Favorite Wines

You've read all about wines here, and you ask: "But what are your favorites?"

First, what I like isn't necessarily going to be the same as what you like. Furthermore, what I like isn't even always what I consider to be the best, for a variety of reasons. The best might be too expensive, or perhaps the best, while technically impressive, isn't as "fun" as an admittedly lesser wine. Your mileage may vary.

I have divided this into two sections: a general section of bargain wines, which are good wines at excellent prices, and a best-of section, which are my favorites in each category.

Bargain Wines

A bargain wine is a decent or good wine at an exceptional price. These aren't always the best (they are usually a level or two or three below the best), but they are pretty good, and even better in light of their low price. These are the wines that are affordable enough to have, if not daily, then weekly. In addition, they must be easily available nationwide; a wine cannot be a bargain if you can't find it.

For Chardonnay, Lindemans "Bin 65" Chardonnay from South East Australia belongs on everyone's bargain lists. It's not the best wine. It isn't even great wine. But it is passably decent, with no serious flaws, and it is dirt cheap, which makes it a great everyday sort of Chardonnay. And at only $5 per bottle, you can buy lots of it.

For the rest of Australia, a lot of people are fond of Yellow Tail, but I don't like them. For the same or less money you can get Alice White, which is quite a bit better.

Beaujolais is a category where I could answer "all Beaujolais" if asked for a good bargain. Virtually all Beaujolais falls into the sub-$20, or at worst, the sub-$30 range. Most of it is right around $10, and at that point, anything that is good is a bargain. Having said that, I'd give the nod in this category to Georges Duboeuf's "Flower Label" Beaujolais series. This includes the ubiquitous Beaujolais-Villages as well as the Cru Beaujolais from the individual villages. Look for the bottles with white labels and flowers. They are mostly in the $10-15 range. The smaller producers are often better than Duboeuf, but they also cost more.

For Riesling, one looks in the direction of Germany for both the best wines and the best bargains. Schmitt Sohne produces a wine range of mostly decent Riesling at typical low Riesling prices. Their distinctive blue bottles with the smiling sun logo can be found everywhere. The Riesling Kabinett is less than $10 at retail, and the QbA is even cheaper. You get what you pay for, but you don't pay much. I'd also recommend Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt for somewhat higher-end Riesling that you have a chance of finding at retail. The Piesport and Schwarzhofberg sites offer very interesting wines, although these prices wander well into the over-$20 range and thus barely qualify. The Chateau Ste Michelle Johannisberg Riesling from Washington State shows great promise, and is a real bargain at $12.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a harder one to find a good bargain for. The good California cabernets are priced too high for consideration as a bargain wine (although they can be quite good). The top Left Bank Bordeaux wines aren't bargain-wine priced either. Fortant de France produces a nice bargain-range Cabernet right around $10, from the unregulated (non-AOC) Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. But your best bet is in Chile: they are all quite good for their price and you won't go too far wrong for the price by buying random bottles.

For Merlot, there is plenty of inexpensive fruit juice coming out of California. If you are willing to spend more ($20+) many good Saint-Emilions are within reach, offering excellent quality without completely breaking the bank. There is inexpensive merlot out there, but much of it is basically fruit juice.

Australia is one of the best places to look for reasonably priced high quality red wine. The specialty is Shiraz, of which I heartily recommend Wolf Blass "Green Label" as well as the inexpensive Rosemount Estates. Their cabernet is also more affordable than California and Bordeaux of similar caliber.

Another great bargain bin is Spain. Spanish wines are, in my opinion, undervalued with respect to their quality. In addition to tempranillo, Spain is also a good hunting ground for Rhone varietals like Garnacha (grenache). The Torres San Valentin Garnacha is one of the best $9 you'll ever spend in wine.

Cline Cellars produces one of the best bargain Zinfandels (the California appellation), and is a great choice for a red table wine, with or without food. Ravenswood is another big name in Zinfandel, and they have Zinfandels from all over California to try.

For a light, fun party wine, find any Moscato d'Asti from Italy. It isn't particularly sophisticated or deep, but it's fruity and sweet and low alcohol (5%), and all my female friends seem to like it. These are usually $15 or less.

The Very Best

These wines are my personal favorites; they are the best wine I have tasted in their respective categories. Many factors go into what I consider to be my favorite; while technical merit is certainly the most important factor, other intangible things such as liveliness and approachability are also important, in addition to my own peculiar tastes.

Chardonnay
Glen Carlou, Chardonnay 2000 (Paarl, South Africa)
Sauvignon Blanc
Seresin, Sauvignon Blanc 2001 (Marlborough, New Zealand)
Riesling (German; table wine)
Joh. Jos. Prum, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Auslese 2001 (QmP Mosel-Saar-Ruwer)
Riesling (non German; table wine)
Hermann J. Wiemer, Late Harvest Johannisberg Riesling 2000 (Finger Lakes, New York)
Merlot / Right Bank Bordeaux
Chateau Grand Corbin-Despagne, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2000 (AOC Saint-Emilion Grand Cru)
Cabernet Sauvignon / Left Bank Bordeaux
Chateau Ferriere, Margaux 1997 (AOC Margaux 3rd Cru)
Beaujolais
Georges Duboeuf, Julienas 2000 (AOC Julienas)
Syrah / Shiraz
Rosemount, Orange Vineyard Shiraz 2000 (Orange, New South Wales, Australia)
Pinot Noir / Burgundy
Rene Lequin-Colin, La Comme, Santenay 1996 (AOC Santenay 1er Cru)
Moscato d'Asti style
Golan, Moscato 2006 (Galilee, Israel)