The Wine Meta blog has original reviews of wines from the Wine Meta highly recommended list and includes other value brands costing $5-$16 for a comprehensive guide to America's best value wines.
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2012-04-08
Three Very Good Oregon Pinot Noirs

There's almost no place to go for consistently good Pinot Noirs under $15. This is especially true if you like the medium-bodied, Old World Burgundy style of Pinot. The entry level French wines tend to be all hat and no saddle (meaning, fancy labels and bad wine), or far too expensive to be considered truly entry level. Thank God, therefore, for Oregon, which produces some of the best Pinot Noirs anywhere and, under its more generic "Oregon Pinot Noir" labels, many of the best reasonably priced versions of the varietal. Here are two well priced ones and another that's overpriced but still a very good bottle of wine.

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2009 Firesteed Oregon Pinot Noir
USA (OR). Pinot Noir .

This is a very nice, medium-bodied, simple but classy Pinot Noir in the Burgundy style. There's a great taste of dried cherry up front with just a bit of leathery tannins and a nice finish. It's definitely one of the best $15 and under Pinots I've had, and while it's not a screaming value at $15 a bottle, it's still a good buy. And it's not a bad Pinot, which you can run into easily in this price range. I will happily buy this again.

Profile:

Minimal sweetness, moderate tannins, medium full acidity, medium body

Flavors:

Dry cherry, leather

Rating:

88

Cost:

$15.

Value:

$18.82 (what you could expect to pay for a wine of this quality), making this: A Good Buy. Explanation

Tags: USA (OR), ,


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2009 Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Noir Willamette Valley
USA (OR). Pinot Noir .

This is a very very good wine, it's just not a very good buy at its average national price of $32. (I bought it for $27 at Spec's in Houston, which is right about what you'd expect for the quality.)

It's a wonderfully medium-bodied Pinot with cherry and pear fruitiness right after the almost bone dry start. There's a lingering, peppery, fruity finish with cherrry candy behind the French oak. It's a tiny bit smoky. There's not much of the winey, receding flavor you find in the best dry Pinots, buy you have to appreciate this wine's cohesive, totally clean, medium-bodied but full-flavored experience.

Profile:

No sweetness, moderate tannins, medium full acidity, medium body

Flavors:

Black pepper, cherry, pear, smoke

Rating:

89

Cost:

$32.

Value:

$23.21 (what you could expect to pay for a wine of this quality), making this: Overpriced. Explanation

Tags: USA (OR), ,


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2010 King Estate Acrobat Oregon Pinot Noir
USA (OR). Pinot Noir .

Like the Firesteed, to which it is quite similar, this is just another very very good, moderately priced, medium-bodied Oregon Pinot Noir generally in the Burgundy style. It's clean, balanced, with great acidity for food or by itself, and a bit of smokey-earthiness to go with the dry cherry-strawberry fruit up front. There's not a lot of complexity, but they get everything right. I much prefer a medium-bodied, dry Pinot to a big, thick, full-bodied fruit bomb, and especially in the sub-$20 price range. It's a shame a wine like this couldn't sell for $11, where it would convert legions to the Burgundy-style of Pinot Noir, but it's not an easy wine to grow economically, so there you have it.

I bought this for $15, which is less than the average national price of $18, and it seems to sell for that at many large retailers.

Profile:

No sweetness, moderate tannins, medium full acidity, medium body

Flavors:

Black pepper, cherry, pear, smoke

Rating:

88

Cost:

$18.

Value:

$18.82 (what you could expect to pay for a wine of this quality), making this: Fairly Priced. Explanation

Tags: USA (OR), ,


2012-04-02
Everyday American Claret, With One Standout

Have you ever tried a wine by Francis Ford Coppola? Because if you haven't, then maybe like me, you thought all along his winery was kind of a vanity project. I won't think that ever again, not after trying (and now re-trying) his 2010 Claret, which just vaulted to the top of my favorites in the $15 price range.

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2010 Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Black Label Claret
USA (CA). Cabernet Sauvignon 79% , Petit Verdot 13%, Malbec 5%, Cabernet Franc 3%.

