F&W’s 2016 Sommeliers of the Year’s Best Wine Bargains
What do you think about when you hear “sommelier”? Someone whose goal is to try and sell you a bottle of wine that you can’t afford? Think again. We turn to sommeliers to discover new varietals, new regions, new pairings, and new favorite affordable wines. Yes, you read correctly. Our rockstar 2016 Sommeliers of the Year taste through countless bottles of wine all year long, not only sampling those rare, expensive bottles you can only dream about, but also unearthing amazing values. Read on for the very best bargain wines they found all year.
Christopher Bates, FLX Wienery/FLX Table, Finger Lakes, NY
2015 Joël Taluau, L’Expression St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil
Super bright and clean, but with great purity and structure. But what I find more exciting is, like Muscadet, this is a wine that you can guzzle without thought, and with or without food—but when you do want to listen, it has beautiful things to say. And while it drinks stunningly well young, it also develops beautifully. All that for 13 bucks!
Helen Johannesen, Animal/Son of a Gun/Trois Mec/Petit Trois/Trois Familia/Jon & Vinny’s/Helen’s, Los Angeles
The best bargain wine I had all year is hands down the 2015 Château Cambon Beaujolais - it’s made by the Marcel Lapierre family! It’s technically in between Fleurie and Morgon, a discovered vineyard of older Gamay vines, and it’s so, so, so delicious! I think Gamay is not only a very drinkable varietal when made right, but it is so intensely food-friendly and accommodates such a wide range of flavors that for about $18 it continues to be BOSS.
Andrey Ivanov, Reeds American Table, Maplewood, MO
2012 Quinta de Vale de Pios Excomungado
This is one of my favorite everyday wines. Based on the naturally floral Touriga Nacional grape, this traditional field blend from the Douro is a complex balance of ripe black plum, lavender, and blackberry. Joaquim Almeida named this wine “Excomungado” for his unorthodox winemaking styles that he felt may get him excommunicated from the local winemaking community. He used native wild yeast, stem inclusion, and no oak in the process, basically making a hipster wine in a place where there are no hipsters, just hip replacements. The wine is quite tannic, dense, and great on its own or with food. It showcases the flavors in Portuguese wines sometimes hidden by too much oak. For around $13 retail, it is a great example of the price to quality ratio that is coming from Portugal today.
Rachael Lowe, Spiaggia/Café Spiaggia, Chicago
2014 Punta Crena Vigneto Isasco Rossese, Riviera Ligure di Ponente
This wine, brought in by Kermit Lynch, is an incredible value at around $26. Run by four siblings in a tiny village on the Ligurian coast, the winery is managed organically and focuses on indigenous, local varietals that are often unheard of. This Rossese shows aromas of bright red cherry, raspberry, black pepper and smoke, with a nicely balanced acidity on the palate. A great alternative to Pinot Noir, with perhaps a zippier structure, this wine delivers a balanced and food-friendly option.
David Keck, Wine Consultant, Houston
The Loire Valley is one of the most spectacular places on the planet to find fantastic value. This year I really loved finding Quentin Bourse's 2015 La Boutanche Rosé from his Le Sot de l'Ange project in Azay-le-Rideau. It comes in a liter bottle (the only legitimate size for a bottle of rosé), is well under $20 and is awesome by itself on a warm day or with a diverse array of cuisine.
Gianpaolo Paterlini, Acquerello/1760, San Francisco
The 2015 Vadiaperti Irpinia Coda di Volpe is an incredible value. Fiano and Greco are so famous that Coda di Volpe is often overlooked, but Vadiaperti's version makes a case for the varietal. Crisp, fresh, and slightly smoky, this wine is unmistakably Campanian. At around $15 per bottle, it is a wine that deserves to be more well-known!
Michaël Engelmann, The Modern, New York City
There are a few, but the 2014 Marcel Richaud Terre des Galets Côtes-du-Rhône is one of them. I have been a fan of his wines for a few years now and they seem to keep getting better and better. A bargain at about $15, it’s generous, with juicy dark fruit, and a fresh finish. For white, I really enjoyed the 2014 Dreissigacker Riesling Trocken. This Riesling from the Rheinhessen region in Germany is dry, crisp, and a great value under $20.
Jack Mason, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, Houston
The best wine bargain I found in 2016 was the 2014 Benanti Bianco di Caselle Etna Bianco. I don't know if you will find a refreshing white wine that is more complex in this price point (around $17). Bright, beautiful citrus combined with honeydew and yellow apples make this the perfect wine to keep in the fridge as a 'house white'.
Eduardo Porto Carreiro, Untitled, New York City
There's a producer in the Loire Valley called Château de Brézé, which is becoming rather well known for their terrific white wines made from Chenin Blanc. I can't recommend those wines enough. But this producer also happens to have some vineyards planted with the Cabernet Franc grape. I would say that the best bargain I've found this year is the 2015 Château de Brézé Clos Mazurique Saumur Rouge. This Cabernet Franc is pure, refined, and fresh; and it instantly transports you to a little bistro in Paris with its aromatics and flavor profile. For the quality and the refinement, I'd be happy to pay two or three times the price of this wine, but part of the joy of drinking it is the fact that, at about $19, it’s such a wonderful bargain. Medium-bodied, red-fruited, and chock full of balanced minerality, this is a wine that is a great pairing for pizza night as well as a lovely match for your favorite charcuterie.
Mia Van de Water, North End Grill, New York City
Château La Canorgue is one of my favorite sources for excellent value in France. Nestled in the hills just southeast of Avignon, on the border between the Rhône Valley and Provence, the wines are juicy, rustic, fun, and generally an exceptional value. It’s a biodynamically-farmed estate clustered around a 17th century farmhouse, producing red and rosé wine from Syrah, Grenache, and old-vine Carignan and Mourvèdre. The Château La Canorgue Luberon Rouge is my personal favorite—juicy blackberries and strawberries, cracked pepper, truffles and Provençal herbs. The 2014 vintage, at about $17, is a perfect bottle for gathering with friends for a feast around the table.
Jeff Kellogg, Quince/Cotogna, San Francisco
I hesitate to mention the G. B. Burlotto Verduno Pelaverga, as somehow over the last few years it has become impossible to get. That being said, it is always an amazing value for me, and the 2015, at around $20, is no exception. It has all the freshness of Beaujolais, the spice of Syrah, and the structure of great Italian wines.
Juliette Pope, David Bowler Wine, New York City
I have loved and gulped—as well as bought for the list at Gramercy Tavern in the past—Peter Lauer Barrel X Riesling of various vintages, 2015 being the current one. As his importer Stephen Bitterolf phrases it, “Barrel X is Lauer’s platonic ideal of what a Saar Riesling should be.” I experience it as just barely off-dry, walking that classic edge between fruity sweetness and frisky acidity, with a whisper of Mosel minerality to tether it and remind you of why and how German Riesling rocks. Quaffable and pause-inducing at once. It’s a true bargain at about $20.