Top 100 Best Buys of 2005

Top 100 Best Buys of 2005

High quality, low price – that’s a common slogan in advertising, but at Wine Enthusiast it is also a precise formula: We use that ratio to help our readers stock their cellars with the best wines available within their budgets.  More than 800 wines this year received the coveted Best Buy moniker, a designation that catches the eyes of even the most financially comfortable readers.  These chosen 100 represent the best of the Best Buys, offering outstanding quality for their modest price tags.  With more than half of the list $10 or less, it will confound those who assume that a single-digit price tag must necessarily represent poor quality. 

Here you’ll find wines for every occasion, and that includes when company is coming and your reputation as a host is on the line. You can proudly pull the cork or unfasten the cap on these reds, whites, rosés, sparklers, Sherries and dessert wines.

All the talk about the “wine glut” may be subsiding, but in fact, so many countries and regions have rushed into viticulture in the past 15 years that the consumer has been crowned king.  There’s a ready supply of quality wines at competitive prices.  Here you’ll find values from Chile, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, as well as some unexpected finds from Italy, France, Spain, California, Washington and Oregon.

  1. 90 Casa Lapostolle 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (Rapel Valley); $10. Intense and saturated, with dark aromas of pencil lead, tree bark, cola and black fruits. In the mouth, it’s full-force Cabernet. The blackberry and black cherry flavors are pure and satisfying, while the finish offers smoke, chocolate and coffee. This wine features ripeness and an overall quality rarely achieved by others in the price range. Imported by Moët Hennessy USA.

  1. 90 Campobello 2003 Villa di Campobello (Chianti); $10. Sweet and intoxicating, with caramel, baked fruit and cotton candy to the nose. Meaty on the palate, with full plum, boysenberry and cherry flavors. Best of all, the balance is just where it should be. As a whole there’s nothing not to like about it. Imported by Opici Import Company.

  1. 90  Covey Run 2004 Gewürztraminer (Columbia Valley); $7. Yet another standout effort from this value producer. Clean, penetrating and varietal with layered, spicy fruit—lemon, lime, mint, anise, stone and earth in a marvelously complex array of flavors. 20,500 cases made.

  1. 90 Bonny Doon 2004 Vin Gris de Cigare (California); $11. Randall Grahm is at the top of his game, producing Rhône wines that are inexpensive, yet incredibly complex and rewarding. This year’s Cigare is bone dry, and the richest yet. With its zesty burst of acidity, the subtle flavors are of cherries, raspberries, rose petals, dried Provençal herbs and pepper. This complex wine is a blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Roussanne, Cinsault, Syrah and Marsanne.

  1. 90 Ca’ntele 2002 Primitivo (Salento); $11. Excellent Southern Italian Primitivo. The sweet nose bursts with freshness, plums, berries and dry earth. It’s neither heavy nor lean, with ripe plum, watermelon and chocolate flavors. Undoubtedly superb with pasta or pizza. Imported by Vias Imports.

  1. 91 Winery of Good Hope 2005 Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch); $9. A delicious example of dry Chenin Blanc. With currant aromas, and a full, fruity palate, this is big, rich and concentrated, with flavors of pears, white currants and a touch of mint to give it a lift. From the same winery as the Black Rock range, this is a fine wine. Imported by Vinnovative Imports.

  1. 91 Château Thieuley 2003 Bordeaux; $13. One of the top producers in the Entre-deux-Mers, Francis Courselle’s white has a freshness, lift and crispness that is not always apparent in 2003 whites. But there are also wood flavors to add complexity; a beautifully balanced wine. Imported by Grape Expectations (CA).

  1. 92 Chigi Saracini 2003 Villachigi (Chianti); $13. Deep and modern, with ripe black fruit, bacon and cedar to the full-framed nose. The mouth is just as good, with dense plum, black cherry, prune and vanilla. Lasting on the finish, with a spicy, warm aftertaste. A sure-fire powerhouse and a winner from Chigi Saracini. Imported by Tastings Import Company.

  1. 91 Herdade de Esporão 2003 Reserva (Alentejo); $12. An intensely spicy, herbal wine, with just a touch of wood from the American oak. This top white from Esporão is rich, modern in style and powerful, but never loses sight of its origins. Imported by Aidil Wines & Liquor Inc.

  1. 94 Sanchez Romate NV Cardenal Cisneros Pedro Ximénez (Jerez); $15. This reserve-level P.X. sets the gold standard for excellence in sweet Sherry. The lovely bouquet straddles the line between unadulterated sweetness and impeccable slyness. The flavors of fig, chocolate, caramel, browned butter and cinnamon are amazing. So chewy and thick, but balanced by firm acids. Brilliant. Imported by Shaw-Ross International Importers.

