Cheap wines that don’t taste like it

Jan 17, 2018
  • By Dave McIntyre
  • Special To The Washington Post
JENNIFER CHASE FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

With all the wines on the shelves vying for your attention when you walk into a wine store or a supermarket, how do you choose which one to take home for dinner? A catchy name or pretty label stands out. A heavy bottle looks and feels important. But you wouldn’t be wrong to wonder whether the money you shell out for that wine might be paying for that designer label or studly bottle, rather than the juice inside.

Here is a case of wine for you: my 12 favorite great values from 2017, with the most expensive at $16 a bottle and the cheapest at $8. These are not just top scorers. Those I list here were memorable in a certain way, either their sheer quality for the price, or their uniqueness, or some other factor. I’ve ranked them in descending order, after applying a simple equation that takes into account my star rating — my enthusiasm for the wine — and the price. The better the wine and the lower the price, the higher the ranking.

Note that some of these wines have moved on to the next vintage; don’t let that stop you from trying them. Others may be sold out. It’s always best to call and check, or to ask a favorite retailer to order for you. Wines this good, at this price, are worth the wait — or the hunt.

12. Chateau Montaud Côtes de Provence Rosé 2016: 2 stars, Provence, France, $13

I like this rosé every year, but in 2017 it came in a three-liter box for $26, or about $6.50 a bottle, making it cheaper and more fun. Bottles are still available, though the boxes have sold out. I suspect they will reappear with the 2017 vintage for next summer’s picnics and patio parties. Alcohol by volume: 12 percent.

11. Evolucio Blaufrankisch 2014: 2 stars, Weinland, Austria, $12

When I first tasted this spicy, delicious red, I made a note and put it aside. When I found it two weeks later and tried it again, I was even more impressed with its vibrancy and “flavors of black cherry, raspberry, caraway and fenugreek.” I used no vacuum pump or inert gas to preserve it, just replaced the screw cap and kept it at room temperature. Well-made wine can keep that way. (The distributor has moved on to the 2015, a great vintage in Austria.) ABV: 13.5 percent.

10. Chateau de Passavant 2015: 2.5 stars, Anjou, Loire Valley, France, $15

Chenin blanc deserves more respect for its ability to delight, both dry and sweet. You could enjoy this dry version by itself, but it really wants to dance with poultry or seafood. Demeter-certified as biodynamic, made from organic grapes. ABV: 12.5 percent.

9. Loosen Bros. Dr. L Sparkling Riesling: 2.5 stars, Germany, $15

Sparkling Riesling may be Germany’s best-kept secret. This delightful example shows riesling’s bubbly personality at its best. ABV: 12.5 percent.

8. Cavalchina Bardolino Chiaretto 2016: 3 stars, Veneto, Italy, $16

This zesty, juicy rosé made from the grapes that typically go into Valpolicella (corvina, rondinella and molinara) is super, year after year. It’s great by itself, but it excels with salty or garlicky foods such as olives or hummus. This is a rosé to drink year round and not worry about having the freshest vintage. ABV: 12.5 percent.

7. Domaine de Chevalier La Petite Lune 2015: 3 stars, Bordeaux, France, $16

The only thing getting the Bordelais more excited than their 2015 vintage is the 2016. When I saw this wine was from Domaine de Chevalier, one of my favorite producers, I immediately had high expectations. The wine didn’t disappoint, and is phenomenal for the price. This blend of 70 percent merlot and 30 percent cabernet franc is rich and ripe with cherry, plum and blackberry fruit and a lush texture to carry all that fruit. Classy. ABV: 13.5 percent.

6. Marietta Cellars Old Vine Red Lot Number 66: 3 stars, California, $16

What a treat it was to reunite with this old friend and find it as good as ever. Based on zinfandel, this savory, stylish blend is so good it may distract you from your meal. ABV: 13.5 percent.

5. Hugl Weine Zweigelt Rosé 2016: 2.5 stars, Austria, $13

Austria is most famous for its outstanding white wines from gruner veltliner and Riesling. This delightful rosé from Zweigelt, Austria’s main red grape, is vibrant and peppery, with loads of cherry and raspberry flavors. The distributor is now sold out. ABV: 12 percent.

4. Chateau de Marjolet Cotes-du-Rhone 2015: 3 stars, Rhone Valley, France, $15

Rhone wines have crept up in price, but this beauty manages to overdeliver for the category. Deep and savory, with a sense of mountain air, sea breeze and wild herbs. ABV: 14 percent.

3. Confidencial Reserva 2013: 2.5 stars, Lisboa, Portugal, $12

This wine reminded me why Portugal is one of my favorite regions to hunt for value. It’s a stylish, juicy red with Bing cherry and sour plum flavors, a texture like the rough side of velvet and elegant tannins. It’s a red-meat wine. ABV: 13.5 percent.

2. Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2016: 2 stars, California, $8

This wine shined when I rated 29 of America’s favorite cheap wines. It stood out from the crowd of mediocre plonk because it had clean, bright fruit flavors and “a good balance of acid and sweetness.” Best of all, it’s available everywhere, from convenience stores to wine megamarts. ABV: 13.5 percent.

1. Goru Verde 2015: 2.5 stars, Jumilla, Spain, $10

When I started compiling this list, this was the first wine I thought of. Back in June, I said it “may be the best $10 red I’ve tasted in a long time.” It still is. Made from organic monastrell (mourvedre) grapes, it features dark cherry and dried fig flavors with hints of black olive, tea and tobacco. Alcohol by volume: 14 percent.