Unlike wine writers at publications like Wine Spectator, I don't get cases of the biggest, bad-ass Bordeaux or luxury Burgundies sent to me to sample. Granted, I do on occasion get to taste wines that would be far beyond my budget, but for the most part, I purchase the wines I write about, and City Weekly graciously reimburses me for them. If there's an upside to not being able to sip luxury wines all that often, it's that I'm forced to discover high-quality ones that are also affordable.
So, here are a handful of the wines that left the biggest impression on me in 2015, most of them priced well within the average wine drinker's budget. Keep in mind that not all of these wines are available here all the time, but the UDABC welcomes special orders.
I think the biggest bang-for-the-buck wine of the year was Mezzocorona Anterra Chardonnay delle Venezie IGT, Italy, priced at—and this isn't a typo—$5.99. It's a new product that isn't easy to find in the United States, but we're lucky to have it here in Utah on a trial basis. Buy a case or two to make sure it stays! My wife, who eschews cheap wine and has a very good palate, loves Anterra Chardonnay and was dumbfounded when I told her the price. She thought I'd splurged on something special. Well, it is special; it's just not a splurge.
Speaking of bargains, a couple of South African wines come to mind. First, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better quality Rosé sparkling wine for the price than Graham Beck Brut Rosé ($17) from South Africa's Western Cape. There are gorgeous cherry and raspberry fragrances, and more red berries to kiss the palate. At Tupelo restaurant in Park City, I BYOB'd a bottle of wine and poured a splash for our sommelier. "This is lovely," he remarked. That lovely wine was Bellingham Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2014 ($22), another South African wine. Made from 100 percent Chenin Blanc (South Africa's most popular varietal) by maverick winemaker Bernard Podlashuk, the vines for this wine average 43 years in age. Beautiful white peach and guava fragrances invite you in, while fruit-forward flavors on the palate—along with hints of oatmeal—entice you to sip, sip and sip some more.
While I'm a longtime fan of Bonny Doon wines and winemaker/philosopher/wordsmith/raconteur Randall Grahm, I especially like the latest vintage of his Clos de Gilroy 2014 ($19). As Grahm puts it, Clos de Gilroy isn't made from the "weapons-grade grenache" that he uses to produce Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant. This is a softer, more feminine, spicy wine that's mostly grenache, with a smidgeon of Mourvèdre and what Randall calls "a homeopathic amount of Syrah" blended in. It's a wildly versatile food wine.
Although Rick Longoria is best known as a California Pinot Noir pioneer, I really love his Longoria Pinot Grigio 2014, Santa Barbara County ($14.99). This is no flimsy Pinot Grigio. It's brimming with pear and apple on the nose, and on the palate offers ripe melon flavors along with crisp acidity to harmonize with the wine's rich texture and flavors. It's a slam dunk with most seafood dishes.
Anyone who follows this column even remotely knows I'm an unrepentant fan of Rosé wines. I love them for their overall lightness and versatility. For a sunny taste of southern France, I recommend trying the 2014 Whispering Angel ($18.99) from Caves D'Esclans Sacha Lichine in Côtes de Provence. It's a peachy-salmon-colored Rosé with notes of sweet strawberry, raspberry and cherry, yet it's completely dry with a solid acidity and a long, clean finish.
Here's to tasting more wine in 2016!