  1. 88 Bersano 2004 Moscato (Moscato d’Asti); $8. Not an intense nose, but an attractive one with floral and fruity layers. There’s chalk, peach and generous cream in the mouth, which beg for all kinds of cream or custard-based desserts. Imported by 5 Star Importers.

  1. 87 Fusée 2003 Merlot (California); $6. Along with life’s other mysteries is how Don Sebastiani & Sons releases wines of this quality, at this price. This Merlot is dry, rich and fruity, with the balance and harmony of wines costing far more. Enjoy it for its chocolate and blackberry flavors.

  1. 88 El Copero 2004 Blanco (Valencia); $6. Crisp and tight, with a slate-based nose that offers citrus and melon. Quite zesty and clean on the palate, with citrus-driven flavors of tangerine and pineapple. Compelling and precise; full, lengthy and tasty. Imported by Tasman Imports, Ltd.

  1. 90 Columbia Winery 2004 Gewürztraminer (Columbia Valley); $9. Quite a perfect match for the 2003, this delightful wine remains bracingly fresh and crisp despite its 3.1% residual sugar. Rich and intense, it shows lovely flavors of pink grapefruit, melon and citrus rind. Some stony crispness underlies the fruit, which captures its sweetness without losing its edge. One of the best Gewürzes in the state, if not the country.

  1. 90 Ken Forrester 2004 Petit Chenin (Stellenbosch); $9. “Petit” in the case of this wine refers to the fact that this is the good-value Chenin from Forrester Vineyards. With its flowery aroma, ripeness, mature fruit, layers of nuts and just a hint of a soft aftertaste, this is a great value wine. Imported by Boutique Wine Collection.

  1. 89 Scopetani 2003 Angelicus (Chianti); $8. Dark and manly from the get-go, with aromas of melted brown sugar, black cherry and charbroiled beef. Next up you’ll encounter fresh red fruit, peppy acids and enough body to provide balance and a perceived creaminess. Very easy to like. Imported by Angeli America/VISCO Inc.

  1. 90 MontGras 2003 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon (Colchagua Valley); $12. Fairly dark, with masculine aromas of burning brush, leather and cassis. The palate is pure as crystal, with cherry, tobacco and earth flavors along with black currant. Finishes full as a packed house, with chocolaty overtones. Excellent for the price. Imported by Palm Bay Import

  1. 89 Navarro Correas 2003 Colección Privada Malbec (Mendoza); $10. Jammy and fresh, with hints of raspberry and rhubarb. In the mouth, it’s fairly rich, with black plum and chocolate. It successfully plays both sides of the fence: It’s medium-weight and not overdone, yet it packs punch and offers layers of creamy fruit. A high-water mark for this winery. Imported by Palm Bay Imports.

  1. 94  Novella 2003 Muscat Canelli (Paso Robles); $10. Paso Robles is making a play for the most congenial home in California to sweet Muscat, under any name, and this wine shows why. It’s crisp and acidic, sweet but not cloying, and offers wonderful flavors of mangoes, papayas and honey-sweetened peach pie. Addictively good, and the alcohol is only 11.5%.

  1. 89 Peter Lehmann 2003 Semillon (Barossa); $11. This enjoyable white has all the right elements: It’s mouthwatering and juicy, crisp and clean, offering dust and lemondrop aromas, with intense flavors of grapefruit and green apple. At this price, you can afford to keep a few bottles around the house, too. 70,000 cases produced. Imported by The Hess Collection.

  1. 90  Tasca d’Almerita 2004 Regaleali  (Sicilia); $13. Delightful and delicately pale blend of three native Sicilian grapes: Insolia, Grecanico and Catarratto. Hats off to the winemaker who extracted intense jasmine and citrus blossom characteristics and pink grapefruit acidity in the mouth. An extremely feminine wine. Imported by Winebow.

  1. 90 Kenwood 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Sonoma County); $13. Run, don’t walk, to buy this by the case. It’s California Sauvignon Blanc at its best, long and deep in gooseberry and alfalfa flavors, but complexed with richer notes of lime and peach custard and vanilla pudding. But it’s not a sweetie. It’s dry and crisp in acids.

