Sunday, January 5, 2014

Budget Wine Favorites in 2013

It is not that easy to find a decent everyday drinking wine. Of course everybody's taste is different, and none of these are really great wines, but one could never expect that at these prices.  With wine you do not always get what you pay for, but you always pay a premium price for really exceptional wines. Purchase prices and sources are indicated with each listing.  Taking detailed tasting notes is very time consuming for me, and I do not see the point in doing so in this price range, so notes are brief. Being a writer who focuses on reviews of Napa Valley wineries, most of the wines I taste and purchase are from Napa Valley and these wines rarely fall in the budget price range, but you may view these wines here: Favorite Wines from Napa Valley Wineries

Brancott Estate 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand. $8.99 Safeway Pale straw color with a good nose. Dry, crisp and bright on the palate with mostly lemon and some melon. Slight but pleasant freshly mowed grass. Clean finish. Should appeal to those who find some New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs to be too fruit forward, although this certainly has decent fruit.  I've had three bottles now.  Moderately recommended at this price.  You might want to see my previous New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc post at:  New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs

BV 2010 Coastal Chardonnay-$5.99 at Safeway.  Often recommended as a wine bargain, this is a decent enough Chardonnay for the money and the probably the least expensive Chardonnay I can even mildly recommend. For only $2 more, though, you can get the Clos du Bois, which I like much better. Very mild, rather tepid, recommendation at this price if you really can't afford $7.99 for the Clos du Bois.

Castle Rock 2010 Mendocino Pinot Noir-$7.99 Trader Joe's- Not nearly as good as the Castle Rock 2009 Mendocino Pinot Noir which I highly recommended.  I got some cherry and vanilla on the nose.  It was lighter in body than the 2009, had a less substantial mouth-feel and didn't come together as well.  The finish was unpleasant and fortunately short. A second bottle was better but still not nearly as good as the 2009. (I suspect the first bottle was mishandled.)  You take your chances on the 2010 Mendocino. Addendum 5/13/13I've now tried about a dozen of these 2010s and they are all over the map. Some are fairly good and others have been undrinkable but none have been as good as the 2009. I know Castle Rock has an unbelievably huge production.  I doubt that the problem is with them but rather with those who retail their wines.  It appears that some of these are improperly handled. Just be aware that Castle Rock produces huge quantities of Pinot and have a wide distribution.  So the Castle Rock 2010 Mendocino Pinot Noir that one person buys might be totally different than the one another person buys. Obviously it will vary in different areas of the country.  It is a good example, though, of how wines vary, depending on how they are handled by distributors and retailers.  The wine a critic drinks and recommends might be completely different than the one you purchased even though the labels are identical and it is the same winery, varietal and year.  This is a good reason to make purchases from wineries and reputable wine stores.  But in this price range this is not usually an option. You just take your chances.  In 2010 Castle Rock's annual production was a total of 600,000 cases.  That makes it among the largest producers in the U.S.

Castle Rock 2009 Monterey Pinot Noir-$7.99 Trader Joe's. Moderate to full body. Some forest floor. More black cherry than red with some tart plum on the finish.  Good, smooth tannins. Well balanced . Very nice for the price.  I also like the Castle Rock Russian River PN at $20 and the Castle Rock Mendocino PN at the same price as the Monterey ($5.99 to $9.99). When comparing the Mendocino and Monterey side by side, I actually liked them equally.  I've had three bottles of this Monterey now and plan to buy more. (I've had many of the Castle Rock Mendocino Pinot Noir, which is a nice alternative at the same price.)  How does Castle Rock do it? Highly recommended at this price for a PN. Addendum 6/21/13: The 2010 is just as good as the 2009 and, unlike the Castle Rock 2010 Mendocino Pinot Noir, I have not encountered any bad bottles.  It has been consistently decent.

Chalone 2010 Chardonnay-$9.99 at Safeway.  Another one that was recommended as a decent budget Chardonnay by a famous wine critic.  It is a decent $10 Chardonnay, and  I purchase a bottle or two perhaps once a year. I do like the dry flintiness and absence of excessive butter. Mild recommendation at this price.

Cline 2011 Cashmere (Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah)-$14 Cost Plus. Has a good reputation and is fairly good for the price but I'll pass on trying any more. Mild recommendation at this price if you are looking for a Rhone style California wine.

Clos du Bois 2010 Northern California Chardonnay-$7.99 at Safeway.  Very nice for the price and consistent from year to year.  I don't drink that much of this, but I've purchased a bottle or two every year for many years and have never been disappointed. One of the finest budget Chardonnays.  Highly recommended at this price.

