Top Wine Values of 2011

12 great wines for $12 and under!


Every year, wine reviewers try to anoint their top (fill in a number here) wines.

You know, those lists that make a wine’s original value triple in price overnight. I mean, what is up with that? I never fully understood why there is such as stampede for specific wines. Yes, now it is a “wine of the year,” but just yesterday it was the exact same wine!

Okay, I do get some of it. There are the folks who buy and resell the wine for a profit and the folks who buy it to get the satisfaction of serving the “wine of the year” to friends. Beyond that, being number one on some person's list is noteworthy only in as far as how little it really matters.

I’ve solved that problem with my first list of the year, a dozen of 2011’s top value wines! No one is going to be jacking you with these prices, not even for my number one pick! These wines are all available for under $12 a bottle, and that’s a great value in my book. Are they the best? Who gives a hoot? They are delicious and that is what it’s all about my friends!

Photo courtesy joaobambu via Flickr/CC

$12 Pinot Noir

2009 Alta Luna Cavit Pinot Noir Vigneti delle Dolomiti, Italy

Value Pinot Noir has been something of an apparition over the past decade. Folks tell you it exists but then can’t manage to actually produce the goods. That has really changed in 2011, and no value Pinot made as big an impression on me than this one. In fact in many ways, this was my favorite discovery of 2011, making it worthy of the number one spot on my 2011 value wines list!

Rather medium bodied, this offers up a nice blend of cranberry/strawberry/raspberry fruit in a modestly rich, bright style. Shows a hint of wood spice on the palate, then gains a modestly richer impression of tobacco leaf and mocha on the moderately long raspberry/strawberry finish. 87pts

$8 Chardonnay

2010 Round Hill Chardonnay California $8

You really get a sense for things when you are forced, or force yourself, to taste through many value priced wines. Cheap Chardonnay often smells like cat food, tin cans and value pack air fresheners, so when one comes along that actually tastes good, forgive me if I get a bit excited!

This is nicely proportioned in the mouth, with a strong initial rush of lightly sweet peach and lime fruit followed by a creamy, vanilla-edged vein of tangerine. Hints of pineapple emerge as the wine extends across the modest and nicely dry finish, which has a certain dried orange pith character to it and a nice oak spice finale. This is a little fruit bomb, nicely done and sure to make many people happy. 86pts

$12 Chardonnay

2009 Tortoise Creek Wines Jam's Blend Chardonnay Lodi, California $12

A well balanced, big, rich yet not heavy California Chardonnay, and under $12. Fantasy land right? No, I actually found one! I was very happily surprised by the quality of this Tortoise Creek Chardonnay.

Big, broad and creamy, though with a fine core of bright acid that perks up the center of this nicely. This offers ripe peach and pineapple fruit, with lovely bright citrus notes adding some energy here. While the finish here is a touch short, it shows flashes of oak spice and ripe fruit with a hint of heat. 89pts

$12 Grenache-Based Blend

2008 Borsao Berola Campo de Borja Spain

Spain is packed full of value wines and some are even good! In fact, many are good, but some, like this Berola, are great.

Rather deep and complex on the nose with obvious toasty oak influences, all backed up with herb, camphor, chalk and soil tones, as well as layers of dried berry fruit. Big and powerful on entry, but not inelegant. The fruit is a real mélange of flavors; flashes of blueberry, black currant, black raspberry and plum gain hints of graphite, dried chili and vanilla to add detail. 90pts

$8 Grenache-Based Blend

2009 Los Dos Campo de Borja Spain $8

Figuring out what is good and what is great when dealing with value wines can be a tricky proposition. This Los Dos doesn’t impress in quite the same way as the previous wine, but for the price, it’s an unbeatable value!

Lighter bodied than the nose might imply, with a nicely rich yet balanced mouth feel, this offers up really attractive if simple blackberry and strawberry fruit, backed up with a hint of citrus. It's all held together by very well balanced acid and soft tannins. The finish is super clean and fruity but not sweet, with a huckleberry finale. 87pts

$10 Malbec

2010 Diseno Old Vine Malbec Mendoza, Argentina

Malbec is everyone’s favorite red wine. Well, not quite but with sales that seem to grow consistently at 50% year after year, wines like this are making a huge impact on where we spend our money!

There's sweetness here from ripeness, not sugar, and really nice tension as the palate transitions to the dry, taut, blackberry-toned finish. This is rather elegant and sophisticated, with a core of bright fruit that's really wrapped up on itself at the moment. This will disappoint many Malbec drinkers looking for power and sweet fruit. 88pts

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  • Best Value is definitely 2008 Montoliva Sierra Bella! $9.99 at the local community market, and a Best of Class winner at 2012 SF Chronicle Wine Competition. (yes, I'm the winemaker)

    Jan 11, 2012 at 2:48 PM

  • Write your comment here.

    Jan 11, 2012 at 2:56 PM

  • Snooth User: abquiat
    491506 19

    You hit the ball out of the park with your recommendation for the 2008 Borsao Berola Campo de Borja grenache blend. INCREDIBLE wine for the $12.46 price! Thanks for turning me on to it!

    Jan 13, 2012 at 2:25 PM

  • Snooth User: bhowe
    530700 15

    I was only able to get 4 of these locally, I really liked them. great to know you don't have to spend a forture to get good wine.

    Feb 13, 2012 at 3:16 PM

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