  1. 90  Domaine Wachau 2003 Terrassen Federspiel Riesling (Wachau); $12. A fairly big, round Riesling—reflective of the ripeness of the vintage—with aromas of ripe apple and pear and flavors of baked apple and dried spices. Yet despite the soft fruit flavors, the wine is dry and it retains a fine sense of minerality on the finish. Drink over the next 12-18 months. Imported by Vin Divino.

  1. 89 J.P. Vinhos 2004 Serras de Azeitão (Terras do Sado); $9. A fascinating blend of Fernão Pires, Moscatel and Chardonnay. It’s the Moscatel, with its honeyed fragrance that is the most obvious, but the roundness comes from the other two grapes. The grapes are grown on the Setúbal peninsula, just south of Lisbon. Imported by Admiral Wine Imports.

  1. 90 Kanu 2004 Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch); $10. A beautifully crisp, unoaked Chenin that jumps from the glass with its vibrant spicy, floral fruit aromas. Just off dry, this wine’s crisp acidity is nicely balanced with just a hint of sweeter Chenin used as part of the blend. Imported by Cape Classics.

  1. 90 Cantina di Montalcino 2003 Chianti; $10. Smoky and masculine, with initial aromas of black cherry and coffee. Talk about perfect balance; this has it. The cherry and berry flavors glide on a wave of crisp acids and modest tannins. And while not velvety, the mouthfeel is lush. Worth more than a look. Imported by Wine Wave.

  1. 90 Apex II 2003 Chardonnay (Yakima Valley); $11. A ripe, round and deliciously fruity Chardonnay, 50% barrel fermented, with a lip-smacking mix of tropical fruit and sweet crème brûlée. Has pineapples, peaches, melons and more.

  1. 90 Columbia Crest 2002 Grand Estates Chardonnay (Columbia Valley); $11. Bigger, with more obvious oak than the CC “regular,” this gets special treatment (hand-stirred for nine months once a week) and 25% new oak. It’s nicely integrated, big and buttery, with pleasing layers of caramelized sugar and baked apple. A home run.

  1. 88  Snoqualmie 2004 Winemaker’s Select Riesling (Columbia Valley); $7. Sweet and penetrating, with surprisingly deep and protracted flavors of candied orange peel, lemon peel and grapefruit. Very nice.

  1. 90 Stevenot 2001 Merlot (Calaveras County); $12. This is a nice, smooth Merlot that lives up to its reputation as the soft Cabernet. It’s fruity in blackberry, cherry and coffee flavors, and spicy. On the finish, it’s cassis, pure and true.

  1. 89 Nieto Senetiner 2003 Reserva Malbec (Mendoza); $10. A huge amount of smoke, rubber, herbs and black fruit pour out of the nose, and that same intensity is carried onto the palate, where bright, juicy, spicy fruit is raring and ready to go. Espresso and black licorice on the finish convey power, the cornerstone of the wine. Correct and snappy; the formula for good-drinking Malbec. Imported by S&F Trading Company.

  1. 90 Aquinas 2003 Chardonnay (Napa Valley); $13. Packs as much flavor as you can fit in a glass: Ultraripe pineapples and peaches, caramelized oak, toasty meringue, vanilla, the works. Plus, it’s creamy, smooth and crisp.

  1. 88 Viu Manent 2004 Estate Bottled Sauvignon Blanc (Colchagua Valley); $8. The citrus and grapefruit aromas are pretty standard, but the wine really comes to life on the palate, delivering zesty citrus, fresh-cut asparagus and even some minerality. Anisette, grapefruit and tangerine notes create an interesting finish. For the money, one of the best Sauvignons in Chile. Imported by Margron Skoglund. 

  1. 88 Terra Andina 2003 Carmenère (Central Valley); $8. Exhibits ripe black-fruit aromas of plum and blackberry, with pleasant shadings of vanilla and marzipan. Raspberry and plum make for a ripe and fruity palate that’s devoid of any herbal, underripe flavors. Textbook stuff, with a couple of layers of fruit and tannins. Imported by Artemis.

  1. 90 TerraNoble 2003 Gran Reserva Carmenère (Maule Valley); $13. Loaded with ripe aromas of cola, dark fruit and earth, and that’s followed up by the full allotment of blackberry and black cherry flavors. Chocolaty and full on the palate and finish, with supreme juiciness and laudable balance. Makes the grade and then some. Imported by Winebow.

  1. 89 Bodegas Naia 2004 Las Brisas (Rueda); $10. Amazingly expressive stuff from Spain. A mix of Verdejo, Sauvignon Blanc and Viura that delivers a cornucopia of citrus. Grapefruit, passion fruit and lime aromas and flavors abound, and the finish is so fresh and scouring that it can’t help but quench your thirst. A superb summer sipper from the constantly improving Rueda region. Imported by Jorge Ordoñez/Fine Estates from Spain.