County Fair 2010 Flying Pinot Noir-$8.99 Trader Joe's. Deep garnet. Red plum with some mushroom on the nose. Smooth entry of soft red fruit. Well balanced, simple with medium body. Medium length finish with some slightly tart cherry. Despite the silly name, it is not bad at this price. When you first open this wine it might seem too tight and thin.  If it does, then give it some air. Usually it is the big red wines that we think of as needing this, but Pinots also often need air to open up.  Mild recommendation at this price.

Delas Saint-Esprit 2011 Cotes-du Rhone Rouge-French. $9.99 on sale at Cost Plus.  I really liked the 2010 so thought I'd try the 2011.  This one is has a good nose but is a bit rough right out of the bottle.  Decant it or give it some air first.  Mostly black cherry, blackberry and some spice on the palate with blackberry and pepper on the medium length finish.  I gave the 2010 a moderate to high recommendation and it is the better of the two vintages.  I bought a number of 2010s but will not buy any more 2011s and will wait until 2012 comes out. It is not as well balanced as the 2010. This 2011 is only mildly recommended at this price level.

Delas St. Esprit 2010 Cote du Rhone Rouge-Cost Plus $13 sale $10. Very nice for money. Decent fruit. Well balanced. Enjoyable. Tastes like a decent French Rhone and is a very good buy.  I plan to buy more and take detailed tasting notes. Moderately to highly recommended at this price.

DeLoach 2011 California Pinot Noir-$9.99 on sale at Safeway. A lighter style Pinot with lots of strawberry. This one is well balanced and refreshing.  It is not a complex Pinot and you will not think it is from Burgundy.  But for its style, it is very honest and well worth the price.  Some light, fruity Pinots almost taste like Nouveau Beaujolais.  Not this one.  The PN varietal characteristics are quite evident. I'm not sure what the regular price is on this but it is worthwhile at anything less than $15.  There are also a DeLoach 2011 Russian River and a DeLoach 2011 Heritage Reserve that sell for more, but I have not tried these.  I enjoyed drinking this wine and have to give it a moderate recommendation at the price if you like this style Pinot

Dry Creek Fume Blanc 2011-$9.99 Safeway. Pale color with light nose.  Dry, pleasantly grassy and balanced on the palate.  No green pepper. Fruit is fairly good but restrained, more melon than anything else.  Acid good but not lively.  All the components come together which is more than I can say for most California Sauvignon Blancs. Very much in the California tradition but not as good as the Mondavi Fume Blanc, which sells for a few dollars more and is a real bargain.  Mildly recommended at this price.

Epicuro 2009 Salice Salentino-$5.99 Trader Joe's. Good nose of cherry and raspberry. Smooth and fruity w. raspberry entry. Soft tannins, rather simple, light to moderate bodied but balanced. Pleasant, medium length finish.  Decent for the price, but I prefer the Epicuro Anglianico and the Epicuro Primitivo that are both better red wines from the same winery at the same price.  Please see my previous budget wine reviews for descriptions of these two wine bargains. I tried a second bottle of this and it will be my last. Very mild recommendation at this price.

Giesen 2011 Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand-$8.99 Cost Plus. Pale straw color. Light, but pleasant aroma. Fairly dry with a fruity entry of mostly tropical fruit. No grassiness.  Okay finish.  I don't plan to purchase any more. I prefer the Brancott New Zealand SB mentioned above at the same price. A pleasant enough SB, though, so mildly recommended at this price.

Gnarly Head 2010 Malbec-$8.99 at Safeway-Tastes rather like a Malbec.  Okay for the price.  Not many budget Malbecs out there. Mildly recommended at this price.

Gnarly Head 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi-$8.87 Safeway. Pleasant aroma of blackberry and oak. This is a big fruity, rather jammy Zin, mostly blackberry, with some oak, not too high in alcohol (14.5%), and fairly well balanced.  Plenty of  lush fruit. It is ripe and smooth, with tannins being relatively soft and integrated.  Should appeal to those who like a full bodied, fruity but fairly well-balanced Zin.  Might be too jammy for some, but I enjoyed it. It is easy to drink and should go well with BBQs, pizzas, some Mexican food, spaghetti, etc.  Some Lodi Zins I've had have been too high in alcohol, but this one holds its alcohol very well. I'll definitely buy another bottle and add more tasting notes.  The 2010 is moderately recommended at this price but not the 2011. Addendum 1/24/13: Tried a second bottle of the 2010.  Deep, dark ruby color. Got some dark cherry on the nose and palate this time along with the previous blackberry and also some spice on the palate.  Pleasant touch of rusticity. Finish is short.  I also tried the Gnarly Head 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel and did not like it. Lacking balance with too much jammyness overwhelming everything else. I tasted the 2010 and 2011 side by side for comparision, and the difference between them was remarkable.  The 2011 is not recommended. If you like super jammy Zins, though, you might like it. All Gnarly Head wines are worth trying to see if you like them.  They are sometimes amazingly good bargains.

