TPFCarrying on where we left off in yesterday’s Red RoundUp, here is a flock o’ stunners in the sparkling, Port, and Still White categories. Again, many of these – the ones whose names are shown in Bold Red – have been consistently excellent for the better part of a decade…or longer! The ones that appear in Bold-Face Black are new entries, ones whose futures are yet to be seen but whose current vintage just absolutely nails the age-old question of “QPR” – Quality To Price Ratio”. Great QPR wines can be any price, as long as their quality far outruns the price tag. All these wines offer outstanding QPR and all are wickedly, addictively drinkable…and all are going to be a tad hard to find. But the effort is going to be well worth it when that first sip hits your tongue and evokes that most revealing and cherished compliment that can be paid to any wine: “Mmmmmmm!

The Sweet and The Sparkling All-Stars

image_866823_fullRL Buller Victoria Tawny Australian Port-Style Wine – Buller’s head winemaker, Richard Buller, is arguably one of the world’s top makers of anything sweet and based on grapes. His line of dessert wines (“Stickies”) routinely rack up 95+ point scores from wine critics and deserve every digit. But my fave from Buller has always been this $15 bottle of Tawny, a dead-serious mouthful of dark caramels, roasted nuts, fruitcake, raisins, and hints of citrus. For over ten years, now, this multi-vintage blend of barrels has dazzled Port lovers – even in Portugal! – and spawned scores of imitators. If you’re a Port fan, this is near-perfect, beautifully-crafted Tawny that delivers, every single sip. 94 Points

borges-ruby-port-433147Vinho Borges Ruby Port – From an actual, rather overlooked Port house, this beautiful little bottle of $12 splendor hits the glass in an almost-opaque, blood-dark red/purple and geysers aromas about like a fire hose. On the palate, it shows opulent plums and currants and blackberry liqueur, and a fine-grained texture that makes drinking it a pure sensual pleasure. No, this probably will not score ya big style points with your Port-geek friends so enjoy it yourself and let them overspend to have no more pleasure than you’ll find in here.  91 Points

brutreservaParxet “Cuvee 21” Cava Brut 2011 – This blend of indigenous Spanish white varietals Macabeo, Parellada, and the uber-obscure Pansa Blanca literally made me go pop-eyed when I first tasted it and I immediately told our sales rep that, if it was less than $40 retail, we’d take it. Then he told me it’ll sell for TEN bucks. Good Lord, I almost don’t have words to tell you what a splendid little bottle of Champagne-style bubbly this is. The prominent mineral notes that we all treasure in an actual Champagne are front ‘n’ center here, layered with yellow apples, cream, lychi, buttermint, almonds, tangerine, and tree fruit notes galore. The bubbles easily outlast the bottle and are tiny and fine-grained. This is just the sort of overlooked gem that continues to make wine the compelling adventure it is for an old curmudgeon like me..Imagine what it could do for a normal person!  90 Points

BOTTLE_7798Familia Zuccardi Vida Organica Sparkling Chardonnay 2012 –  I don’t want to cheapen this by getting all Steve about it. This is simply one of the two or three best sub-$20 bottles of sparkling Chard I’ve ever tasted. It’s almost perfect: gorgeous apples, pears, and peaches, married sweetly to generous citrus, sweet minerals, and flattering hint of almond and dill in the background. Zuccardi is a wine group best known for their titanic, inky Malbec and Syrah but they also boast a beautiful Torrontes and one of the best Chardonnay-Viognier wines I’ve found from anybody, anywhere, at any price. Your challenge in finding this is that Zuccardi, despite a string of 90+ scores from international wine critics, remains relatively obscure. It may turn out to be a real Quest, as this striking sparkler has been generally overlooked, but the rewards in finding a TEN DOLLAR bottle of this quality will be worth it.  91 Points

3_10825750_3Gruet Blanc de Noir NV – By now, if you expect to have any wine cred at all, you’ll know about Gruet: first winery in New Mexico, run by a family that owns a French Champagne house, slipped into a blind tasting of top-tier California sparklings by Robert Parker in 1993 and won BOTH Gold Medals…THAT Gruet. For twenty straight years, now, Gruet Blanc de Noir has been my vote for one of the top three American sparkling wines at any price. It’s THAT good and one of the most casually brilliant bubblies I taste, every year. Stone and fruit are in perfect balance and the spicy Pinot grace notes give it a lively character that makes drinking it not only a festival of analysis-worthy aspects for wine geeks but fun for the Average Joe (or Josephine). Still great, still improving, still FIFTEEN BUCKS!  93 Points