  1. 90 Domaine de Fontenille 2000 Côtes du Luberon; $13. Fontenille is almost always a great value, and this 2000 is no exception, boasting concentrated raspberry aromas that leap from the glass. The intense fruit is nicely balanced by structure, and made complex by the addition of leather and dark chocolate notes on the lengthy finish. Drink now-2010. Imported by Weygandt-Metzler.

  1. 87 Feudo Arancio 2003 Nero d’Avola (Sicilia); $7. This winery seems to have mastered the formula for making clean, approachable wines that have mass appeal while staying true to their roots. Here you get leather, plum and pepper on the nose, with ripe black cherry and a touch of candied berry on the palate. Finishes with blueberry sweetness and just enough kick. Bargain hunters should buy this in quantity. Imported by Prestige Wine Imports Corp.

  1. 89 Grayson 2004 Merlot (Paso Robles); $10. I like this wine for its appealing softness and overall lusciousness. It’s Paso at its red-wine best, showing cherry and cassis flavors balanced by a rich earthiness. It’s totally dry, but so sweet in fruit, it’s irresistible. Super value.

  1. 89 Santa Ema 2003 60/40 Barrel Select Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot (Maipo Valley); $11. A Cab/Merlot blend that’s ripe and alluring, with easygoing but still power-packed aromatics. Flavors of cassis, black cherry and raisin are full-bore, and the chocolaty finish scores. Balanced and correct. Imported by T.G.I.C. Importers.

  1. 90 Spy Valley 2004 Riesling (Marlborough); $14. Wonderfully clean and pure, with aromas of peaches, limes and wet stones. On the palate, there’s soft, ripe stone fruit, but also powerful citrus notes to provide focus. Finishes dry and tart, crisp and refreshing.  Imported by Broadbent Selections, Inc.

  1. 90 Astoria 2004 Cuvée Tenuta Val de Brun (Prosecco di Valdobbiadene); $13. No surprises here; just good, clean fun. The nose is fresh as a spring garden and the palate delivers nothing but pure lemon-lime. The feel and bubble bead are lively and friendly, while the finish is crisp, smooth and somewhat long. Mildly sweet but not at all cloying. Imported by Astoria.

  1. 90  Casa de Vila Verde 2004 Alvarinho (Minho); $14. A single-vineyard wine made from the sought after Alvarinho grape. It’s fuller than the average Vinho Verde, packed with ripe green fruits and flavors of pink grapefruit and white peaches. Drink now. Imported by Signature Imports.

  1. 88 Viña Bisquertt 2003 Casa La Joya Reserve Merlot (Colchagua Valley); $9. Deep in color, with sweet, rich aromas that revolve around molasses and bacon but fold in plum, blackberry and toast. For the price this is an excellent wine, and price notwithstanding it’s very good. The black fruit is ripe, the feel just right. Just short of lush but full. Imported by Prestige Wine Group.

  1. 88 Querceto 2003 Chianti; $9. Pleasant all the way, starting from the cedar, leather and dark-fruit aromas, to the zippy cherry and raspberry palate, to the clean, spicy finish. Tart, linear and refreshing, a Chianti in textbook proportions. Imported by Prestige Wine Imports Corp.

  1. 90 Boschendal 2004 Grande Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc (Franschoek); $14. This appealing wine’s superclean grapefruit-pineapple-herb grass aromas and flavors really sing. It’s “well-tuned,” to quote a J. S. Bach title, finely balancing its rich/smooth and tangy/angular elements. Displays lovely feel and flavor right through the long, herb-tinged finish. Cries out for sea bass, sole or shellfish.

  1. 88 TerraMater 2003 Merlot (Maipo Valley); $9. Smooth and supple, with magnetic aromas of mocha, leather and blackberry. A standout among the world’s countless inexpensive Merlots; it displays succulent dark fruits, ample coffee and chocolate notes, and an even mouthfeel. Surprisingly complete, and handsome. Imported by American Wine Distributors.

  1. 90 Castello di Monsanto 2002 Alaura (Chianti); $11. Normally a solid but unspectacular performer, Castello di Monsanto’s “starter” Chianti struts its stuff in this down vintage (maybe some pedigreed grapes were declassified, thus making Alaura better). Regardless, it delivers spicy cola, leather and tobacco aromas along with forward plum and berry fruit. The balance is correct and the feel is deeper than past vintages. Imported by Moët Hennessy USA.

