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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.

Charles Heidsieck, Champagne (France) Réserve Brut NV ($60, Rémy Cointreau USA)
This wine was re-designed about three years ago, and it is an object lesson in how good the house of Charles Heidsieck has become at every level.  A multi-vintage blend that includes fully 40% of reserve wines, many of them more than 10 years old, it packs one of the most powerful and layered bouquets of any Champagne you can buy at any price.  At the risk of belaboring the obvious, I should observe the word “bouquet” should only be used as a wine descriptor when--as in a floral arrangement--it describes a bundle of many distinct things.  That is indeed the case with the surpassingly complex, layered scents given off by this wine.  The flavors are also very deep, rich and impressive.  Although the wine’s finish isn’t flawed in any way, one must say that it doesn’t quite live up to the aromas and flavors of the wine, though that is really just another way of saying that this is a Champagne that smells and tastes amazing.  I’ve seen it priced below $50 on occasion, which makes it one of the best bargains offered by the entire Champagne region.  More soon on the Vintage Brut 2000 from this house, which is on a terrific tear.
92 Michael Franz

Dr. Michael
This Issue's Reviews
Choosing Wines Today Easy as ABC
Robert Whitley

Walk into any wine shop with a significant inventory and most likely the selection will skew toward wines made from the world's two most popular red and white grape varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. They are often referred to as 'international' grapes because both are versatile and adapt easily to different soils and climates throughout the world, even though historically Cabernet Sauvignon is most closely associated with the Bordeaux region and Chardonnay the Burgundy region - both in France. There is a sentiment, however, among many wine enthusiasts to take the road less traveled and challenge the taste buds with other flavors. Those who choose this path are commonly known as the ABC crowd; ABC as in anything but Cabernet or anything but Chardonnay. That may seem like a diss, but in reality it is a noble quest to expand the palate horizon and appreciate wines made from less familiar grape varieties.
The Geometry of Geology
Wayne Belding

Geologists are map freaks. It comes with the territory. Part of one's training in the field of geology will likely be drawing maps based on observations of the local geology. We can gain a great deal of information from a well-drawn geologic map regarding the history of the area detailed by the cartographer. As we transition to wine geeks, we bring our fascination for maps with us. Pretty as they are…with their bright colors, geologic maps tend to be completely incomprehensible to the uninitiated. Seemingly random patterns and obscure abbreviations abound, and the maps are often quickly relegated back to the bookshelf or for use as an attractive wall hanging.
Wine With
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The first sign of spring in our tiny urban kitchen garden is always the mint. On the first warmish morning this season it started poking bright green dots through the still-frigid damp earth, and by the following day it had shot out an inch of leafy stem. That's the way it is with mint: you can practically sit and watch it grow--and invade your garden. Yes, it can be a nuisance, but good mint is so deliciously refreshing to the palate that we do our best to control its rambunctiousness without killing it off altogether. One of our favorite ways to use mint is in zogghiu, the Sicilian version of pesto. It's said that this minty sauce was originally used by Palermo's fisherman to enhance freshly caught seafood, but it is equally tasty with chicken, and superb with lamb. And it's also a great sauce for pasta, or simply spooned over plain boiled potatoes.
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.