Traditional recipes

The Best Mid-Range Merlots

The Best Mid-Range Merlots

For $15 to $25, you can get the best-kept secret producers of merlot

I often say that the sweet spot for wine falls roughly in the $15 to $25 range. In this range, you can find producers who are out of favor, undiscovered, or working in regions that, for some reason, lack prestige yet produce wines that are equal to bottlings priced at double or triple.

I have also been touting the comeback of merlot for some time. In truth, there are many great values out there, but this tasting does highlight at least one of the pitfalls that face wine consumers today. Frankly, some producers do not need to raise the quality or change the style of their wines. They are doing fine with what they produce and pleasing consumers, if not critics.

That puts me in a bit of a sticky position. It’s no secret that my tastes run somewhat counter to fruit-forward, popularly styled wines. I like a little bite in my wines and favor complexity over intensity of fruit. Fortunately for all involved, today we have both styles of merlot. Gobstoppers for the fruit-forward crowd, plus a fine selection of otherwise interesting wines that please palates like mine. This dichotomy is just another reason for my new wine reviewing system, which I will explain in more detail on the next slide. I hope to be able to better serve you, the reader, by giving more simplified recommendations that are easy to understand while continuing to review each wine as honestly as my palate allows.

Click to find the best value merlots between $15 and $25.

— Gregory Del Piaz, Snooth


Cone 5/6 Glazes

All of these glaze recipes have been tested on white, mid-range clay fired to cone 5 in oxidation.

Clay body: a white stoneware body for mid-range (cone 5/6), or so-called "porcelain" clay body (cone 5/6) commercially available.

Bisque firing temperatures: Cone 05 (1910F), fired in an automatic (computer-controlled) electric kiln for approximately 10 hours, after 6 – hours pre-heating process.

Glaze firing temperatures: Cone 5 (2210F), fired in an automatic (computer-controlled) electric kiln with Orton cones as a witness for approximately 8 hours. The cooling process was natural.

Glazing method: Hand dipping or spraying. A tablespoon of Epsom salt is added to each batch. This is totally optional.

Top half of the pot: Ellen Shankin’s Fake Ash glaze (Cone 5 – 10)*

Red Art Clay or Arroyo Slip Clay 60

*This glaze is originally designed for cone 10, but works all the same in cone 5. Ms. Shankin once explained that “fake ash” is a sad, misleading name because what it really is an over-fired earthenware slip. It opened my eyes.

**this percentage exceeds the current food-safe standard in the United States.

Bottom half of the pot: Vivid yellow (satin, semi-opaque)

*Spray thinly to have the strong color.

*You can use Alberta slip clay instead of Arroyo.

Caramel (transparent and glossy)

*Kona F-4 Feldspar is no longer available in the market. Minspar/NC-4 Feldspar is considered as a substitute for F-4.

Leaf Green (Satin, opaque)

Tea dust base (clear, glossy with tea dust)

*works great with colorants!

85/15 turquoise (glossy, transparent, great crackles)

*Kona F-4 Feldspar is no longer available in the market. Minspar/NC-4 Feldspar is considered as a substitute for F-4.

Good Blue Lichen (glossy, opaque with tea dust)

+0.1% or just a pinch of blue commercial stains* (use a commercial stain instead of cobalt to ensure the even color)

Clear 2617 (glossy, transparent, good with colorants)

*Kona F-4 Feldspar is no longer available in the market. Minspar/NC-4 Feldspar is considered as a substitute for F-4.

Crystal Emerald Green (glossy, transparent with crystals without any special heating procedure)

+4% copper carbonate (or +0.5% cobalt carbonate for blue)

*Kona F-4 Feldspar is no longer available in the market. Minspar/NC-4 Feldspar is considered as a substitute for F-4.

Eggshell (semi-glossy, semi-opaque)

*Kona F-4 Feldspar is no longer available in the market. Minspar/NC-4 Feldspar is considered as a substitute for F-4.

Ann Arbor Art Center Transparent matt (glossy, transparent, good with colorants)

+Copper carbonate 1% for apple green

L.V. Baby blue (sweet, creamy semi-opaque, shiny, good for white clay body)

Gerstrate borate* 10 (or any type of borate)

+Baby blue color commercial stain 2 – 5%

Fake old Chinese celadon (mottled, semi-opaque, semi-satin, good with colorants)


We confess. We've been uncorking a lot of great single-vineyard Cabernets to pair with the steaks and burgers coming off our grill this season. When it comes to pairing wine and pork, however, some of the best grilling wines just might be pure, silky Napa Valley Merlot.

Which is why we rifled through our food and wine recipe archives and gave one of our classic Merlot pairings a summer makeover.

The pork chop is the centerpiece in this Grilled Pork Chop with Stone Fruit Salad menu, however, don't discount the tangy, nutty arugula salad packed with goat cheese, plums and toasted almonds. Although every flavor is intended to accent the fruit-forward flavors and supple, almost velvety texture of our Nickel & Nickel Bear Flat Vineyard Merlot, this recipe draws out the pure, single-vineyard flavors in all of our Napa Valley Merlots.