  1. 89 Chateau Mourgues du Gres 2002 Les Galets Rouges (Costières de Nîmes); $12. Floral and violetty on the nose, blending smoothly into vibrant blackberry notes. It’s relatively light-bodied, with a Burgundian weight and mouthfeel that make it seem alternately fragile and elegant. Drink over the next year or two. Imported by Rhône Valley Vineyards.

  1. 90 J. Lohr 2003 Riverstone Chardonnay (Arroyo Seco); $14. One of the best Chards in this price category, this Monterey example is rich in tropical fruit, peach and spice flavors, and crisp in acidity. It has smoky oak, buttercream, a bit of lees—in other words, the works.

  1. 89 Graff 2004 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer); $12. Star winemaker Ernie Loosen is now consulting for Graff, and the wines have taken a step up in quality. Leesy and a bit sulfury on the nose, but underneath are some wonderfully pure flavors of melon and mineral, finishing with a dusting of dried spices and powdered mineral over poached apple. Could be racier, but the broad, mouthfilling flavors are satisfying in a different way. Imported by Valckenberg International, Inc.

  1. 89 Concannon 2002 Selected Vineyards Syrah (Central Coast); $12. Impressive for its dark color and complex aroma, this wine strikes your palate as pretty good stuff. It’s bone dry, with finely ground tannins, a good hit of acidity, and deep flavors of plums, blackberries, coffee and spice. It’s easily one of the best Syrahs you’ll find in this price range.

  1. 90 Gran Gesta NV Brut (Cava); $14. This is a pleasant surprise. From the first sniff you know it’s fresh and well made. Butterscotch, apple and yeast aromas create a swell bouquet, which is followed by round apple, pineapple and white-raisin flavors. It’s big, smooth and stands out from the crowd in a positive way. Imported by Quality Wines of Spain.

  1. 90 Osborne NV Quinta Fino (Jerez); $14. The differences between a good fino and a great fino are usually slight, but this one has pretty much all one could ask for. The nose is crisp, with hints of sea breeze, peanut and tart apple showing through. In the mouth, there’s snap, saline and mineral-laden white fruits. Nothing is out of bounds. Imported by W. J. Deutsch & Sons.

  1. 89 Altos Las Hormigas 2003 Malbec (Mendoza); $12. Starts full and oaky, but not sappy or overly creamy. Settles to offer aromas of campfire, lavender, black peppercorn and plenty of snappy berry fruit. Fine texture and depth of flavor, with cherry, plum and vanilla. A complete wine with an intense spice element. Imported by Vin Divino.

  1. 89 Wieninger 2003 Leicht & Trocken Grüner Veltliner (Vienna); $12. A great buy in GV, this offering shows more minerality that most GVs at any price, delivering scents of powdered stone, apple and citrus flavors. As the name suggests, it’s light and dry, with a long, smoky, mouthwatering finish. If you like Grüner but think you can’t afford to drink it every day, buy this one by the case. Imported by Vin Divino.

  1. 89 Di Majo Norante 2001 Contado Aglianico (Molise); $12. Deep, ripe and syrupy on the nose, with leather, brambly red fruit and licorice. Seemingly on the ripe side, but still juicy and fresh. The plum and berry fruit is mature, while proper aging has added a smoky edge along with carob, earth and coffee nuances. Imported by Winebow. 

  1. 90 Edna Valley Vineyard 2003 Paragon Sauvignon Blanc (Edna Valley); $14. Bursting with clean, zesty acids, like biting into a lemon, except the flavors are of ripe figs, lime and white pepper, and some smoky oak. The beautiful acidity underscores the flavors, boosting and brightening them. Finishes dry and stylish.

  1. 88 Dourthe 2003 Numéro 1 (Bordeaux); $10. Dourthe’s branded Bordeaux is one of the best around, and this white from vintage 2003 is no exception. With its ripe, honeyed fruit, it is delicious both as an apéritif and as a food wine. Layers of soft creaminess are backed by fine crisp acidity. Imported by House of Burgundy.

  1. 88  Heartland 2004 Viognier-Pinot Gris (Langhorne Creek); $12. Sounds like an odd blend, but you know what? This Ben Glaetzer wine works. It’s a 75-25 Viognier-dominant blend, with a fragrant bouquet of honeydew, flowers and fresh cream. Its flavor profile (peach, some coconut, maybe some banana) may sound as upscale as a piña colada at a Cancún resort, but a wiry, dry citrus spine reins in the wine’s more rambunctious notes. Imported by Conquest Beverage Group.