Wonderful, dry claret. This is what you want when the wine shop manager talks you into a $45 cru bourgeois-level wine from a lesser known Bordeaux appelation (not that I speak from personal experience), meaning, for $16 from California you get what France can't deliver at three times the price. That said, far too few U.S. Cabernet Sauvignon- or Merlot-based wines in this price range emulate the European style as nicely as this Claret. There's complexity, a long finish, and a vanilla-coffee flavor from the mild and nicely integrated oak.

Profile:

No sweetness, medium tannins, medium full acidity, medium full body.

Flavors:

Blackberries, dark fruit, oak and vanilla, leathery earthy thing.

Rating:

91

Cost:

$16.

Value:

$35.30 (what you could expect to pay for a wine of this quality), making this: An Outstanding Buy. Explanation

Tags: USA (CA), Cabernet Sauvignon,


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2010 The Magnificent Wine Company House Wine Red
USA (WA). Cabernet Sauvignon , Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz.

This won't be for everyone but for me, it was a good enough value to be appreciated. It's a dry wine like the Coppola Claret but nowhere near as smooth—some might say it's harsh. The high acidity combined with a full body adds to the astringent effect. If you don't like strongly acidic wines, prefer medium bodied reds, or sweet ones, I can't recommend this. Strangely, if you like both dry European-style red blends AND big California reds (two styles usually considered contradictory) , this is a good house wine option for you. Best with food.

Profile:

Minimal sweetness, medium tannins, full acidity, full body.

Flavors:

Blackberries, fruity acid.

Rating:

86

Cost:

$10.

Value:

$12.37 (what you could expect to pay for a wine of this quality), making this: A Good Buy. Explanation

Tags: USA (WA), ,


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2008 Waterbrook Melange Noir
USA (WA). Red Blend , Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz/Syrah, Malbec, Sangiovese.

I loved the 2007 Waterbrook Melange Noir, and while the 2008 wasn't as great it was still very enjoyable, and I will try their blends anytime. This wine had a lush flavor of black and perfectly ripe fruit. The tannins seemed all grape, with little or nothing from oak. There was bit of barnyard to it, which made me wonder about the QC, but think of it as earthy and you're good to go. Overall, it has very satisfying fruit and structure with just a slightly off-putting odor.

Profile:

Minimal sweetness, moderate tannins, medium acidity, medium full body.

Flavors:

Dark berry, raisin, spice.

Rating:

87

Cost:

$14.

Value:

$15.26 (what you could expect to pay for a wine of this quality), making this: Fairly Priced. Explanation

Tags: USA (WA), ,


2012-03-24
How Low Can You Go?

Here are three extremely inexpensive Cabernets that, unfortunately, mainly prove how hard it is to develop solid performing, extremely inexpensive Cabernets.

bottle image
2010 Target Wine Cube Vintner's Red Blend
USA (CA). Red Blend , Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel.

There's plenty of flavor to this wine and that's the problem. Perhaps because boxed wines are old friends, I am predisposed to be open-minded and forgiving toward them, but this one imposes too much on our relationship. The flavor starts with cloying sweetness. Cherry cough medicine combines with bright fruit and stemmy tannins, either from real stems or wood chips tossed in as a vain attempt at structure. This is, quite simply, one of the worst boxed and/or cheap reds I've tried. Don't let the low price fool you. This is a bad value at any price.

Nothing sucks worse than having a whole box of bad wine. For four-bottle bag-in-a-box reds, try instead La Vielle Ferme (best box I've had yet) or Black Box Cabernet.

In Wine B.S.: "Too much of a bad thing."

Profile:

Medium sweetness, medium tannins, major and volatile acidity, medium-full body.

Flavors:

Cherry

Rating:

79

Cost:

$5.

Value:

$2.85 (what you could expect to pay for a wine of this quality), making this: Overpriced. Explanation

Tags: USA (CA), Red Blend,


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2010 Casella Wines Yellow Tail Cabernet Sauvignon
Australia. Cabernet Sauvignon .