Hess 2010 Select Chardonnay-$8.99 at Safeway or just about anywhere. Fairly decent Chardonnay at under $10. It is widely available and is reliable from year to year. Mildly recommended for the price.

La Ferme Julien Rouge 2012 Rhone Red- French. $4.99 at Trader Joe's. They have a white, rose and red.  Of these, I prefer the red which is  a Rhone blend of Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah.  I'm very fond of Rhone red wines but can rarely find a decent one for under $10.  At only $5 I find this one to be a real bargain.  If you like Rhone wines and are looking for something very inexpensive, this would be a good choice.  I have only tried the 2012 so cannot comment on other vintages.  This is an honest, simple, pleasant every day wine that benefits from a little air.  It is mostly spicy blackberry on the palate, with good body and decent balance.  Highly recommended for a $5 wine.

La Merika 2011 Pinot Noir. $9.99 at Cost Plus. Not bad. Light nose. Medium bodied with plenty of ripe fruit, mostly red cherry.  Somewhat fruit forward for a Pinot. Not very complex, but extremely easy to drink. Good ripe cherry finish of medium length. Should appeal to those who like a smooth, fruity, simple Pinot.  This Central Coast Pinot was rated at 98 and given double gold medals at the 2012 California State Fair International Wine Competition.  It is a good deal at the price, but not a 98 point wine. Worth trying if you like this style Pinot. Just don't expect it to be a complex, elegant 98 point Pinot.  I'm undecided if I'll ever try another bottle. Mild recommendation at this price.
Les Portes de Bordeaux 2012 Sauvignon Blanc-French. $4.99 at Trader Joe's. Grapefruit and citrus with a decent finish. Fairly decent for price, but I don't plan to buy any more.  Mildly recommended for a Sauvignon Blanc at less than $5.

Mezzacorona 2010 Pinot Grigio-Italian. $6.99 at Trader Joe's. Recommended by our local TJ's wine guru and very nice for the price.  Good fruit, decent balance and tastes like a Pinot Grigio.  A winner.  One of the best buys in a white wine. I have had numerous bottles of this. It is very pleasant and I've never grown tired of it. One of the best white wine bargains I've found recently. Very highly recommended for the price.

Panilonco 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Chile-$4.99 Trader Joe's. This seems to be a regular stock item at TJs.  Not much varietal comes through, and it has very little finish, but it is a smooth, rather full bodied, drinkable wine for this price. I wouldn't buy another bottle, but it is very mildly recommended if you are looking for a Cab at under $5.

Piper Sonoma, Sonoma Valley NV Brut-$11.99 widely available. My favorite budget sparkling wine, and I've tried many of them in the $10 to $20 range because I'm very fond of sparkling wine and can't always afford French Taittinger or Schramsberg.  (I'm not going to list all the ones I tried but didn't like.)  On the nose I get green apple and pleasant yeast, more aroma than most budget bubblies.  Palate-wise I get mostly citrus, dry and crisp, but not at all austere and very well-balanced, with more yeast and minerality than most inexpensive sparklers plus more delicate bubbles. This is a real class act in this price range, and I haven't found anything at this price that comes close. The Gloria Ferrer NV Sonoma Brut  is several dollars more and tastes sweeter and fruitier.  It use to be my favorite budget bubbly until I started drinking the Piper Sonoma and now it is hard to go back. I tried the Piper Sonoma Rose bubbly, too, but didn't care for it.  This Piper Sonoma NV Brut is 60% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir and 25% Pinot Meunier. If you find a sparkling wine for under $20 that you think is better, please email me.  Very highly recommended for the price!  