While the original recipe featured plump pluots and omitted the foamy butter sauce, our updated version takes advantage of farmer's market fresh plums. You can also layer in grilled peaches for added texture or swap out the slivered almonds with toasted pine nuts to achieve a richer flavor. When it comes to pairing wine and food, experimenting is half the fun!

Grilled Pork Chops with Stone Fruit and Goat Cheese Salad

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Optional herb butter

Salad dressing

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds or pine nuts

1/4 cup goat cheese, crumbled

4 ripe but firm plums or apricots

For the pork chop: Preheat half of a gas grill on high and leave the other half off. Brush the pork chops with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill each side of the pork on high heat for two minutes. Move the chops to the cool side of the grill and shut the lid for five minutes. Remove the chops when they have reached 145 degrees. Allow to rest three minutes before serving.

No grill? Skillet sautée your chops on medium-high heat, turning them every one to two minutes for about ten minutes, until the outside is golden brown and the internal temperature is between 138 and 145 degrees. For extra flavor, consider smashing garlic or your favorite herb (sage or rosemary are aromatic and delicious pork partners) into a tablespoon of unsalted butter. Add your homemade herb butter to the skillet drippings and melt over low heat. Spoon foaming butter sauce over chops to taste.

For the salad: To make the dressing, place all the ingredients in a small container with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously. The dressing does not need to be fully emulsified.

Place the arugula in a large bowl and evenly distribute the almonds or pine nuts, goat cheese and sliced plums or apricots. By putting the heavy ingredients on top of the salad it is easier to serve the salad without all the goodies falling to the bottom. Dress the salad just before serving.

Pour a glass of Nickel & Nickel Bear Flat Merlot and enjoy how the toasted nuts and juicy stone fruits accent the beautiful, fruit-forward flavors in wine, while the grilled pork chop enhances this supple Merlots rich, well-rounded finish.

Want more great grilling wines? Try pairing lamb burgers or grilled Merguez with this single-vineyard Syrah. Tender white fish over an open pit? There's a single-vineyard Chardonnay (or two) for that. And while we wouldn't hesitate to uncork a number of our single-vineyard wines when searing off great sirloin or porterhouse, we're usually tempted to reach for one of these dynamic Cabernets from some exceptional Napa Valley vineyards.


R. Stuart has long been a respected figure in the Willamette Valley wine scene and one of the first players to really embrace the screw cap. Pinot Noir is particularly challenging to make in a more entry-level format but this one is teeming with balance and layered flavors. Black cherry and fresh fennel notes bloom from this aromatic and easy-drinking wine.


Find the Best Red Wine for Cooking Any Meal

Many of Ree Drummond's recipes call for a bit of red cooking wine, and it's no wonder: A splash of vino can add a ton of flavor and color, especially to meaty dishes like pot roast or a simple Bolognese sauce. But when the time comes to head to the liquor store and pick out a bottle, the options on the shelf can be overwhelming&mdashwhat really is the best red wine for cooking?

Before you get fussy over varietals, remember that the most important thing when shopping for a red cooking wine is to buy something you like&mdashthat way you don&rsquot let the rest of the bottle go to waste, says Angela Gardner, General Manager at Tulsa Hills Wine Cellar. Chances are you won't use the whole bottle in the recipe, so choosing something you find drinkable is a must. You also shouldn't feel like you need to spend too much on any wine that you use for cooking either: an inexpensive bottle (around $20), is just fine for the vast majority of recipes.

Ready to learn about which varietals are the best red wines for cooking? Check out the picks below from the team at Tulsa Hills Wine Cellar, and then use whatever bottle you end up picking to make Ree's Cranberry Mulled Wine, or Short Ribs with Wine and Cream.


The Best Bottle of Wine for Every Budget

One-hundred-fifty-nine million cases. For a country that lacks the grand wine ancestry of a place like Italy, where there are "more wines than churches," that's an impressive number recorded by America's millennials, who downed wine last year at a record clip.

But lest you think it's all Carlo Rossi and Crane Lake, studies show millennials are not only a growing target audience, but also display a willingness to drop over $20 for a bottle. Let's be realistic, though. Even an upward trend of young, discerning wine drinkers doesn't negate the obvious: the wine world can feel like a guarded palace, reeking of stiffness and suffering from a lack of sex appeal.

That stigma, however, shouldn't prevent you from enjoying one of the world's most popular liquids. The way we see it, rather than stroll into the shop looking for the perfect bottle, or limiting yourself to a specific style, your best bet is to filter options by price point. You're far better off working within parameters—asking for a $15 acidic red, for instance, a strategy that zeroes in on affordability and flavor.

Walk in with a different agenda and you're bound to get lost trying to catch the white whales, only found in the cellars of serious snobs. Which is why we tapped the expertise of Wes Narron, Chief Wine Ambassador of City Wine Tours, who has spent years running shops and organizing tastings. Whether sparkling, white, or red, we asked Narron to put together a list of accessible, mainstream options that are friendly towards all wallets.

Here we present to you the best bottles of wine for every budget.

Sparkling: Martini Rossi Asti 375 ML

Approx. price: $6.99
Region: Piedmont, Italy

This is about the best your can do for a cheap sparkler. Most bottom-shelf sparkling wines—looking at you J Roget and André—are pure sugar bombs. You typically won't get anything good for less than $10 in this category, unless you get a half-bottle. Thus, the Martini & Rossi Asti 375 ml. Here you get a blend of fall-harvested Moscato grapes, giving it a distinct light and fruity taste. Don't feel guilty about mixing it with juice for brunch.