Yellow Tail Cabernet doesn't taste bad, it just doesn't taste like wine. It may be the best Concord grape juice you'll ever have. In fact, it's hard to sip this wine—you want to chuck in some ice cubes and chug it down, which perhaps some Aussies do on a hot day in the Outback. There's a mild oaky thing going on, which tastes like it's from wood chips or powdered oak added to the wine beverage. Mainly this is grape cola (think Nehi, if that means anything to you) with a bit of vanilla. Frankly, it does what it sets out to do well, if you accept grape-cola-wine cooler as the premise. It's kind of a gourmet wine cooler branded as a critter wine. Bottom line: unless you hate grape juice, it's hard to say this tastes bad. The marketers have seen to that. It's a good enough beverage, just not good wine.

Profile:

Medium sweetness, moderate tannins, moderate acidity, medium-full body

Flavors:

Grape, oak, cola, vanilla

Rating:

82

Cost:

$6.

Value:

$5.35 (what you could expect to pay for a wine of this quality), making this: Overpriced. Explanation

Tags: Australia, Cabernet Sauvignon,


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NV Barefoot Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon
USA (CA). Cabernet Sauvignon .

While not a horrible wine for the price, this is a reminder that cabernet sauvignon is a difficult variety for the $6-8 bargain bin, unless it's a sale item from Chile during a currency crisis. Other Barefoot varietals are more successful at this price point, like their Malbec, Merlot, and even their Pinot Noir (ironic given Pinot's reputation for producing almost no low priced wines). This is a very non-descript, grapey-grape drink that's fruit forward. Like other Barefoot wines, moderation is its virtue, which is especially welcome here as the flavor seems all out of kilter—overripe, soft fruit with oak chips or oak dust added for gratuitous, mild tannins.

Profile:

Moderate sweetness, moderate tannins, medium acidity, medium-full body

Flavors:

Grape, wood.

Rating:

83

Cost:

$6.

Value:

$6.60 (what you could expect to pay for a wine of this quality), making this: A Good Buy. Explanation

Tags: USA (CA), Cabernet Sauvignon,


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Keenan Winery, Mountain Spring District, Napa Valley.

2012-03-19
Who Cares If There's Value in Napa Valley Reds?

Unlike this blog, which is dedicated to affordable wines costing $20 and less, my recent trip to Napa Valley was dedicated to some expensive vino. Actually, to be precise, I was probably drinking wines that were "entry-level" by Napa standards, where a cheap red starts at $35 and the cult favorites at $150 and above.

Reviewing expensive wines is not my forte, but I am human, so I loved tasting them. It's also refreshing to find that there are plenty of near-misses among the expensive wines. It makes it all the more fun to find an excellent $16 bottle of Clos de los Siete.

Here, in no particular order, are some quick takes on the individual wines I tasted - nothing close to an exhaustive list, just the ones that stood out.

The Best

2007 Keenan Mernet Reserve (Spring Mountain) - $101
Intense, concentrated fruit. Alluring blend of dry tannic Cabernet Sauvignon with soft but in no way overripe Merlot. Chocolately licoricey thing. Long long finish. Best red wine I've had in the last two years. Robert Parker scored it a 97, Stephen Tanzer a 91. Got to agree with Parker on this one. 96 points.

Keenan... [more]

Tags: Napa Valley, California, Cabernet Sauvignon

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Napa Valley visitors sign. Photo by Don Ramey Logan.

2012-03-11
Is There Value in Napa Valley Reds?

My wife recently ran the Napa Marathon, which was a great excuse for my first visit to the valley. She ran a personal best, and I got to set a personal record for wines tasted in a five-day period (too many).

While sampling many great and expensive wines, I wondered often: Is it possible to find good value in Napa Valley's reds?

Now, let me define the terms of this question, so as not to be flamed to high heaven. Value is always subjective. If you routinely shop for Bordeaux blends at $100 and up, then you are a lot more likely to say, "yes" (or "Hell, yes"), there's a lot of good value to be found in Napa Valley reds.

That's granted. So is the high quality of Napa's best red wines. The valley produces by far the greatest concentration of America's finest red wines. And relative to Bordeaux, the prices aren't bad. Even at the highest ends of the price spectrum—from the Screaming Eagles (about $600) to emerging cult favorites like Schrader Estates cabernets ($150-$250)—you pay much less than you will for equally coveted cabernet sauvignon-based wines from France.

So I love the region, love the wines. But what about value down in my Joe the Plumber end of the spectrum, around $20 or less?

In the region's other most... [more]

Tags: California, Napa Valley

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How Low Can You Go?
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