  1. 88 Valdivieso 2002 Barrel Selection Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Central Valley); $10. That’s too much name for a run-of-the-mill Cab, but who’s complaining? The wine is a seriously good bargain; the color is bright, the nose pure, and the palate downright pleasant. Throughout there’s ample cherry, cassis and plum character, and here and there come hints of chocolate and cola. Textbook everyday wine. Imported by Laird & Company.

  1. 88  Firesteed 2003 Pinot Gris (Oregon); $10. Firesteed goes from strength to strength; this is their best Gris to date, enhanced perhaps by the unusually warm vintage. Its ripe fruit tastes like biting into a juicy pear picked right off the tree. Succulent, round and sweetly spicy, with noticeable residual sugar but very appealing semi-tropical flavors.

  1. 89 Gallo of Sonoma 2003 Reserve Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast); $13. A terrific wine at a giveaway price, this coastal bottling shows a rich, complex texture and is very dry. The flavors unfold one by one on the palate: cherries, cocoa, cola, plums, blackberries and spices are highlighted by a burst of crisp acids.

  1. 89 Château Bonnet 2004 Entre-Deux-Mers; $10. One of the most familiar Entre-deux-Mers chateaus, and certainly the largest, this is the home of master vigneron André Lurton. With its fresh, grapefruit flavors and aromas of white flowers and hedgerows, this is a great summer wine. Imported by W. J. Deutsch & Sons.

  1. 87 Abbey Vale 2004 Vat 351 Unwooded Chardonnay (Margaret River); $9. So light in color, it’s almost clear. Talc-powder aromas waft from the nose; on the palate, delicate yellow fruit is accented by floral notes. It’s very unusual to find Margaret River wines at this price, so grab it up. Imported by Aussie Imports.

  1. 88 Montes 2004 Reserve Malbec (Colchagua Valley); $10. Round and open knit, with welcoming aromas. Very well shaped and solid, with cassis and blackberry flavors sitting comfortably in front of a spicy, chocolate-loaded finish. No flab or superficiality; this is a fine wine for the price. Imported by T.G.I.C. Importers.

  1. 88 Falesco 2003 Vitiano Rosso (Umbria); $10. Every year this wine proves itself as a value champ. The ’03, even though it hails from a hot year, is still a balanced, full-bodied example of fine everyday wine. The nose offers smoke, game and jammy dark fruit, and the palate is fresh and full, with big cherry and plum flavors. Imported by Winebow.

  1. 88 Yalumba 2003 Riesling (South Eastern Australia); $11. Clean, correct and enjoyable; this Riesling is well balanced, with a dry feel and citrus, olive oil and floral components through and through. At first blush, it smells a little like Viognier—a testament, maybe, to the winery’s renown with that variety? Imported by Negociants U.S.A., Inc.

  1. 86 KWV 2005 Steen (Western Cape); $7. Outside the U.S., this wine is normally found as Chenin Blanc, and it seems sad that the U.S. importer wanted to revert to the old South African name for the varietal. It is particularly a shame because this is a good value wine, with ripeness, softness and plenty of acidity to go with the pear fruit flavors. Imported by 57 Main Street Wine Co.

  1. 86 Walnut Crest 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (Rapel Valley); $5. It’s hard to imagine getting a better red wine for five bucks, which makes this one of the best Best Buys out there. On the mark at all check points, with ripe cherry and plum flavors and a clean, smooth finish. Surprisingly solid. Imported by Banfi Vintners.

  1. 88 Veramonte 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Casablanca Valley); $10. Highly aromatic, this explodes with bright passion fruit scents and herbal pungency. Lots of pink grapefruit flavor and a zesty, crisp finish make this eminently drinkable. Drink now, as an apéritif or with light appetizers. Imported by Icon Estates.

  1. 88 Riddoch Estate 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot (Coonawarra); $11. It’s a great thing to find a Coonawarra wine that’s good and inexpensive. Its smooth texture is an asset. It tastes nothing like most other $10-ish Oz Cabs: Its plum fruit is fairly taut, and has gumtree-earthy accents, rather than sweetish, caramelly ones. Though I detected greenness on the nose right out of the bottle, it dissipates with time in the glass. Imported by Freixenet USA.

  1. 87 Fetzer 2004 Valley Oaks Chardonnay (California); $9. When you pour this Chard, the most delectable fragrance of white peaches and vanilla wafts into the air. In the mouth, the peach flavors are joined by powerful kiwi and pineapple. For all the fruit, the wine is dry, crisp and balanced.