White: Aveleda Vinho Verde

Approx. price: $4.99
Region: Minho, Portugal

Vinho Verde translates as “green wine.” It’s a light-bodied white wine from Portugal. Green, because it’s distributed very quickly after harvest, and because it does have a slight green tinge. Fresh, tart fruit flavors with a crisp, slight effervescence in the finish. At this price point, it's hard to escape processed junk (see: Charles Shaw and Cupcake) made with tons of additives, so opt for a real wine, made from good grapes, in a simple, pure style: Vinho Verde.

Red: Piccini Chianti

Approx. price: $5.99
Region: Tuscany, Italy

You want to buy Three Buck Chuck from Trader Joe's? Be my guest. It's great for making sangria or mulled wine. But, for real—you like it? Spend an extra couple bucks and get something palatable. Chianti is made primarily from the Sangiovese grape, and blended with other Italian grapes. The more Sangiovese in the blend, the cheaper the price. This is a smooth, easy-to-drink red, with an attractive black cherry flavor.

Sparkling: Jaume Serra Cristalino Extra Dry Cava

Approx. cost: $9.99
Region: Penedes, Spain

Cava, the sparkling wine from Spain, is ridiculously affordable, and incredibly delicious. It’s a great alternative to Prosecco or Champagne. Look for the “Extra Dry” designation, which actually means “less dry” or “slightly sweet.” Here you get fresh pear and apple aromas, and rich citrus, peach, and green apple flavors.

White: Domaine de Vaufuget Vouvray

Approx. cost: $9.99
Region: Loire Valley, France

Vouvray is a semi-sweet white wine made from Chenin Blanc grapes of the Loire Valley in France. It's the wine my family fights over at Thanksgiving, and it's a perfect wine to serve to a novice because it's delicious and simple. Here you get a concentration of rich aromas with a slight honey taste.

Red: Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon

Approx. cost: $9.99
Region: Columbia, Washington

This is a perennial winner of best wine under $10 awards. If you run a wine shop, they twist your arm to make you buy the whole range of Columbia Crest Grand Estates wines: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah, etc. The Cabernet Sauvignon is the one to buy, though. Cocoa, plum, and vanilla aromas are followed by creamy dark fruit flavors that display a mixture of fruit and oak barrel aging.

Sparkling: Gruet Brut

Approx. cost: $14.99
Region: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sounds French, oui? Not quite. Gilbert Gruet was a European expatriate who had his mind blown at the wonderful grapes he tasted in the American south west, so he brought his champagne making skills to New Mexico. It's vibrant and fresh, with creamy citrus, vanilla and spiced almond flavors.

White: Alsace Willm Reserve Pinot Gris

Approx. cost: $14.99
Region: Alsace, France

For everyday drinking, grab white wines from Alsace to break up the monotony of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. You don't have to step too far out of your comfort zone to love Alsatian white wines. They offer pleasant flavors of honey-tinged fruit, primarily peach, apricot, and a little pear. This one's a perfect medium-bodied fruity wine to match with shellfish or lighter cuts of fish.

Red: Masi Campofiorin Rosso del Veronese

Approx. cost: $16.99
Region: Veneto, Italy

Valpolicella Ripasso from Italy is the “poor man’s Amarone.” You get the same flavors as the big boy wine, just not as smooth or intense. They sell for $15-20. This is the best wine value in the world. If you don't remember anything else in this post, remember this one word: ripasso. Generous, ripe aromas of plum and cherry jam, with hints of spice. Bold and rich flavors of bitter cherries and berry fruits stand out on the palate, with good acidity, balance and velvety tannins.

Sparkling: La Marca Prosecco 1.5 L

Approx cost: $21.99
Region: Veneto, Italy

Prosecco comes from the Veneto region of n orthern Italy. You'll find your local wine shops are overflowing with different brands of cheap Prosecco , but the La Marca Extra Dry is the one to opt for: a fresh sparkling wine with a vibrant bouquet of apple, white peach, and honeysuckle.

White: Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina

Approx. cost: $17.99
Region: Campania, Italy

Falanghina is an ancient grape variety, around when Emperor Nero was letting his kingdom burn—and presumably toasting with a glass of Falanghina . You don't have to be a wine geek or experienced sommelier to enjoy this. It's a pure darling of aromatic pleasure, with notes of flowers and tropical fruits.

Red: Decoy Sonoma County Pinot Noir

Approx. cost: $19.99
Region: Sonoma, California

To stereotype Napa vs. Sonoma: Napa wine owners drive from vineyard to vineyard in their Range Rover, while Sonoma winery owners drive from vineyard to vineyard in their Toyota Tacoma. Sonoma's wines benefit from the hands-on down-to-earth nature of their makers. The Decoy Sonoma Pinot Noir is silky smooth, with aromas of fresh-picked strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry, with hints of violet and white pepper.