ZoomMethodeTradFrancois Chidaine Montlouis Methode Traditionnelle Brut   –  This is the most expensive bottle on this list but, remember, “ultra value” means only that what’s in the bottle could cost a TON more than what’s being asked. A $100 bottle could be an ultra-value wine IF it should cost $150. Francois Chidaine started on his family’s Touraine estate as a farm laborer but, in 1989, decided to go out on his own. With a little over 42 acres and a wonderfully wry attitude (his website’s motto is “The winegrower is a sacred whore business.”) he’s managed to turn out wines that make jaws drop and get people a tad, uh, worked up. This astounding Loire bubbly is crafted from 100% Chenin Blanc, something American wineries almost never do. Maybe they should: it’s built exactly like a top-shelf Champagne and, to my palate, shows even better terroir character than most of their spendy neighbors to the Northeast. The elegant fruit leans toward Chenin’s hallmark grassy honey and wildflower with crisp apples, ripe pears, citrus highlights, and that unmistakable note of fresh quince. You can expect to pay about $25, unless you’re in Washington, where our extortionary tax base shoves it to about $30. At either price, you’re getting a wine that rivals Champagnes for which you’d happily pay $80 to $120.  95 Points

Those Winning Whites

trenza-blanco-edna-valley-usa-10152844Trenza Blanco 2010  –  Trenza is one of a group of wineries owned by the family of Jack Niven, the man who first gambled on the high-elevation vineyard sites of the Edna Valley, located in California’s San Luis Obispo County. Trenza was created to use the native Spanish grapes that were planted on the Niven Estates and conceived to marry the earthy, generous flavors of Spain’s overlooked white grapes to the elegance of Edna Valley’s extraordinary climate. Hot days and cool, moist nights give these Albarino and Grenache Blanc grapes a mad expressiveness and vivid, mineral-tinged intensity. Bursting flavors of quince and buttermint and red pears and juicy yellow apples play off grace notes of dill and sage and lychi and apricots. As a food wine, this has incredible range; a perfect pairing with any seafood or green salad but also a terrific foil to a pork roast or grilled salmon. I like it best all by itself, with a bit of crusty bread and a technicolor sunset. Trenza Blanco is delicious, easy to drink, and a wonderful infusion of romance into your warm summer night…or your major Thanksgiving dinner.   About $18.   91 points tangentgrenacheblanc12-w-2

Tangent Grenache Blanc 2012 Paragon Vineyard  –  Niven Family Wine Estates is the only company to place two wines on this list and the reason can best be summed up by two words: Glorious Fruit. Jack Niven’s first Edna Valley vineyard was named Paragon and it has evolved into one of the foremost white grape sites in the US. Grenache Blanc is a  rather obscure varietal, to most Americans, and even in its native Spain, it’s not all that widely used…but the potential is clearly spelled out in this wine. The balance is uncanny and the flavors vivid and achingly pure: cantaloupe, honeydew melon, peaches, cinnamon, a surprising note of molten caramel, fresh herbs, cream, marmalade, and honeysuckle. Of the roughly 1,200 whites I tasted in 2013, this was one of the two or three most unique, distinctive, and memorable. At just $14, this wine may well be the most outside-the-box choice you make all year and therein lies the rub. Most Americans, stuck up to their ears in the Chard/Pinot Gris/Sauv Blanc/Riesling rut, hesitate to try an unknown white far more than an obscure red. If you can get past that, I guarantee you’ll find nothing at all weird or challenging…just splendid flavors and a texture like raw silk.   92 Points

JulesTaylorSavBlanc2013_0013Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2012  –  Jules Taylor is a pretty, pleasant, whip-smart young woman whose singular vision and grand winemaking skills have allowed her to look beyond her native New Zealand’s preoccupation  with tart, grapefruity Sauvignon Blanc and find a place where acids and citrus balance beautifully with ripeness and breadth. When she visited me in 2013, she brought two vintages of this Marlborough Sauv Blanc and they were distinctive as snowflakes and strikingly delicious. This is a far more varied and expansive palate than we find in most NZ Sauv Blancs: the citrus runs to tangerine and Meyer lemons more than to just grapefruit and in its considerable depths lurk notes of caramel, apple butter, over-ripe pears, huckleberries, quince, and lime leaf. The acids are still there but softened and set in perfect balance with the fruit and alcohol. Jules’ other wines are every bit as fine and thoughtful as this one but, for anyone who loves great Sauv Blanc, this is one you cannot miss!   92 Points

lucien-albrecht-cuvee-balthazar-pinot-blanc-2010Lucien Albrebecht “Cuvee Balthazar” Pinot Blanc 2011  –  Ah, Alsace! For me, this is the truly magical French appellation, set right on the German border and steeped in the German attitudes and aptitudes that have very nearly perfected white wine. Pinot Blanc is my absolute favorite of the entire family of Pinot wines. Its wonderfully expressive and flatly elegant character far outstrips its rambunctious cousin, the omnipresent Pinot Gris/Grigio. To the tree-fruit and citrus range of the Gris, Blanc adds white flowers, melon, apricot, and a touch of ginger. It’s vinified slightly sweet and is literally mouth-watering, with a crisp and bracing acidity that lets it pair with Asian food like they were separated at birth. This is a brilliant, much-overlooked bottle of great Alsatian white that wears better than your favorite pair of jeans.  93 Points Amrita13

