In mid-December, I detailed my ten most memorable splurge wines of 2012 for Snooth.com. Around the same time, I put together a similar list detailing my favorite affordable wines of the year — those costing less than $35/bottle. Like the Snooth.com list, I limited it to wines I purchased myself.
At year’s end, this was left on the blogging room floor. So, without further ado, here are the sub-$35 wines that surprised, impressed, and delighted me the most in 2012. They’re in no particular order.
2011 Matthiasson White Wine
In December 2011, while dining at Frances — a fantastic restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission District — I was excited to see some wines from Matthiasson on the list. I’d been reading about these wines for years, and I was particularly excited to order the inspired-by-northeastern-Italy blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Semillon, and Friulano.
I was floored. The wine beautifully marries all four of its grapes — showing the citrus notes of the Sauvignon Blanc; the seashells and brightness of Ribolla Gialla; the beautiful weight of Semillon; and the spiciness of Friulano. While I enjoyed the 2010 bottling at Frances, the 2011 is just as delicious.
2009 Ryme Ribolla Gialla
$30, RymeCellars.com (sold out).
Ryme Cellars is a collaboration of Ryan and Megan Glaab, a husband-and-wife winemaking team that met while working as cellar hands at Torbreck Winery in Australia. Since returning to the United States, Ryan and Megan have worked at an impressive array of hot wineries, including Pax Wine Cellars, Peay Vineyards, Sine Qua Non, and Marcassin.
In 2009, Ryan and Megan purchased a single ton of Ribolla from the George Vare Vineyard in Napa, which houses California’s first plantings of the variety. Ribolla isn’t always the most exciting grape — it’s aromatically modest, with medium weight and medium acidity. But in the right hands, Ribolla can be absolutely stunning.
Ryme’s Ribolla is, indeed, stunning. It’s savory and bright — with enough body to work with steak and enough freshness to work as a stand-alone white wine on a hot summer day.
2011 Arnot Roberts Touriga Nacional Rosé
$20, ArnotRoberts.com (sold out).
Everyone needs a case (or three) of rosé to make it through the dog days of summer. While my favorite rosés typically come from southeast France, my favorite bottling this year came from Sonoma winemakers Nathan Roberts and Duncan Arnot, the duo behind Arnot-Roberts.
Made from Touriga Nacional, a Portuguese variety best known for its large role in Port, Duncan and Nathan discovered that the grape can produce a delicate, crisp rosé that’s structured and packed with complexity.
2011 Massican Sauvignon Blanc
$27, Massican.com (sold out).
Summer also needs Sauvignon Blanc. This year, my favorite came from Napa Valley vintner Dan Petroski, who spends his days producing rich, finesse-driven reds as the associate winemaker at Larkmead Vineyards and his nights working on his own project, Massican, where he makes small batches of Friulian-style whites.
The 2011 Sauvignon Blanc was sourced from Juliana Vineyards in Napa County’s Pope Valley, which sees some of Napa’s most extreme temperature fluctuations between daytime highs and nighttime lows. These fluctuations have resulted in a wine that’s both intense and fresh. And delicious.
2010 Abbazia di Novacella (Stiftskellerei Neustift) Kerner
Northeast Italy produces some of the most exciting whites in the world. In recent months, I’ve become obsessed with Kerner, an extremely aromatic variety that was bred in 1929 by crossing Trollinger and Riesling.
Abazzia di Novacella, located in the Isarco Valley of Alto Adige, was founded a whopping 850 years ago by the Augustinian order of monks, who still run the winery. Its entry level Kerner displays enough sweetness and acidity to complement heavy foods, but it’s refreshing enough to be wonderfully chuggable.
2010 Peter Lauer Riesling Barrel X
$18, Chambers Street Wines.
Ask a Riesling enthusiast about hot producers, and he’ll inevitably steer you toward Weingut Peter Lauer in Ayl, Germany, a small town along the Saar river right by the border of France and Luxembourg.
That’s how I ended up with a bottle of Peter Lauer’s 2010 Riesling Barrel X. Wines from the Saar are noted for balance, fresh acidity, and more citrus notes than typical Mosel Riesling. This entry-level bottling from Peter Lauer certainly fits that description.
2011 Brick House Gamay Noir
Ask any Oregon Pinot Noir fan about her favorite wineries, and she’s bound to praise Brick House Vineyards, located near the eastern end of the Willamette Valley’s Chehalem Range.
Although I’ve known about Brick House for years, I didn’t taste the wines until this past summer while out in Oregon for the 2012 Wine Bloggers’ Conference. While out there, I tasted dozens of fantastic Pinots. My favorite wine, however, was a Gamay Noir from Brick House Vineyards.
Gamay Noir, of couse, is the grape of Beaujolais. Like a good Cru Beaujolais, the Brick House Gamay pops with juicy cranberries and electric acidity, but it’s also marked by huge amounts of black pepper, which is why it pairs with all sorts of food.
2010 Hirsch Vineyards “Bohan Dillon” Pinot Noir
$32, K&L Wines.
For my palate, America’s most exciting Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah comes from the “extreme” Sonoma Coast, a series of remote hillside vineyards in northern Sonoma County just miles from the Pacific Ocean.
A grower named David Hirsch has been tending to 72 acres of Pinot Noir on the extreme coast since the early 1980s, long before the region was trendy. For about 20 years, Hirsch simply sold his grapes, but in 2002, the family decided to start making its own wine.
They’re undoubtedly some of the best, but they’re also quite expensive — the winery’s top Pinot Noir ranges from $60 to $85 per bottle. Fortunately, the winery also makes a second wine — “Bohan Dillon” — which is much more affordable. While not as complex as the more expensive bottlings, it checks off all the boxes one looks for in an extreme Sonoma Coast Pinot.
NV Hubert Clavelin et Fils Cremant du Jura Brut Comte Chardonnay Tete de Cuvee NV
$20, Weygandt Wines.
A friend once told me that her only financial goal is to make enough money to enjoy good Champagne every day. Considering that the entry level price point for good Champagne is now about $50, that’s certainly ambitious!
Fortunately, sparkling wine from regions outside Champagne has never been better. One often-overlooked region for sparkling wine is the Jura, located east of Burgundy right by the Swiss Border.
One of my favorites comes from Hubert Clavelin, who uses Chardonnay from a limestone-heavy vineyard to make his sparkler. Just like high-end Champagne, Clavelin’s sparkling wine ferments in the bottle and sits on its lees for three years. Although the wine isn’t terribly complex, it can easily pass for an entry-level Blanc de Blancs Champagne.
N.V. Aecovi-Jerez Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Alexandro
$20, Schneider’s of Capitol Hill.
In January 2012, while visiting Austin, I dined at Wink Restaurant after filming some videos with the team from Wines.com. I brought several bottles to dinner, as we had a number of leftovers after the filming. (Wines.com is also home to an incredibly cool wine bar named Red Room Lounge.) Needless to say, Wink’s wine director, Dirk Miller, spent much of the evening hanging out at our table.
Near the end of the meal, he brought over a bottle of Pedro Ximénez Sherry from Aecovi-Jerez. He assured us that it would be unlike anything we’d ever tasted — and it was.
A mind-blowingly dense and delicious combination of espresso sludge, Fig Newtons, seawater, and yummy, blackberry syrup, we all fell in love with the wine. When I returned home to Washington DC, I promptly purchased a few cases of it. It’s always a hit.