Sparkling: Roederer Estate Brut

Approx. cost: $21.99
Region: Mendocino, California

Lots of the fine French Champagne houses bought vineyards in Napa/Sonoma California and make "California Champagne" using the same method and grapes as back in the motherland. Only they can't legally call it Champagne and they can't sell it for as much because it comes from the west coast. The Roederer Estate makes the famed Cristal Champagne in France, but this is their California version, a tremendous bargain for the rich and aromatic sparkler. It has floral apple, cinnamon and anise aromas, with crisp yet supple lemon tart, cherry, and spicy hazelnut flavors.

White: Pascal Jolivet Sancerre

Approx. price: $24.99
Region: Loire Valley, France

The Jolivet family makes incredible Sauvignon Blanc-based wines in the Loire Valley, the spiritual heartland of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume. Where else can you find taste-bud-shattering Sauvignon Blanc? Sleekly structured with acidity, citrus, and herb aromatics.

Red: CVNE Rioja Reserva

Approx. cost: $26.99
Region: Rioja, Spain

Red wines from Rioja, Spain all feature the Tempranillo grape. This vino is lighter bodied with a red cherry flavor and a touch of fennel. The palate is soft with sweet tannins. Tempranillo has a remarkable similarity to the Chianti wines from Tuscany, without the barnyard character of some Chianti. The trick with the Rioja reds is to understand the aging designations and to appreciate how they affect the price:

Tinto or Rioja: aged 6 months to 1 year: low or no oak aging: $9-$12
Crianza: aged 2 years: 1 year in oak, 1 year in bottle: $12-$19
Reserva: aged 3 years: 2 years in oak, 1 year in bottle: $20-$30
Gran Reserva: aged 5 years: 2 years in oak, 3 years in bottle: $30 +


The 50 Best Wines of 2018

As 2018 comes to a close, it’s nearly time to stress about holiday plans and devise a list of short-lived New Year’s resolutions. But before we look forward, let’s reflect on the year that’s passed.

Red, white, rosé, orange, and sparkling — we’ve had the privilege of tasting some amazing wines this year. And we thought it would only be fair if we share 50 of our favorites with you.

This Is The Last Corkscrew You’ll Ever Buy

Some highlights from this year’s list include the triumphant return of Cabernet Sauvignons from the Napa Valley. After years of hard-hitting, heavily oaked iterations, next-generation Napa Cabs have less alcohol and a lighter, fresher fruit character.

Additionally, Greece and Chile emerged from our tasting as countries to keep on your radar, with both producing some of the best wines we tried all year.

Sparkling wines stood out, too. We included a record number in our list this year, including four Champagnes. While they often come with a premium price tag, we find they consistently deliver on quality, and are not just for special occasions.

To come up with this ranking, members of the VinePair team, including staff, contributors, and trusted industry friends, compiled a short list of their favorite wines tasted in 2018. After some energetic discussions, wines were brought in and tasted as a panel before we whittled down the list to our top 50, guided by the following criteria.

All bottles had to be readily available in the U.S. The top 50 list focuses on wines that are drinkable, interesting, and, above all, offer great value for money. Nothing that made the list last year was considered for inclusion, and we placed a limit on one bottle per winery. Finally, we tasted the ones we considered among the top 10 multiple times.

This year, for the first time ever, we’re partnering with Wine.com to offer readers easy access to the bottles recommended here. And through 12/31/18, VinePair readers can get $20 off purchases of $50 or more at Wine.com by entering the code VinePair during checkout.

Here are VinePair’s top 50 wines of 2018, ranked.

1. Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($125)

Mayacamas Vineyards’ 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon is a graceful return to form from an iconic Napa winery. Changes in ownership, civil disputes, and worries about a departure from the winery’s traditional, elegant style become distant memories when tasting this powerful but focused wine. Very light oak influence allows the elevated, sun-soaked terroir of Mount Veeder to shine. Acidity is bright, and the wine has tart, juicy black fruits. Herbs and black licorice add nuance, while chewy tannins persist in a lingering finish, which is rich in stony mineral notes. If over-extracted Napa Cabs turned you away from the variety and region, this bottle promises to lure you back in. The 2014 vintage is drinking exceptionally well, but it’s still a baby. This wine will mature with grace and elegance and can be left in the cellar for decades.

2. Hermann J. Wiemer HJW Vineyard Riesling 2016 ($40)

German-born Hermann J. Wiemer was a pioneer of viticulture and winemaking in New York’s Finger Lakes region. In 2003, his apprentice Fred Merwath took over the winery, along with Merwath’s college friend and now co-owner, Oskar Bynke. The pair are now making the region’s most exciting wines, growing grapes without pesticides and herbicides, and slowly fermenting wines over periods of eight months or more. Grapes for this bottle come from the HJW vineyard, whose aged vines benefit from the moderating effects of nearby Seneca Lake. The site’s elevation also provides a cool, prolonged growing season, meaning grapes mature with intensity and finesse and maintain fresh fruit flavors and bracing acidity. This bottle has green apple, white peach, and lemon notes, followed by a lasting, crisp finish. Dry, age-worthy, and absolutely delicious, this is the most stunning Riesling currently being made in America.