Portico da Ria 2011 Albarino-Spanish. $5.99 at Trader Joe's. Finally a decent, inexpensive Albarino. TJ's hardly ever carries this varietal, much to my disappointment. . It is a wonderful, much underappreciated varietal here in the U.S. but, of course, is well known and appreciated in Portugal. I'm very fond of good Albarinos but rarely find a decent one for under $20 and don't seem to find any for under $10.  Mostly lemon and green apples on the palate, well balanced, this one is a winner at the price and should be selling for at least $10 to $15.  If you have never had an Albarino before, this would be a good start.  If you love pleasant, floral, not too sweet but not bone dry, easy to drink white wines that are not one dimensional you might love this one.  Buy a case before they run out.  I do not know of a better red or white wine deal, and I do not know how long TJ's will carry this. (It is a fairly recent arrival.) Very highly recommended Albarino for the price.

Reserve des Cleones 2012 Muscadet Severe et Maine Sure Lie-$7.99 at Trader Joe's. Muscadet is made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, often referred to as melon.  Pale yellow in color, this one is light, very dry, and crisp with melon and lemon on the palate.  Balance is okay for the price. Short finish. It is not very complex, but if you are looking for a Muscadet to pair with seafood or whatever, this is worth investigating. I doubt I will purchase any more, but I have to give it a mild recommendation at this price.

Saint-Bris Vin de Bourgogne 2012 Sauvignon Blanc-French. $9.99  at Trader Joe's.  A Sauvignon Blanc from Chablis?  Yup.  And very nice for the price.  This one has hints of what premium Sauvignon Blancs offer but costs a fraction of the price.  I've several bottles so far and really like it. Moderately recommended.

Seaglass 2011 Sauvignon Blanc-$9.99 Cost Plus. Pale straw color. Light melon nose. Pleasantly dry but not overly crisp. Melon with some grassiness on the palate rather than grapefruit or tropical fruit.  Light to medium body. Medium finish with some grassiness.  A decent California SB for the price.  I don't think I'll try another bottle. Mild recommendation at this price.

Tarmina 2012 Monastrell-Spain. $6.99 at Cost Plus.  Monastrell is Spanish for Mourvedre, a varietal that is used in French Rhone GSM blends.  Inky purple in color with a decent nose. Full bodied but smooth, jammy and round with lots of balanced dark fruit.  Very appealing and easy to drink for the price.  I'll have to buy some more. Moderate plus recommendation at the price.

Trader Joe's Grand Reserve 2010 Carneros Pinot Noir-$12.99 Trader Joe's-Aroma of red, ripe cherries.  Medium bodied with lush mouthfeel of red cherry and some baking spices.  Extremely well balanced! Medium length finish.  This one tastes like a Pinot that should sell for at least three times the price.  (If I tasted this blind I would think it was one of the better Pinots in the $30 to $40 range.) I like it much better than the decent Trader Joe's Grand Reserve 2010 Russian River Pinot Noir (see below) or the very pleasant TJ's  Reserve 2011 Napa Valley Pinot Noir. It is also a finer wine than any of the Castle Rock Pinots but then most of them sell for almost half the price and are still great buys. This is a fantastic buy!  The best under $20 Pinot I've encountered and a complete winner!!  Very highly recommended!!! Addendum 6/21/13: Long gone. Don't confuse it with others that sound similar.

Trader Joe's Grand Reserve 2010 Russian River Pinot Noir-$12.99 at Trader Joe's.  Decent nose of cherry and vanilla. Somewhat tart red cherry on the palate with medium body. Not much finish.  A fairly good Pinot for the price. (Inexpensive Pinots are usually not very good.)  At under $20 it is worth trying.   Mildly recommended at this priceAddendum 6/21/13: Long gone. Don't confuse it with something that sounds similar.

Trader Joe's Reserve 2011 Napa Valley Pinot Noir- (ABJ Wines, Geyserville) $9.99 at Trader Joe's. Easy to drink and pleasant but somewhat simple and one-dimensional.  One cannot expect complexity, however, in a Pinot at this price level. Well worth it considering that it is a Pinot and under $10.  A great bargain.  My neighbor is a Pinot devote and loves it for the price.  You might too.  I've tried several bottles and they have been consistently enjoyable, especially since I know how much I paid. Highly recommended at this price. Addendum 6/21/13: Long gone. Don't confuse it with something that sounds similar.

Other Budget Wine Reviews may be viewed here:
Budget Wine Review 1
Budget Wine Review 2 Alsatian Gewurtztraminers
Budget Wine Review 3
Budget Wine Review 4
Budget Wine Review 5 Pinot Noirs
Budget Wine Review 6
Budget Wine Review 7 Pinot Noirs
Budget Wine Review 8 New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs
Budget Wine Review 9
Budge Wine Review 10 
Budget Wine Favorites in 2012

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