For your party shopping pleasures, here are 21 of the best values from the several hundred wines we tasted the past two months from $7 to $18 and three food-friendly wines over $25, with notes from older evolving wines from France, Italy and California.
On the party front, if you wanted to combine entertaining fun with a little education, put together a blind tasting with five wines made from different grapes and from different countries. Conceal the wines in opaque bags (brown sandwich bags work fine) or wrap them in tin foil. Have someone else shuffle the bottles and then number the wines.
Taste the wines side-by-side with friends (one bottle can be shared with up to 12 for a tasting, with two-ounce pours). In a small setting, everyone votes for their favorites and tells what he or she likes about the wine. You can even try to guess the varietal and country.
The format can get more elaborate with eight, ten or twelve wines. In larger parties or bigger tastings, each person can have one glass. Give each person a ballot (small piece of paper) for dropping into a ballot box. Tally the vote later in the evening and announce the results as you unwrap the bottles. Guaranteed: a few low-priced surprises beating out famous labels.
Top 21, from $7 to $46
- Quaffing value Chilean Cabernet ’11 Santa Rita “120” $7. Herbaceous, Syrah-like nose; mid-body, grapey; decent tannins. w/burgers, BBQ.
- Super value Chilean Cabernet ’11 Montes $8. Herbaceous, berry, wood nose; mid-body, balanced, some style; long fruity finish. W/pasta.
- Value Medoc ’09 Ch. Prignac $8. Dark garnet; berries, jam, wood nose; mid-body; a little tight; some character, earthiness. w/pasta.
- Great value red for parties, BBQ: Hahn ’12 Central Coast GSM $9. 67% Grenache 28% Syrah 5% Mourvedre. Light mint, peppery nose; round, flavorful, fruity finish.
- Soft, fruity Mendoza Cabernet ’10 Norton Barrel Select $10. Herbaceous, varietal nose; mid-body; decent tannins. w/pasta, BBQ.
- Great value BBQ, burger red Columbia Crest ’10 Les Chevaux $10. Smokey, berry, mint nose; mid-body, fruity, many different flavors.
- Value Chianti Classico ’10 San Felice $12. 80% Sangiovese. Smokey, berries, briar nose; mid-body, smooth tannins, acids. Food wine.
- Quaffable value Bordeaux ’11 Domaine Rothschild $12. Light berry, cherry nose, cocoa (Cabernet/Merlot); soft, round, some character. w/cheeses
- Good value Cotes du Rhone Cairanne ’11 Dionysos La Cigalette $12. Strawberry, earthy nose; mid-body, long fruity finish. w/burgers.
- Dark turkey meat Columbia Valley Merlot ’10 Milbrandt $12. Light cocoa, berry nose; mid-body, hints of wood, long fruity finish.
- Value Paso Robles Zin ’10 Tobin James Ballistic $13. Berry, jam, wood, pepper nose; mid-big body (15.2 alc); big fruity finish. w/ribs.
- Value Cotes du Rhone ’12 St. Cosme $13. Fruity, earthy Grenache/Syrah nose; mid-body, soft tannins, good flavor. w/pasta, pizza, stew.
- Fine value Montagne-St. Emilion ’10 Croix-Beausejour $14. Cocoa, jam nose (75% Merlot 15 Malbec 10 Cab Franc); balanced; long fruity finish.
- Beef-friendly Paso Robles Petite Sirah ’08 John Alan $15. Peppery, raspberry, prune nose; tight tannins; big chewy, fruity finish.
- Big Mendoza Malbec ’12 Felino $16. Paul Hobbs consultant. Peppery, mineral, wood nose; tight tannins, acids; long thick finish. w/beef.
- Value Haut Medoc ’07 Ch. Bernadotte $17. Berry (59 percent Cabernet), mint, plum, mineral nose; mid-body; long chewy fruity finish. w/pasta.
- Chewy Napa Cabernet ’11 Napa Cellars $18. mint, berries, ripe grape, light oak nose; mid-body; hard-edged; good Cab flavor. w/beef.
- Well-made Medoc ’09 Pierre de Montignac $18. Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc blend. Ripe grape, Merlot, cassis nose; mid-body; tight tannins.
- Food-friendly Spring Mountain Napa Cabernet ’09 Maroon $25. Ripe grape, berry, mint nose; balanced; good fruit; tannins rounding out. w/beef.
- Refined stylish Chiles Valley Zinfandel ’11 Brown Estate $34. Complex berry, wood, Zin nose; balanced, semi-tight fruity finish. w/veal.
- Food-friendly Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ’12 Patz & Hall, $46. Stemmy, berry, wood nose; mid-high viscosity; good acids, texture; long finish.
Classics (youngest to oldest)
- Rich ’10 Phelps Insignia. BIG Cab nose (84% Cab, 10 Petite Verdot, 3 Merlot, 3 Malbec); intense fruit; tight; needs 5+ years.
- Evolving Napa Cabernet ’06 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis. Mint, chocolate, peppery nose; chewy tannins; almost sweet fruity finish.
- Evolving Pauillac ’05 Clerc Milon. Chocolate, earth, berry, oak nose; tight tannins, good acids; big fruit extract; long finish. w/beef
- Fine Napa Cabernet 04 Waypoint Weiss Vineyard. Rich Napa Cab nose; mint, cassis; mid-big body; good structure, style; long finish. w/filet
- Rich older Syrah ’03 Foxen Tinaquaic Vineyard. Older Syrah nose, Port-like (15.9 alc); mid-body, balanced, great fruit, fine finish. w/ribs
- Rich Lafite 2d label Carruades ’00. Classic Pauillac nose; leather, tobacco, earth; balanced, fine structure; long rich Cabernet finish.
- Smooth older Margaux ’00 du Tertre. Chocolate, earth, mineral, mint, strawberry nose; mid-body; Merlot-Cabernet blend; rich finish.
- Duckhorn Howell Mountain ’00 Merlot. Bad cork, saved, decanted. Cocoa, big berry nose; mid-big body; intense fruit; long hot finish (14.5 alc).
- Fine older Brunello ’97 Casanuova della Cerbaie. earthy, floral, wood nose; mid-body, balanced; smooth, long, Sangiovese finish. w/veal