3. Viña VIK Millahue 2013 ($126)

Norwegian billionaire Alexander Vik founded an eponymous Chilean winery with the modest aim of creating the best wine in South America. In 2006, after years of extensive planning, research, and soil analysis, he purchased an 11,000-acre estate in the Millahue Valley. Viña Vik’s flagship Millahue blend contains Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from three different vine clones, planted across three plots. Smaller quantities of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, and Carménère complete the wine. The 2013 vintage more than delivers on Vik’s vision, with dark berry aromas, followed by dried herbs and floral notes. Bright and energetic on the palate, with spicy tannins, this is a polished wine capable of aging. Not only is this now South America’s best wine, it ranks among the finest bottles we tasted all year.

4. Kir-Yianni Estate Ramnista 2013 ($29)

An acidic, black grape, Xinomavro wines are powerful and highly tannic. Grapes for Kir-Yianni Estate’s Ramnista come from carefully selected vineyards whose low pH soils produce expressive, concentrated wines. The 2013 vintage is intensely aromatic, with flavors of dark fruit, leather, olives, and herbs. Grippy tannins work alongside racy acidity in this $25 bottle that will age well for 10 to 15 years at least. This wine proves that Greek Xinomavro can hang with the likes of Barolo and Pinot Noir. This is one variety to watch over the next couple of years.

5. Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Tablas Blanc 2015 ($43)

An esteemed Paso Robles winery, Tablas Creek Vineyard was formed as a joint venture between the southern Rhône’s Perrin family (of Château de Beaucastel fame), and Robert Haas, the founder of wine importer Vineyard Brands. The plot features original vine cuttings from France, with Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Picpoul Blanc making up the 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc blend. The wine has an opulent mouthfeel and expressive nose with freshly cut green apples, dried salted nuts, and golden honey notes. The palate is equally rich, with a faint saline backbone and persisting finish. This is what happens when you combine quality growing techniques with experienced blending.

6. Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008 ($90)

Priced at just $90, little more than many houses’ non-vintage offerings, this creamy, complex blanc de blancs offers bright, fruit-driven flavor. There are well-incorporated, toasty brioche notes, balanced by mouthwatering acidity. Complex yet approachable, this is a crowd-pleasing vintage Champagne, priced for the people.

7. Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti SP68 Sicilia Rosso IGT 2017 ($30)

Arianna Occhipinti “SP68” Rosso is a tangy, gluggable red from Sicily’s Vittoria region. In recent years, regional producers like Occhipinti have led the charge for terroir-driven, organic winemaking using local grapes like Nero d’Avola and Frappato. The unfiltered “SP68” Rosso is an approachable wine, with a mix of tart cranberry, strawberry, and cherry fruits. Earth and savory herbs come through as well, adding depth and complexity. The palate is similar to the nose — light, lip-smacking, and savory.

8. Damilano Barolo Lecinquevigne 2013 ($43)

An affordable Barolo from one of the most celebrated producers in the region (many of Damilano’s single-vineyard bottles have three-figure price tags) this wine is a blend of grapes from five of the winery’s vineyards. It has a beautiful ruby color and quintessential Barolo aromas of roses plus a hint of leather and mushrooms. Rusted iron and savory, herbal spices come through on the palate, and it finishes with punchy tannins.

9. R. López de Heredia Rioja Viña Tondonia Reserva 2005 ($40)

Sure, the idea of drinking a 13-year-old wine is appealing, but cellaring a bottle that long presents challenges. Rioja Reserva overcomes them beautifully. Fermentation for this elegant, complex wine takes place in large oak vats, before six further years of oak maturation prior to bottling. It drinks and smells incredibly fresh, with fruity and floral flavors complemented by dark chocolate and black tea. A widely available wine with over 10 years’ bottle age isn’t normally this easy to come by, especially one that tastes this good but costs (relatively) little.

10. Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2015 ($29)

One of Tuscany’s classic Vino Nobile di Montepulciano producers, this estate belongs to the newly created Nobile Alliance, which is pushing to rename the wine simply “Nobile.” This Sangiovese-heavy blend gives pricier Brunello a run for its money. Fragrant and well-structured, it brims with ripe red and black fruits, seasoned with light spice. Medium-bodied, with nice acidity and gentle tannins, it’s an incredibly easy-drinking wine. Take this to a dinner party and you’re guaranteed to please everyone at the table.

11. Flâneur La Belle Promenade Chardonnay 2016 ($50)

A single-vineyard bottling made with organically-farmed grapes, Flâneur La Belle Promenade is a luxurious Oregon Chardonnay. Careful oak integration combines with crisp, refreshing grapes to provide a bottle akin to liquid honeysuckle with a savory saline finish. Get your hands on this small-production wine before it sells out.

12. Matthiasson Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($72)

This is one for all the wine geeks out there. Matthiasson’s 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon is proof that Napa can make low-alcohol, old-world style Cabernets that are still age-worthy. The wine’s nose is abundant with brambly red and black fruits, and hints of minerals and herbs. Its fresh, vibrant body includes light tannins and refreshing acidity.

13. René-Jean Dard & Francois Ribo Crozes-Hermitage 2015 ($50)

This is a stunning bottle of wine. René-Jean Dard & Francois Ribo are northern Rhone-based winemakers with a cult following in Parisian natural wine bars. Their 2015 Crozes-Hermitage is a delicious and earthy Syrah, and the perfect accompaniment for lamb dishes.

