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Posted by Robert Whitley on December 8, 2014 at 5:53 PM

Stocking Stuffers: 20 Under $20

 The gift of wine is always appreciated in these quarters, and now 'tis the season.

My Creators Syndicate Wine Talk wish list of liquid stocking stuffers this year was culled from my tastings of medal-winning wines over the past six months, from the Critics Challenge wine competition in June and the Sommelier Challenge wine competition in September.

I've chosen an assortment of wines that won either a gold or platinum medal and thus earned a rating of 90 points or higher, and all retail for $20 or less, which will make the period of wine gifting a bit easier on the wallet. I've tasted all of the wines and can enthusiastically endorse the decision of the judges in each case.

A by Acacia 2012 Pinot Noir, Carneros ($15) — Stunning pinot noir for the money and a welcome respite from the high-priced blockbusters that are too often overripe and clunky. The sommeliers awarded it gold.

Amalaya 2012 Malbec Blend, Salta, Argentina ($16) — This smooth red took a gold from the critics and a platinum from the sommeliers. This is that increasingly rare inexpensive Argentine malbec that consistently shines.

Banfi 2011 Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($13) — Though best known for its Brunello from the Montalcino district of Tuscany, Banfi has expanded its expertise into the Chianti district and is making remarkable wine for the price. Gold from both the critics and the somms.

Baron Herzog 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles ($13) — This gold-medal winner at Critics Challenge is both kosher and a tremendous bang for the buck.

Beaulieu Vineyard 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($19) — We don't often associate the Napa Valley with great bang-for-the-buck cabernet, but BV's 2012 just might change some hearts and minds as well as turn a few heads. The somms gave it gold.

Bonterra 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County ($15) — More often than not Bonterra gets my nod as the winery with the most undervalued wines. They're first and foremost delicious across the board as well as organic and inexpensive. The somms gave this Bonterra cabernet a well-deserved gold.

Cote Mas 2013 Pezenas, Coteaux du Languedoc, France ($19)
— Domaines Paul Mas is a rising star in the South of France, and this inexpensive Rhone-style blend is one of the reasons for Jean-Claude Mas' growing fame. A platinum-winner at Sommelier Challenge.

D'Arenberg 2012 The Hermit Crab Viognier-Marsanne, McLaren Vale, Australia ($17) — You probably know d'Arenberg best for its superb reds, especially the iconic Dead Arm Shiraz, but the whites aren't too shabby. This white Rhone-style blend impressed the somms enough to bad a platinum medal.

Dr. Konstantin Frank 2012 Gruner Veltliner, Finger Lakes ($15)
— This steely, crisp, mineral-driven white is the real deal, a close replica of the fresh, clean gruners you will find in Austria. If the Zocker gruner isn't the finest in America, Dr. Frank's is. Platinum at the Critics Challenge.

Erath 2012 Pinot Noir, Oregon ($19) — The improvement in pinot noir at this price point is nothing less than astonishing. A gold medal from the critics sends a powerful message.

Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection 2012 Claret Black Label, California ($18) — This Bordeaux-style blend is a beauty. Coppola's wines are on fire, and this is just one of the many Coppola wines that took gold at the Critics Challenge.

Giesen 2013 Riesling, New Zealand ($15) — It might surprise some, but this top-notch sauvignon blanc producer makes a mighty fine dry riesling. Good enough to earn a platinum award from the critics.

Navarro 2013 Muscat Blanc, Anderson Valley ($19.50) — This wine was one of my favorite whites over the past year. It's a dry muscat, which is a challenge to make because they so often turn bitter when fermented to dryness. Not so here. A platinum winner at the Critics Challenge.

Parducci 2012 Chardonnay, Small Lot Blend, Mendocino County ($13)
— This family-run winery has long made outstanding wine at modest prices. Nothing's changed. Gold at the Critics Challenge.

Renwood 2011 Premier Old Vine Zinfandel, Amador County ($19) — This winery is on the comeback trail, and the old vine zin is proof positive. The critics lavished it with gold.

Ruffino 2011 Il Ducale, Toscana IGT, Italy ($18) — An inexpensive "Super Tuscan" is a rare and beautiful thing, especially when it tastes this good. The somms gave it gold.

Sterling Vineyards 2012 Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($19)
— One of the things you might notice about less expensive chardonnay is that it is seldom overdone. This one's a well-balanced gem from one of Napa's top producers, and it got gold at the Sommelier Challenge.

Terra d'Oro 2012 Barbera, Amador County ($18) — The barbera grape does exceedingly well in the Sierra Foothills, and Terra d'Oro takes full advantage. This is a lush red with solid backbone. The critics gave it gold.

Wild Horse 2012 Chardonnay, Central Coast ($18)
— Very impressive chardonnay for the price. The critics gave it platinum. It was perhaps the finest chardonnay I tasted all year in this price range.

Zocker 2012 Gruner Veltliner, Paragon Vineyard, Edna Valley ($20)
— The finest gruner in California and perhaps all of the United States (though Dr. Konstantin Frank in New York's Finger Lakes might have an argument there). Critics loved it to the point of platinum.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru.


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MacRostie Winery, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir Goldrock Ridge 2012 ($54)
I love it when a winery takes a unique lot of fruit from a specific site and sets it apart from their appellation blends for a good reason, not just to have something different to offer, but to show a side of the variety that you might not expect.  This wine delivers a mix of vibrant red fruit, with leaf, cocoa, citrus zest and cigar over racy acidity and a viscous feel that keeps you interested through the second and third sips.  I like this by itself, and I’d pair it a roasted chicken or pheasant if pressed.
93 Rich Cook

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