that list is the Cartlidge & Brown Cab, repeating my assertion that it might be the only drinkable American Cab under $20. Fantastic value. Let’s see if we can make some additions.
Twenty Bench Cab (USA): I’ll caveat this by saying that I haven’t had it in a few years, probably not since the 2005 Vintage. Nonetheless, I found it consistently good at the price point, which back then was just over $20, but doing some research, see that it’s dropped some. Big and tannic, with enough fruit to make it drinkable alone, if I were to have a criticism, it’s that it can be a little green sometimes. No one will confuse it with Harlan or Screaming Eagle, but no one will dump it out, either.
N.V. Graham Beck Brut Rosé (South Africa): Just recently, I posted about a blind tasting of Rosé sparklers, and Graham Beck was the clear winner against offerings twice and three times as expensive. Buy it by the case just to have around.
Liberty School Cab (USA): Every now and again, one of the Monday Night Gamers, Keith, brings a bottle of something for us to enjoy with what we’re cooking. Not that long back, he brought the Liberty School, which I would have never guessed was a straight Cab. Moderate tannins laced around really nice dark fruit, with floral aromatics that suggested to me a healthy blend of Petite Sirah. I think he said he paid $12 for it. Outstanding value.
Le Grand Noir Vin de Pays d’Oc GSM (France): I know I said I’d mostly stay away from France since I’m pretty sure Ted’s access to it is better than mine, but this was another nice little find from Keith. Unmistakably French in its presentation, with the black pepper of the Syrah showing through.
Seghesio Old Vines Zinfandel (USA): Seghesio’s Sonoma County Zin is on the under $30 list, but its big brother is slightly more expensive—and worth every dime. Seghesio produces wonderful wines up and down the line. Its single vineyard Old Vine Zins command higher prices, but I think the blend of vineyards makes a better wine.
Two Hands The Bull & The Bear Barossa Valley Shiraz (Australia): Gretchyn happened to come by this on sale somewhere. Knowing that Two Hands makes spectacular wines, she grabbed it. We were really happy with it. It had all the racy elements we love about Shiraz from Down Under along with a measure of elegance and I dare say restraint. Really nice effort in the mid-$40 range. Even though they’re generally higher than the $50 point, any of the Two Hands cuvees (especially the Gardens) are worth picking up.
Ravenswood Zinfandel Teldeschi (USA): Ravenswood makes reasonable entry-level Zins which I find sometimes just not right. It’s hard to put a finger on it. That said, the Teldeschi is a single vineyard monster that will demand your attention. It has the fruit you want out of a Zin, but an enormous Cab-like backbone as well.
Marietta Cellars Angeli Cuvée: Another one in the price point wheelhouse, this ridiculously-good blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Carignan is simply exciting. Introduced to us by our friend Bill, who happens to be one of the servers at Mise en Place, It tips the scales at a healthy 15%+ alcohol, so you need to let it blow off a little steam before drinking it, but when you do, you’ll be happy with the depth and richness that the blend provides. Marietta Cellars also makes a nice Old Vine Red, which is classic field blend stuff that’s worth every dollar of the 10 to 12 you’ll pay for it.
Bodegas Muga Rioja Reserva Selección Especial (Spain): If it’s any kind of recommendation, we’re taking the 2004 vintage of this with us tomorrow to a Spanish dinner hosted by a couple of friends. When someone who makes high-end wine produces a second tier cuvee, you have the opportunity to drink serious stuff at not-hateful prices. I think you can reasonably find this around $40.
Robert Foley Charbono: This one might not be as widely available as the others, but if you find it, buy it and drink it. Foley makes absurdly good wines in the $100 range. Spend $30 on this and you’ll understand why he can get the dollars for his luxury stuff. While we’re on Foley, if you like the Petite Sirah, his blend called “The Griffin” is about the same price and equally deep, dark, and rich.
Hopefully that’s enough to get Ted well on his way to stocking up the house for his vacation, along with some ideas for everyone else to take some shots on.