14. Clos Mogador Priorat 2015 ($100)

Founded in 1979, Clos Mogador is one of Priorat’s top producers. Made by René Barbier Meyer, son of the winery’s founder, the 2015 is an incredible, standout wine. Dense and rich, with vibrant acidity that belies its 15 percent alcohol, the wine is balanced, precise, and ideal for special occasions.

15. Charles Heidsieck Vintage Brut 2005 ($110)

A vintage Champagne from one of the more “indie” Champagne houses, Charles Heidsieck’s 2005 Brut tastes amazing now but promises to continue to age beautifully. This is both a serious wine and a serious Champagne.

16. Château La Gordonne Côtes de Provence La Chapelle Gordonne 2017 ($26)

Rosé continues to reign supreme as the go-to option for summer sipping, and this was, by some way, the best bottle we tasted all year. Cooly refreshing, with a honeysuckle nose and balanced, fruity palate, this is not just great rosé, it’s a seriously well-made wine.

17. CVNE ‘Monopole Clasico’ Blanco 2015 ($30)

CVNE’s Monopole Clasico is a bone-dry, savory unicorn of a wine. Made using a traditional practice of adding a small portion of sherry to a Riojan white blend, this complex wine leaves a lasting impression. Oxidized notes mix with fresh apple, lemon, and salted nuts, providing a white unlike any other.

18. Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV ($60)

An accessible, crowd-pleasing Champagne, the Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve has great acidity and a nice mix of fruit and bread notes. This wine blows better-known non-vintage sparklers out of the water.

19. Domaine Carneros by Taittinger Brut Cuvée 2014 ($29)

Want to get your hands on vintage, traditionally made bubbles with an affordable price tag? Look no further than Taittinger-owned domestic winery Domaine Carneros. A nose of peaches and yogurt meets a dry, effervescent mouthfeel, and is followed by a crisp, lasting finish.

20. Bernard Baudry Chinon Le Clos Guillot 2015 ($35)

Somms are obsessed with France’s Loire Valley, and this delicious Cab Franc from Chinon shows why. Le Clos Guillot is fresh but earthy, and would appeal to Pinot Noir fans looking for something with slightly more body.

21. Fontanafredda Serralunga d’Alba 2014 ($49)

Decant this wine and you’ll get the fresh rose and cherry aromas typical of Nebbiolo, followed by more ripe fruit on the palate. It’s balanced by crisp acidity and well-incorporated tannins. The winery’s entry-level Barolo costs just $40, making it fit for cellaring.

22. G.B. Burlotto Verduno Pelaverga 2016 ($25)

Pelaverga is a little-known red variety grown almost exclusively in Piedmont and known for producing lively, strawberry-scented wines. Pair this bottle with light bites or sip slightly chilled throughout the day.

23. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2015 ($34)

This vintage California bubbly is another example of the incredible value offered by some domestic sparklers. Made entirely from Chardonnay grapes, the Blanc de Blancs has elegant aromas of jasmine tea, green apples, and lemon meringue pie, with dry, savory notes and a delicate, creamy mousse.

24. Brandlin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($70)

This elegant, restrained Napa Cab is light on the palate. Lots of fresh red fruit and bright acidity plus silky tannins mean this wine will age nicely. It’s the opposite of an overly extracted offering you get from the wines made on Napa’s valley floor, and is much less expensive than it should be.

25. Maeli Rosso Infinito Veneto IGT 2015 ($21)

This incredible-value, Merlot-driven red blend includes portions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carménère, all of which come from vineyards planted on volcanic soils in Italy’s Colli Euganei DOC. It is intensely aromatic and equally expressive on the palate, with lively acidity and smooth tannins.

26. Domaine de La Grande Courraye 2014 ($16)

Everything about this blend of 70 percent Merlot and 30 percent Cabernet Franc screams bargain buy. The $16 bottle is made from biodynamically-farmed fruit. It’s an expressive wine with pronounced but well-balanced tannins. Buy this wine by the case.

27. Santa Rita Triple C 2014 ($45)

The Santa Rita Triple C is a fresh and age-worthy Bordeaux blend from one of Chile’s most famous producers. An accessible alternative to premium Bordeaux, this is special-occasion wine, perfect for celebrations and steak nights.

28. Barone Ricasoli Castello di Brolio Gran Selezione 2013 ($50)

Barone Ricasoli is the largest and oldest wine estate in the Chianti Classico region. Its vineyards surround the Castello di Brolio (Brolio Castle), providing grapes for top-quality, Sangiovese-dominant wines. Cherry and blackcurrant notes have an almost dusty character, complemented by balanced oak aging. This wine is drinking well now and will become even more interesting with age.

29. Royal Tokaji ‘The Oddity’ 2015 ($19)

Dry Furmint is an emerging, lesser-known style of Hungarian wine, and this bottle is a brilliant example of its potential for fans of crisp, mineral-driven whites. The Oddity coats the palate with a pleasantly chalky mouthfeel, yet there’s no lack of fruit — look for an abundance of apricot, peach, and citrus notes on the nose and palate.

