Wine shelves all over the country are jammed with countless selections and choices are so varied it can be dizzying. With that in mind, I’m here to help you work your way through the haze of bottles. I tasted through more than three dozen wines across all price ranges and stylistic tiers, and here are my 11 favorites from the bunch.
Hugel et Fils 2012 Gentil ($15)
This vintage of “Gentil” blends together pinot gris (23 percent), pinot blanc (21 percent), riesling (20 percent), sylvaner (20 percent), gewurztraminer (14 percent), and muscat (2 percent). Fermentation took place in temperature-controlled vats. It was gently fined and filtered prior to bottling. Lychee fruit aromas dominate the inviting nose of this French blend. “Gentil” has a palate stuffed with white and yellow melon, peach, and apricot flavors. Bits of honey and white pepper emerge on the finish. This is a fresh, direct wine loaded with fruit and lively acid. It’s uncomplicated and goes down easy.
Santa Rita Medalla Real 2012 Sauvignon Blanc ($17.99)
The fruit for this wine was sourced in Chile’s Ledya Valley. After fermentation, it sits on its lees for four months in stainless steel. A horn-o-plenty of citrus aromas explodes from the nose of this sauvignon blanc along with bits of Mexican vanilla bean. Green apples, continued citrus and spices galore are in evidence on the light bodied palate. Lemon ice, grapefruit, pepper and mineral characteristics are all evident on the above average finish of this sauvignon blanc. Chile has numerous distinct regions that can grow great sauvignon blanc and produce a variety of styles. Here’s but one example, and a delicious one at that.
Fritz Cellars 2012 Jenner Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($18)
The fruit for this wine came entirely from the cool Sonoma Coast Appellation, which has become well known for Burgundy varietals. Barrel aging occurred over 10 months in a combination of new (15 percent) and neutral (85 percent) French oak. A huge burst of varying apple aromas emerge from the nose along with a wisp of crème fraîche and vanilla bean. The palate is studded with pure, unadulterated orchard fruit flavors. Limestone character leads a selection of mineral characteristics on the finish which is joined by lots of lemon zest. This is a clean, refreshing and straightforward chardonnay loaded with pure fruit.
Orin Swift 2012 China Doll Rosé ($19)
This wine blends together grenache and syrah. It was aged over 8 months in a combination of stainless steel and French oak barrel. Strawberry aromas underscored by bits of orange zest are in evidence on the nose. The palate is filled with a bevy of bright red fruit flavors such as cherry, wild strawberry, and to a lesser degree, raspberry. Bits of bay leaf and unctuous fruits such as ripe red cherry fill the long finish. Cinnamon characteristics are present as well along with some crème fraîche. This is a delicious and refreshing wine that is really difficult to stop drinking. The good news is, you don’t have to; in fact, the 2013 vintage should be along any moment now.
Pedroncelli 2012 Dry Creek Valley Bushnell Vineyard Zinfandel ($20)
The fruit for this wine comes from a vineyard that has been in the winery’s family for over 50 years. It’s composed entirely of zinfandel. Barrel aging took place over 12 months in American oak; 30 percent of them were new. The moment you pour this zinfandel, your eyes will be glued to the beautiful, deep purple hue. Bramble and vanilla aromas waft from the nose. Oodles of dark, dried fruit flavors including blackberry, raspberry, and mission fig dominate the deeply layered palate. Bits of earth, chocolate, and spices emerge on the long finish. Medium tannins and firm acid provide great structure. This is a great example of a classic old-school zinfandel, It’s perfectly dry, beautifully structured, built for food, and has the ability to age. Pedroncelli are masters at turning out approachable zinfandels at more than reasonable prices. Year after year their larger production “Mother Clone” zinfandel is a remarkable bargain for those looking for a great everyday zinfandel. Drink it side by side with this one for a real treat.
Ventisquero 2012 Grey Single Block Pinot Noir ($23.99)
This is a single-vineyard wine; all of the fruit (100 percent pinot noir) was sourced at the La Terrazas Vineyard in Chile’s Ledya Valley. After 12 months in new (15 percent), once used (30 percent), and a third use (55 percent) French oak barrels, it was bottle-aged for six months prior to release. The super fragrant nose of this pinot noir features wild strawberry, cinnamon, and cherry aromas. Black cherry and bits of mushroom are present on the medium weight palate. Black teas, bay leaf, cranberry, and mineral elements as well as fine grained bits of earth all emerge on the impressive finish. Firm acid and medium tannins both lend to the lovely mouth-feel. This wine is a good example of why pinot noir is one of the most exciting varietals coming from Chile these days. They’re producing them in a variety of styles and the values are incredible.