  1. 88  Chateau Ste. Michelle 2003 Sauvignon Blanc (Columbia Valley); $10. More stainless steel fermentation than in previous vintages brings out the bright, round, fruity character. Winemaker Bob Bertheau shows his California palate, shying away from the grassy, pungent side of the grape, building instead a crisp, fragrant and lightly spiced white wine with popular appeal.

  1. 87  Concha y Toro 2004 Casillero del Diablo Chardonnay (Central Valley); $9. Nice and clean, with ample stone fruit and apple aromas. No, not a lot of nuance on display. But plenty of ripe, pure apple and melon flavors followed by some length on the mildly creamy finish. Solid, with mass-market appeal. Imported by Banfi Vintners.

  1. 88 Arthur Metz 2003 Cuvée Anne-Laure Riesling (Alsace); $11. A big, mouthfilling Riesling at a bargain price. Dried spices, ripe apple and a dusty, minerally sensation reminiscent of rock dust give this wine plenty of interest. It is a bit low acid, but that’s balanced by plenty of minerality. Imported by Prestige Wine Group.

  1. 86 Banrock Station 2003 Shiraz-Cabernet (South Eastern Australia); $6. Easy-drinking and pleasing. Vanilla bean, cream and musky aromas usher in red fruit (plum, cherry, you name it), a judicious amount of wood, and a streak of anise. 43,000 cases produced. Imported by Pacific Wine Partners.

  1. 88 Errazuriz 2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Aconcagua Valley); $11. Right on the mark, with a likable nose full of cassis, blackberry and spice. Super clean on the palate, with a flavor profile that’s both juicy and round. Warm and extracted, with a hearty amount of chocolate. Balanced. Imported by Vintus.

  1. 87 Carchelo 2004 Monastrell (Jumilla); $9. This has become a popular by-the-glass wine, and deservedly so. The color is pure, the nose a nice mix of leather, earth and dark but healthy plum and blackberry. Hails from a hot climate, but shows balance via bright acidity and firm tannins. Finishes with a fat, spicy finish. A country wine but a good one. Imported by Classical Wines.

  1. 86 Marqués de Cáceres 2004 Blanco (Rioja); $7. Always a solid Rioja white; the 2004 is ripe and refreshing, with aromas of melon and canned fruit. Fresher on the palate, with notes of green herbs, dry melon, apple and white pepper. Zesty and clean, with even more dryness and pepper to the finish. Imported by Vineyard Brands.

  1. 87 Castle Rock 2003 Syrah (Central Coast); $9. This cool-climate Syrah brims with bright white pepper, cassis and coffee flavors, while the tannins are rich, ripe and fine. It’s a bone-dry wine with plenty of style and complexity.

  1. 88 Hermanos Lurton 2004 Rosado (Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León); $11. The fresh berry, red licorice and cherry Lifesaver aromas will make you think you’ve placed your nose in a bushel of summer fruit, and while this rosé from the warm plains of central Spain looks more red than pink, it shows a bit of stoniness and a ton of clean, attractive flavors. It’s a blend of Garnacha and Tempranillo from vineyards around Valladolid, and it will appeal to those who prefer a bit of meat on the bones of their dry pink wines. Imported by Winesellers Ltd.

  1. 87 Meridian 2004 Chardonnay (Santa Barbara County); $10. It’s rich in Chardonnay character, with tropical fruit, peach, pear and oak flavors set in a richly creamy, honeyed texture that’s highlighted by brisk, South Coast acidity.

  1. 87 Zonin NV Special Cuvée Brut Prosecco (Italy); $10. The best bubbly in the Zonin portfolio. The nose is yeasty, with moderate richness and enough apple and citrus to register. The palate features green melon, apple and toast, while the finish is mildly yeasty and fairly full. Satisfying as it fills the mouth. Imported by Zonin USA.

  1. 87 Trumpeter 2003 Malbec (Mendoza); $9. Heavily extracted, with roasted aromas of charred wood, beef and coconut. The mouth pushes bold cherry, blackberry and plum flavors, while the finish is slick yet tangy. This wine shows bulk around the edges but is leaner and more acidic in its center. Solid for everyday action, assuming you like yours big. Imported by Billington Imports.

  1. 86 Shale Ridge Vineyard 2003 Syrah (Monterey); $8. If only all the inexpensive California Syrahs could be this good. Sure, it’s a little simple, but it’s varietally true, with blackberry fruit, peppery spice and some herbal overtones. Round and reasonably full in the mouth, with enough tannins on the finish to stand up to fatty burgers.

