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American Wine Awards 2008: Best Wines for Under $20

F&W honors 20 of the best bottles—and best values—out there this year.

Whites

Chardonnay

2007 Foxglove ($15)
Anyone tired of overly oaky California Chardonnays will appreciate the subtle touch winemaker Bob Varner and his brother Jim impart to this wine from San Luis Obispo County. It has a blossomy yellow-apple and pear character underlined by a firm zing of acidity, but it also shows a lovely sense of proportion that keeps you coming back for the next sip.

Sauvignon Blanc

2007 Brander Santa Ynez Valley ($15)
This Santa Barbara County winery is a rare breed in California: a Sauvignon Blanc specialist. Brander’s emphasis on the grape pays off in the 31st bottling of its entry-level wine—vibrant and dry, with melony fruit and grassy, herbal nuances.

Reds

Pinot Noir

2006 A to Z Wineworks Oregon ($18) (pictured, above)
Domaine Drouhin veteran Bill Hatcher buys and blends grapes from at least 16 different sources, but the result is seamless: a supple, medium-bodied Pinot that pairs equally well with a burger or grilled chicken.

Merlot

2005 Raymond R Collection ($15)
This family-operated Napa winery with longtime ties to the California grower community knows where to find the best fruit. Its Merlot (with 25 percent Cabernet), harvested from three regions around the state, has generous cherry fruit and a smoky oakiness.

Cabernet Sauvignon

2005 Columbia Crest H3 ($15)
H3, a new label from Washington state wine giant Columbia Crest, uses grapes from the Horse Heaven Hills area (hence the name) to create a juicy combination of cherry and plum fruit.

Zinfandel

2006 Edmeades Mendocino County ($18)
Jess Jackson (of Kendall-Jackson fame) owns this California Zin specialist. Its 45-year-old vineyards yield the grapes for this polished wine with a deep raspberry essence.

Syrah

2006 Qupé Central Coast ($16)
The 2006 vintage may be winemaker Bob Lindquist’s best Central Coast Syrah yet, with a sophisticated integration of fruit and black pepper that would be envied by many producers of California Syrahs costing twice as much.

Winners

Published October 2008
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