Collazzi Libertà 2012 Toscana IGT ($23.99)
This Tuscan wine blends together merlot, syrah, and a little bit of sangiovese. The vines sourced for this wine had an average age of 15 years on them at the time of harvest. The Collazzi, which was purchased by the Marchi family in 1933, sits in the heart of Chianti Classico. It was aged over 10 months in a combination of stainless steel and barrel; two months of bottle aging followed. Vanilla bean and black fruit aromas waft from the nose of this Italian blend. The palate is stuffed with a mixture of strawberry, cherry, and what can only be properly described as oodles of earthiness. Bits of green herb, smoked meat, chicory and crushed velvet emerge on the long and persistent finish. Firm, drying tannins and racy acid are present. This wine loves food and food loves it back. If you’re looking for a terrific wine to pair with Sunday dinner, look no further. I went back to this wine after it had been open about 30 hours and it was even more expressive, giving, and charming. Buy a case of this and drink it all holiday season.
Dry Creek Vineyard 2011 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (Suggested Retail Price $25)
The fruit for this wine is all from Dry Creek Valley. In addition to cabernet sauvignon (85 percent), Merlot (11 percent), Cabernet Franc (5 percent), and Malbec (1 percent) were blended in. It was barrel-aged over 18 months in a combination of French, American, and Hungarian Oak; 30 percent of the barrels were new. This wine is widely available across the country. Dry Creek Valley is well known for the best zinfandel in the world and excellent sauvignon blanc. They have a few other secrets and really good cabernet sauvignon at great prices is one of them. Red fruit and tea leaf aromas emerge from the nose here. Currant, sage, thyme, and red cherry are all in evidence on the smooth and somewhat gentle palate, which reveals layer after delicious layer of elegant flavor. Sour cherry and mineral characteristics are part of the finish which has good length. This is a terrific, food friendly, example of cabernet built to drink now or over the next four or five years.
Cune 2009 Rioja Reserva ($28) This winery has been managed and operated by the same family since 1879. They own and farm more than 1,400 acres and produce wine as three distinct wineries. The 2009 Reserva is predominately tempranillo with small amounts of mazuelo, graciano and garnacha blended in. Rose petals, leather and spice aromas fill the nose of this rioja. The palate is filled with a cornucopia of fresh, red fruit flavors. Strawberry and raspberry characteristics are dominant and lead the layered, elegant, and complex mélange of flavors. The finish is velvety with crushed cherry, cinnamon, cloves, and minerals to spare. Medium tannins and firm, racy acidity mark the structure of this reserva. It offers incredible depth, elegance and overall quality in the under $30 category. Wines like this are what made Rioja a household name for those looking for wines that over deliver in QPR.
Berlucchi Franciacorta Brut DOCG ($34.99)
This sparkling wine from the Franciacorta DOCG is composed of pinot noir (55 percent), and chardonnay (45 percent). It was produced utilizing the metodo classico. Rose petals, wild strawberry, and a hint of vanilla bean burst from the nose. Bits of bay leaf join a myriad of dried cherry and other red fruit flavors on the palate which has nice weight. White pepper and crème fraîche are part of the substantial finish. If you want a wine to impress friends with over a casual brunch or lunch, this would be a great bet.
Davis Bynum 2012 Jane’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($35)
Eight clones of pinot noir all grown in Jane’s Vineyard are utilized for this pinot noir. Fermentation took place with native yeasts. Aging occurred over 10 months in entirely French oak; 30 percent of them were new. Red cherry, earth, and savory herbs appear on the pleasing nose of this single vineyard pinot noir. Ripe wild strawberry leads a palate that is stuffed with appealing red fruit flavors as well as cinnamon and clove. Graham cracker crust, minerals, and tea characteristics are all present on the lengthy finish. This wine has persistence, grace, precision and depth. It’s a singular expression of pinot noir from a special place and also singularly delicious.
You can’t go wrong with any of the selections above. Pick the ones that sound the most appealing, that fit your mood, or match what you’re going to eat. Many of them will age well for a few years, but they’re all ready to be devoured now.