  1. 87 Monkey Bay 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough); $10. Ripe, not bracing, this new star in the Constellation portfolio boasts subtle aromas of stone fruit and citrus that become more apparent on the palate, emerging as nectarine and pink grapefruit. Plump and easy to drink; a real crowd-pleaser at a crowd-pleasing price. Imported by Canandaigua Wine Co.

  1. 87 Charles de Fère NV Jean-Louis Cuvée Blanc de Blancs Brut (France); $10. Spry and alert, with crisp apple aromas and some baking spice for good measure. Equally crisp on the palate, where lime, green apple and pepper run the show. Moderate but extended in terms of feel and finish; tasty and snappy overall. Imported by Boisset America.

  1. 90 Fabre Montmayou 2002 Gran Reserva Malbec (Mendoza); $15. This you just have to love, especially for the price. Starts with graham cracker, kirsch and black cherry aromas before transitioning to chocolate, vanilla and coffee. Shows subtle touches but a lot of Argentinean power and pizzazz. Restrained but ripe; robust yet suave. Imported by Ivan Ruiz Selections.

  1. 87 Dry Creek Vineyard 2004 Dry Chenin Blanc (Clarksburg); $10. You can count the number of wineries who specialize in Chenin Blanc on one hand. Dry Creek is one, and this is a giveaway price. The wine is dry, crisp in acids, with a minerally citrus profile that contains tantalizing hints of honey and wildflowers.

  1. 86 Morandé 2003 Pinot Noir (Casablanca Valley); $8. For not much cash, this is real Pinot Noir with all the correct leathery, leafy aromas and dry raspberry and cherry fruit you could ask for. Some fresh citrus peel and cured-meat notes offer a nod of complexity. Imported by Morandé USA.

  1. 87 Jewel 2004 Dry Rosé (Lodi); $10. This tasty blush wine is filled with the aromas of lavender, wild thyme and chamomile, with fruity nuances of strawberries. Surprisingly rich and complex, with a full body and a dry finish. Great value.

  1. 86 Camelot 2002 Shiraz (California); $7. A nice wine, especially for the price. Dark, full-bodied and dry, with rich, spicy flavors of plums and blackberries, and a sweet coating of oak.

  1. 87 Bogle 2003 Petite Sirah (California); $10. Pizza? Lasagna? This is the perfect match. It’s full-bodied and brawny, and totally dry, with big tannins and fresh, deep flavors of blackberries, coffee, cocoa and dried leather. Shows real character, and will develop for a few years.

  1. 86 Delicato 2004 Merlot (California); $7. There’s a depth of fruity flavor and soft richness of texture that make this a very fine value Merlot. You’re struck by the way the plum, cherry and blackberry flavors flood the palate, and instead of turning gooey-chocolaty-ripe, there’s a white pepper note that makes the wine savory and more companionable with food. Alcohol is a modest 13.5%.

  1. 87 Forest Glen 2003 Oak Barrel Fermented Chardonnay (California); $10. A solid Chardonnay that will please fans of well-ripened fruit, creamy textures, and accents of vanilla and smoke. The finish is long, clean and distinctive.

  1. 87 Ironstone 2003 Sauvignon Blanc (California); $10. Fresh and grassy, with a background of lemons and figs. Drinks clean and vibrant in acids, and finishes dry and clean.

  1. 87 Piccini 2004 Chianti; $8. Some situations demand dependable Chianti that is fruity but not too heavy in the mouth. Recognized by its eye-catching orange label, Piccini won’t let you down. Red forest berries, clove and cinnamon round off an extremely quaffable and affordable wine. Its lean consistency is accented by crispness and a fruit-driven finish that would be an ideal match with cheese-topped pizza or pasta. Imported by A.V. Imports Inc.

  1. 86 Canyon Road 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (California); $8. A dependable Best Buy almost every year because of its juicy, bone-dry citrus, fig, passion fruit and spice flavors and zippy acids. Finshes ultraclean and brisk. Buy it by the case.

  1. 87 Rosemount 2003 Riesling (South Eastern Australia); $10. Light floral and honeysuckle aromas are very pretty and compelling, as is the wine’s citrus-laden palate. What an introduction to the variety—it’s a good value, it’s correct, and it’s dry. Worth keeping a few bottles around the house. Imported by Foster’s Wine Estates Americas.


Published on December 31, 2005