2012 In Review: 10 Noteworthy VALUE Wines

Well, you've got to have a list, right?  Sure, some of these are the "best" wines sampled this year, others are just standouts that deserve recognition.  Regardless of whether you want to call this a list of the most interesting, best values, or whatever, you would do well to seek these wines out while they are still available.  Further preamble would only delay the inevitable: you're going to skip right to the list anyway, aren't you? 

Because there are so many,this list will be values with a price ceiling of $20.  The pricier selections will come in the next parcel.  Here goes...

CHARDONNAY: 2010 Wente Chardonnay Livermore Valley Morning Fog $13
A guilty pleasure, this Chardonnay is big, oaky, buttery and everything purists have come to despise in California Chardonnay.  Still, it's an irresistible moped of a wine.  Impossibly consistent and (gasp) reasonably balanced for its girth.  So I've had a few, what of it?

OTHER WHITE: 2011 Uvaggio Vermentino Lodi $14
Vermentino is a virtually unknown variety here in the US, but anyone who has enjoyed a good Vermentino from Sardinia or the Italian mainland knows enough to appreciate it.  In its best incarnations its layered complexities can be moving, though it is more commonly an unsophisticated and cloying wine.  Uvaggio's version is the first I've seen of this grape grown in the US - and what a debut.  Crisp, fresh, and well balanced, there's something for everyone in this extremely well-rounded, elegant white.  But it  goes beyond crowd pleasing to demonstrate a truth and seriousness of quality that commands attention - and respect.  An unbelievable value.

ROSE: 2010 Andrew Murray Vineyards Sanglier (Rosé) Santa Ynez Valley $15
This Sanglier is good shit indeed.  There's nothing shy about this rosé.  Its concentrated pink color is beautiful and bold, and it doesn't mince intentions on the palate.  Direct, macho, proud, and ballsy.  There's no wishy-washying the fact that this wine was made from hearty Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre.  Bombastic, delish, and refreshing all at the same time, the Sanglier conveys certainty and deliberateness.  Better still, the baseline rises with every taste and there is no lull, just plenty of crescendo.

PINOT NOIR: 2009 Deep Sea Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County $20
Finding a drinkable Pinot for under $20 anymore is a real challenge, so when one with some sophistication to it comes across the radar, it's worth paying attention.  Though it lacks the degree of dimensions as some pricier bottlings, it also delivers more enjoyment than many Pinots half again more expensive.  There's a lot to love in this racy package: spice, smoke, tar, extroverted fruit, and a finish that unfolds languidly.  Enticing and exciting.  Bulk purchase.

CABERNET: 2009 Frei Brothers Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley $18
A simple joy to drink.  Unpretentious, yet alluring and generous.  No need to decant this accessible wonder.  It doesn't jump out of the glass as much as it overflows.  Expect copious quantities of dense, super dark fruit, sophisticated spice, and a deliberate vanilla streak from the oak - all in balance.  Moderately extracted and full-bodied, this Cabernet has all the exhilaration of a wine three times its price.  And on day two, the thrills come in set waves of increasing length and size, suggesting longevity for this beast.  For God's sakes, get yourself a bottle - better yet a case - stat.  This has been on sale recently for $15-ish!

MERLOT: 2010 Columbia Crest Horse Heaven Hills "H3" $14
Lush, extracted, dense fruit framed within broad-shouldered structures, and amplified by warming oak treatments.  This tastes better than most people believe Merlot should be.  Consist and reliabile vintage after vintage, this wine is proof positive that the maturing Horse Heaven Hills is realizing its extraordinary potential today.  In a word: Wow.

RED BLEND: 2008 Cameron Hughes Meritage Santa Ynez Valley Lot 254 $10
Sourced from the underrated Happy Canyon appellation, this true Bordeaux blend seriously over delivers.  It's big, brash, and has plenty of grip.  Unquestionably Californian in style and thankfully lacking the flabby excess that seems to plague every other blend out there right now.  Unfortunately it's not available online, but with over 5,000 cases made, it should be easy to find, though it is sold out online.

SYRAH: 2010 Klinker Brick Syrah Lodi "Farrah" $18
The 2010 vintage for this Syrah brings more of the same intoxicating, swoon-inducing syrup that we first fell in love with in the 2007 vintage.  Bold on the verge of overwhelming, it took a good four-plus hours of decanting to approach this beast without being bowled over.  The density of this wine packs so much into a beverage as to confound even the most adventurous of wine intellectuals.  Deep, dark, Shiraz-like fruit takes center stage, savory high notes ride fast and loose along side, and the strong toasty cedar flavors round out the attack.  Folks, that is just the beginning.  With a mid palate that interrupts conversation and a finish that traverses time zones, this could be too much wine for many delicate consumers, but an irresistible draw for anyone with a weakness for the dark side.  Serious contender for best value in California.

ITALIAN RED: 2009 Giuseppe Campagnolo Ripasso della Valpolicella $15These so much to love about this wine, not the least of which is the refinement you get for the price.  Though it has the body and depth of a Ripasso, it also has elegance and delicacy that set it apart from heavy-handed Ripassos.  The bright acidity is subdued, providing balance and harmony.  Yum, yum, yum.
FRENCH RED: 2009 Chateau de Segries Lirac Cuvee Reserve $17
For those among us who have either forgotten about - or lost faith in - French wines as a source of quality and value, here's a tremendous reason to return.  Sourced from vineyards across the river from Chateauneuf-du-Pape and made from a similar blend (Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvedre, and Carignan), this expressive bottling really over delivers at the price.  Balanced and energetic, bright flavors are stacked in orderly fashion and come at you again and again.  Though not dense, there's nothing shy about this modern-styled blend.  Repeat purchases have proved this a confirmed winner.