2009’s Top Ten Wines under $25

Every writer does one… and people love to read them. Top ten lists. But when I read many of these compendiums, they’re chock full of obscure, single-vineyard this, and limited release that. And almost certainly snatched up by collectors.  What’s the point of lauding over wines that no one can buy? It’s almost… no… it is, mean. Tease, tease… “I tasted these and you can’t.” Bleah.

So in an effort to be more inclusive, I’ve compiled a list of wines I thoroughly enjoyed this year… and… you can still buy them on shelves all over the nation.

Terrazas Reserva 2006 Malbec Mendoza (Argentina) I tasted this at Bern’s Fine Wines and Spirits in Tampa while researching malbecs. Fell in love with this one. Notes: Smells like luscious raspberry jam you’d spread on bread. This impressive medium-bodied wine has a lot going on – layers of blackberry, black licorice, bittersweet chocolate, black coffee, cranberry, velvety oakiness and spicy black pepper. Excellent acidity with a rich, tongue-pleasing mouthfeel. Sw=2. $18. 5 stars.

Kim Crawford 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough (New Zealand) Some think this label is over-hyped, but I’m okay with that if they keep producing amazing wines like this one. I had this with lunch at Aquaknox back in spring. Notes: From the king of New Zealand comes another reliably charming wine – capped with a screwtop, no less. Its green grass aromas give way to dry, crisp acidity, ripe Granny Smith apples, zingy lime and plenty of refreshing grapefruit. The 2008 trumps previous vintages. Sw=1. $13. 5 stars.

Matchbook 2004 Tempranillo Dunnigan Hills (California) This wine came in the mail last February as a sample (yes, I accept samples but probably only 30% are worthy of reviews), from a PR person whom I respect and admire… he only sends the good stuff. Saw it at total Wine and More a few months ago. Notes: Grown in the relatively unknown  Dunnigan Hills AVA east of Napa Valley, Matchbook capitalizes on the quality and value of its obscurity with this delicious, toe-curling wine. Soft, elegant tannins, gushing blackberry, generous, ripe plum, with an edge of smokiness. It’s flirty and muscular but with no hair on its chest. Very impressive for the money. Might be a little on the difficult side to find, but it’s around. Sw=1. $16. 5 stars.

Torbreck 2008 Cuvée Juveniles Barossa Valley (Australia) Just tried this recently from a sample shipment, sent by a wine PR Facebook friend (Thanks!). Torbreck is one those cult wineries that makes highly extracted, ripe, yet balanced wines from concentrated, old vine fruit. Incredible talent. The wine is not oak-aged, so the fruit shines through like a beacon. Torbreck is found at fine wine shops… ask for it. Notes: On occasion, a wine makes my toes curl like, well… you know. This Australian blend of grenache, shiraz and mataro (another name for the mourvedre grape) is so smooth, fruity and elegant, it makes you forget your bills are due. Of course, the 14.5% alcohol helps a bit too. Dark cherry, stewed strawberries, plum, strong-brewed tea, a smoky quality and a smidge of eucalyptus. It’s silky and refined with a long, sultry finish. Sw=2. $22. 5 stars.

Avignonesi 2005 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Italy) I tasted this at Datz Deli, the relatively new beer and wine destination in South Tampa. My good friend (and wine geek), Toby, introduced it to me and I’m hoping to visit this property while in Tuscany next May. Notes: Full-bodied and meaty with dusty cherry, earthy prunes, sweet vanilla oak tannins and refreshing acidity. Sensual on the palate and a great food wine. Sw=1. $25. 4.5 stars.

Helfrich 2007 Riesling Alsace (France) I sampled this superbly under-priced gem surrounded by some of the most knowledgeable wine buyers and salespeople in Tampa. One of them, Dave, brought this to a gathering. We were all sufficiently impressed. It’s on many wine lists and stocked at several independently-owned wine shops. Notes: This semi-dry riesling smells like Estee Lauder perfume then eases into honeyed tangerine, lemon and luscious honeysuckle. Finishes with crisp acidity and wet stone minerality. Complex and deliciously affordable. Sw=2. $12. 4.5 stars.

La Crema 2007 Chardonnay Monterey (California) Sure, La Crema is everywhere. And people love it… for a reason. It’s consistently affordable for the quality (owner Kendall Jackson’s expansive vineyard holdings help with that). I had this wine with Melissa Stackhouse, La Crema’s winemaker, when she came to Tampa last January. We (there were around 40 of us) compared all her chardonnays in the appellation series (Monterey, Sonoma Coast, Carneros and Russian River), and Monterey crushed the rest. Notes: Monterey is a cooler climate area south of San Francisco, where grapes enjoy basking in the chilly air of Monterey Bay. It’s a perfect region for growing pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, producing austere, citrus and tropical fruit flavors like in this La Crema example. Creamy texture, grilled pineapple and ripe brie round out the taste orgasm. Sw=2. $24. 4.5 stars.

Yangarra 2006 Old Vine Grenache McLaren Vale (Australia) Peter Fraser, winemaker for Yangarra, pays a visit to Tampa each year, handily when it’s cold in McClaren Vale and warm here. Smart man. I simply adore this wine, vintage after vintage, and loved it again this year at The Wine Exchange in Tampa. Notes: Dark n’ meaty with leathery black cherry, fresh green tobacco, cedar and a gorgeous, silky mouthfeel you sense in your toes. I poured the ’04 at my wedding so, yea, I like it. Others to look for: ’07 Rosé, ’07 Roussanne, and ’06 Shiraz. Sw=2. $22. 4.5 stars.

Domaine Carneros 2005 Brut (California) On occasion, wineries remain favorites year after year. I tried this at a sparkling wine tasting at Vintage Wine Cellars in South Tampa in early December when I was hunting for bubbly bargains. This one is a bargain for the price. Notes: I poured the Domaine Carneros 2003 vintage at our wedding in 2007, so I’m smitten by fond memories. But not so much that I can’t taste the quality — I’ve loved it ever since the first time I tried it back in 2003. My affection endures into this vintage. Domaine Carneros is the California outpost of France’s famed Taittinger Champagne house, located in a opulent chateau on the eastern side of Carneros in Napa Valley. In 2008, they received certifed organic status for their vineyards — the first sparkling wine house to achieve that in America — and even employ solar panels for electricity. For icing on the cake, the winemaker, Eileen Crane, is female. Domaine Carneros keeps getting it right. The 2005 Brut tastes bready, elegant and refined. Loaded with red apples, citrus, and even a slight hint of tomato. Finishes dry and minerally. Simply fabulous. Sw=1. $20. 4.5 stars.



  1. Here’s a few more BEST under $25 to share

    Garnacha de Fuego

    Petite Petit

    Simi Alexander Valley Cab

    Zaca Mesa Cuvee Z

    Trapiche Broquel Malbec

    Averill Lane Petite Sirah

  2. I am madly in love with Malbecs! Terrazas Reserva 2006 is fabulous!!!


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