30. Domaine des Malandes Chablis 2016 ($25)

For most Chablis producers, 2016 was a disaster, with a brutal combination of frost and hail greatly limiting production. While quantities of the vintage are low, quality is extremely high in some cases. The Domaine des Malandes offers lightning bolts of acidity and flintiness, with a lasting finish. And, at $25, it’s a veritable bargain from a prestigious region.

31. Fullerton Three Otters Pinot Noir 2015 ($20)

The Three Otters is a light, vibrant, and fragrant red that over-delivers on its price. Aromas and flavors include just-picked cherries and hints of black licorice. The finish is crisp and long, offering the perfect antidote to bigger, riper, brooding Pinots.

32. E. Sklavos Sclavus ‘Metagitnion’ 2016 ($34)

This is what a “natural” wine should taste like. The skin-contact white blend has a bounty of beeswax, honeycomb, and white stone fruit aromas. It’s complex but clean on the palate, with a persisting, powerful finish. This is a niche, small-production wine, but one that’s well worth going out of your way to find.

33. Laurent-Perrier Brut Rosé NV ($70)

A nuanced Champagne with mass appeal (including pretty striking bottle design), this wine offers freshly baked brioche and bright red-fruit aromas. The palate has fine, integrated bubbles and bright strawberry, raspberry, and cherry notes. This Champagne guarantees quality, backing up its premium price.

34. Ken Wright Celilo Vineyard Chardonnay 2014 ($33)

The perfect marriage of winemaking style and vineyard site, Ken Wright coaxes notes of beeswax and fresh-cut hay out of Chardonnay grapes grown 1,400 feet above the Columbia River. Incredibly meager soils and fierce winds batter the bunches, producing wines with intense concentration and flavor.

35. Smith-Madrone Riesling 2015 ($32)

Riesling is probably not the first grape that comes to mind when you think of Napa Valley, but, if you like Austrian Rieslings, this bottle is right up your alley. The 2015 vintage is bright and bone dry, with almond blossom and lemon aromas, plus a hint of petrol. Flavors include white peach, pear, lemon, and bittersweet blood orange.

36. Phelps Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($17)

The Columbia Gorge is one of America’s most exciting, relatively under-the-radar wine regions. The area spans Washington and Oregon and produces focused, balanced Sauvignon Blanc. This bottling has hints of grapefruit and lime leaf with mouthwatering tartness.

37. Fattoria di Petroio Chianti Classico Riserva 2014 ($33)

Tuscan producers looking to reinstate Chianti’s prestige as a quality wine should point toward this bottle. Roasted plums, tart raspberries, wild game, and even hints of tobacco create a fascinating set of smells and tastes in the glass, while elegant tannins create an experience a million miles removed from the straw-covered table wine of yore.

38. Nino Franco Faive Vino Spumante Rosé Brut 2017 ($19)

This outstanding wine from one of Italy’s most celebrated Prosecco producers offers equal doses of high-quality winemaking and exceptional value. Pop a bottle and immerse yourself in a bubbling strawberry and fresh apple fruit salad.

39. Campo alle Comete Cabernet Sauvignon Toscana IGT 2015 ($20)

Though labeled Toscana IGT, grapes for this wine come from Italy’s prestigious Bolgheri region, an area known for producing stunning Bordeaux varieties. Fruit-driven and easy-drinking, this is Old World Cabernet with an Italian flair. It’s lighter than standard Bordeaux blends and has an attractive, Tuscan earthiness.

40. Early Mountain Rosé 2017 ($22)

Yes, it’s a rosé from Virginia, which is, of course, a cool novelty. But Early Mountain is the real deal. Old World in style, the stunning, low-alcohol wine has aromatic herbs and fruit on the nose, and bright red berries mixed with roses on the palate.

41. Ovum “Memorista” Riesling 2017 ($25)

Old Riesling vines are an amazing resource in Oregon, and grapes for this wine come from vines planted in the 1970s. As a result, Memorista Riesling has depth and concentrated flavor, plus a hint of wood smoke. There’s a saline note, too, offering a wide range of pairing possibilities.

42. Justin Dutraive Beaujolais Villages ‘Les Tours’ 2017 ($31)

The beauty of this wine is in its texture. Exceptionally fresh and vibrant, but with a long finish, Les Tours is a must for any Beaujolais fan. Aromas are reminiscent of freshly picked raspberries, with hints of lavender, chalk, and dark chocolate. Serve with a very slight chill.

43. Castell d’Encus Taleia 2016 ($25)

The Castell d’Encus Taleia is an interesting Spanish iteration of Bordeaux’s famous Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon white blend. Partially fermented in 12th-century stone lagars, the wine is mineral-rich and savory, with a cool, funky character.

44. Bodega Amalaya 2016 ($15)

From Argentina’s Salta province comes this Malbec featuring grapes grown in high-altitude vineyards. The wine, which also contains a small percentage of Tannat and Petit Verdot, has excellent acidity, as well as fresh fruit aromas and flavors. There’s a hint of French oak on the nose, making this an entry-level Malbec you’ll enthusiastically recommend, especially for the price.

45. Trimbach Riesling Réserve 2015 ($23)

This is a textbook Alsatian Riesling: dry and tart, with citrus fruit, honey, and wet stone notes. Racing acidity balances out a moderate body, leaving a complex, lasting finish.