Anne Amie Cuvee A  “Amrita”  2013   – Check out this varietal list:  Viognier 26.3%, Riesling 24.1%, Pinot Blanc 15.7%, Chardonnay 14.3%, Müller-Thurgau 9.2%, Pinot Gris 8.1%, Gewurtztraminer 2.3%., First impression: a train wreck, right? WRONG. Thomas Housman’s deft hand on the helm enables Anne Amie to reach into some ideas that other wineries seldom think of…and pull ’em off. This white entry into their value-wine series is positively flamboyant; a supple and exciting montage of flavor traits from those seven colorful grapes: apples, pears, apricots, kiwi, honeysuckle, lychi, almonds, jasmine, gooseberries, spruce tips, and hints of orange peel and limeade. The fine-grained spices of the tiny dose of Gewurz illuminates the whole deal and the balance of acids, tannins, and minerals is near-perfect. A gorgeous bottle of hedonistic white-wine pleasure from a sadly under-appreciated Oregon heavyweight.   90 Points Waitsburg_Riesling_Main_r02

Waitsburg Cellars Riesling Old Vines Columbia Valley 2012 –  100% Riesling, single vineyard from the rock-solid Minick Vineyard, stainless steel fermented, NO oak at all, and made by Precept Brands in close collaboration with one of the guys in this soggy, weird-ass corner of America who knows best what a great wine tastes like, Wine Enthusiast’s Paul Gregutt – there’s yer thumbnail sketch of this splendid white. While its two Chenin Blanc sisters have gotten – and justifiably so – most of the buzz, this essentially Washington Riesling is rapidly turning into the Cinderella of the bunch. Tropical fruit explodes out of the glass, prettily underpinned by lychi, citrus peels, red apples, pears, a hint of cedar and a lovely whiff of sweet minerals give this complexity and a crazy drinkability. Washington is, without doubt and with all due respect for New York’s Finger Lakes, clearly the best growing area in the US for this most noble varietal and scaling the dazzling list of current bottles is no small trick. Gregutt and Precept have done it in just two vintages. Just flawless.   93 Points

jordan-jardin-chardonnay-stellenbosch-south-africa-10126033Jordan Chardonnay Stellenbosch 2012  –  I’m holding the line on my decade-long refusal to heap praise on oaky-buttery Chardonnay but I’m also not blaming the multitude of flaws in that style on the barrels. That’s like blaming the remote after you dropped your TV and busted it. Judgment is all that’s standing in the way of great Chards coming out of oak casks. Africa’s first husband and wife winemaking and viticultural team, Gary and Kathy Jordan, seem to have judgment and fabulous fruit in all directions. Their Stellenbosch Kloof is bustin’ with fantastic Chenin Blanc, Sauv Blanc, and this eye-popping Chardonnay, which they vinify in at least four different styles. Lush apples, pears, mango, honeydew, and white peaches geyser from the glass and that oak? Perfect. A whisper instead of an air raid siren. Judgment: that’s the difference between this level of spectacular and merely pandering to common tastes. This is one of the two or three best bottle of Chard under $30 that I’ve ever tasted.   93 Points oxford-landing-viognier-nv-275

Oxford Landing Viognier South Australia 2013  –  By now, most people who have any interest in wine past the very casual know that Oxford Landing is a respected Aussie value label owned by the legendary Yalumba, on of Oz’s oldest producers. But, unlike most second labels, OL is it’s own actual winery, where Yalumba assigns especially promising young winemakers like Andy La Nauze, a musician/vintner whose last performing band was called “The Traveling Wineberries”. Andy’s youthful exuberance suffuses every Oxford Landing wine and this Viognier may well be his best. La Nauze, who trained in Alsace, shows a masterful hand with whites and with Viognier, it’s almost magical. Those hallmark flavors of over-ripe pears, yellow apples, lemon cream, kiwi, and white flowers give this varietal correctness but it’s the surprising layer of minerals that are stunningly reminiscent of the grapes origins in Condrieu that set this apart from every other value Viognier in the world. At roughly EIGHT DOLLARS, this is in my skin-flinty fridge with great regularity and it just never gets old. One of the world’s great dirt-cheap whites!  91 Points

One thought on “25 Ultra-Value Wines, Part Two: Bubbles, Sweets, and Slammin’ Whites

  1. Pingback: 25 Ultra-Value Wines, Part Two: Bubbles, Sweets, and Slammin … | Which Wine Is Sweet

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