46. Tasca d’Almerita Grillo di Mozia 2017 ($20)

Made from indigenous Sicilian Grillo grapes, this vibrant, zesty wine has aromas of citrus, floral, and ripe white peaches, followed by a palate featuring tart honeydew, lemon, and a hint of sea salt on the palate.

Hailing from a single vineyard in Chile’s Maipo Valley, this expressive, nuanced Cabernet has silky tannins and a long, complex finish. If you like boisterous Napa Cabs, consider this wine instead — at $20, it’s a steal.

48. Château Puech-Haut La Closerie du Pic 2014 ($26.00)

Full-bodied and rich, this Grenache-Syrah blend has dense aromas of blackberry, oak, and sandalwood and a beautifully dark color. If you like powerful, Grenache-based wines like Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Priorat, you’ll love this (comparatively affordable) bottle.

49. Malene Rosé 2017 ($17)

A California rosé with a Provençal accent, this elegant, complex wine is bursting with strawberry aromas, which continue onto the palate and mix with melon and a hint of bitter orange peel.

50. Domaine de Fontsainte Corbières ‘Reserve La Demoiselle’ 2015 ($17)

A blend of Carignan, Grenache, and Mourvèdre, this wine features grapes from 100-year-old vines and fantastic value. It has aromas of blackberries, rosemary, and a hint of toasted marshmallows, making it appealing for wine geeks and beginners alike.


Best with Poached Salmon: Raeburn Chardonnay 2018

Poaching salmon is a great way to create a delicate, moist, and flavorful dish. With its delicate flavors, poached salmon is sort of a blank canvas for many flavorful combinations. It can be dressed up in a complex beurre blanc sauce, a refreshing dill sauce, or the crowd-pleasing hollandaise. The Raeburn Chardonnay has a classic California buttery chardonnay profile and an inviting citrus and apple nose. The well-balanced acidity, hints of tropical fruits, and a luxurious finish create a well-rounded taste that aligns with the rich salmon.


The finer side of Sicilian wine

Feudo Santa Tresa Rina Russa Frappato, Terre Siciliane, Sicily, Italy 2018 (£10.95, Vintage Roots) Come to Sicily for some of the best cheap wines in the world! Well, it’s a slogan. Not a great one, admittedly, but it is at least partly accurate. The island’s enormous co-operative, Cantine Settesoli, has 2,000 members and accounts for 5% of the wine produced. It’s good at taking advantage of the island’s benign growing conditions to make wines of juicy, sunny fruit from grape varieties both local and imported. Often their name is obscured in the supermarket own-brand small print, but you can find it on a pair of wines in the Sorso range at Morrisons: the lemony grillo 2018 and the plummy nero a’avola 2018 (both £6.75). Not as cheap, but good value all the same, are the wines from organic estate Santa Tresa, with the frappato full of that grape’s wild strawberry charm.

Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Sicily, Italy 2018 (£17.95, Great Wine) If Sicily is good at the basics, the past couple of decades have seen it develop into one of Europe’s most diverse and creative wine regions, filled with bottles of real personality and charm that are both recognisably Italian and entirely their own thing. I’d start in the area around Vittoria and the wine zone known as Cerasuolo di Vittoria – which is the only part of Sicily to get the official highest-rated status of DOCG. The red wines here are consistently among my favourite Sicilians, blending the two local grapes, nero d’avola and frappato, for wines of tangy fluency and, as in Planeta’s typically well-made version, notes of just-ripe plum, fresh fig and satin-skinned red and black cherry.

La Sabbie dell’Etna Rosso, Etna, Sicily, Italy 2017 (£12.99, Waitrose) Much as I love Cerasuolo, the Sicilian region that is causing most excitement right now is the area around Mount Etna. The vineyards are planted on the volcano’s slopes and something about the interaction of altitude, volcanic soil and very old vines produces red wines that can match the pinot noir of Burgundy or the nebbiolo of Piedmont for ethereal aromatic complexity – and white wines with the verve of the best riesling. A well-priced pair – red and white – at Waitrose is a good place to start a vinous Etna expedition: the rosso a classic blend of the two nerellos, mascalese and cappuccio, is lithe and pinot-esque with cherry and raspberry and mineral freshness the bianco (also £12.99), from carricante, all soft peach and apricot with an electric crackle of acidity.


Best for Cooking Sherry Sauce: Tio Pepe Palomino Fino Sherry

Region: Andalucia, Spain | ABV: 15% | Tasting Notes: Stone fruit, Almonds, Sea salt

Still haven’t explored the world of fortified wines? Refreshing, saline-driven expressions such as this bone dry sherry from Tio Pepe promise to blow your mind. Although this tasty wine makes a perfect base for the eponymous sauces that call for it, when sipped on its own, these sherries provide some of the most brilliant pre-dinner aperitifs out there.

Expect notes of stone fruit, marcona almonds, freshly baked bread, and sea salt to dominate the palate. If you love weighty, textured, and all around flavorful wine, this stuff is just the ticket.

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Vicki Denig is a wine and travel journalist based between New York and Paris. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators. Her work regularly appears on Wine-Searcher, VinePair and more. Denig is also the Content Manager for Verve Wine, a bi-coastal retail operation (New York & San Francisco).