Like many wine enthusiasts, we used to eagerly await the fall unveiling of the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines of the Year. Not to stalk the top 10 (typical average price $90 to $100 a bottle), as collectors often do, but to seek the values on the list ($20 or less).
Yet after a bumper crop of values in 2010 (see Local bargains abound among Wine Spectator Top 100), the pickin’s grew slim in 2011, rebounded a bit 2012 then dropped again in 2013, so we gave up on the increasingly arduous hunt. (Full disclosure: this column also went semi-dormant starting in the fall of 2013, as day-job demands took precedence. However, my recent appearance on The Tony Perkins Show has reinvigorated the column!—listen to it here.)
The pendulum continues to swing back and forth for Wine Spectator’s editors, who chose affordable wines for a third of the spots on last year’s Top 100, yet included only 16 wine priced $20 or less in the Top 100 Wines of 2015. “Each year, Wine Spectator editors survey the wines reviewed over the previous 12 months and select our Top 100, based on quality, value, availability and excitement,” the magazine explains on its website.
But “value” and “availability” clearly take a back seat to “quality” and the impossibly subjective “excitement.” The average price of both the 2014 and 2015 Top 100 was $47 (with an average score of 93 points) and “many wines on the list are made in limited quantities,” the magazine acknowledges. If that’s how Wine Spectator defines value and availability, you have to wonder what they’d consider overpriced and hard to find?
Nonetheless, among the paltry 16 affordable wines on the 2015 Top 100, nine are available locally, five whites and four reds (plus a bonus Spanish red that’s listed by Spectator at $23 a bottle, but on sale locally for $20). This column will look at the reds, and the next will explore the whites.
Red wines from Spain’s Rioja region make a great accompaniment to a lavish holiday meal, and Finewine.com in Gaithersburg has No. 58 on the Wine Spectator Top 100, La Rioja Alta Torre de Oña Rioja Finca San Martín Crianza, on sale for $16.98. Made from the tempranillo grape, “This red is focused and polished, delivering harmonious flavors of black cherry, olive, smoke and mineral,” according to Wine Spectator Executive Editor Thomas Matthews, who gave the wine 91 points in the September 30 issue. “The tannins are well-integrated, the acidity fresh. A bit reserved, but has depth. Drink now through 2022.”
[Find Oña Rioja Finca San Martín Crianza online or at a wine shop near you.]
Another Spanish red earned the No. 53 on the Top 100, 2013 Descendientes de J. Palacios Bierzo Pétalos, made from the mencia grape grown in the Bierzo region. Though Spectator lists it at $23, Finewine.com has it on sale for $19.98.
[Find Pétalos Bierzo online or at a wine shop near you.]
“Expressive black cherry, currant, licorice, mineral and smoke flavors mingle in this focused red. The texture is gentle but firm, with well-integrated tannins and racy acidity providing structure,” Matthews wrote, scoring it 91 points. “A compact wine that shows good intensity. Drink now through 2023.”
Listed at $18 a bottle and No. 66 on the Top 100 is 2013 Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier Shiraz-Viognier Victoria, on sale at Calvert Woodley for—you guessed it—$17.99.
“Fresh and expressive, medium-weight but vivid, with black cherry and floral notes, balanced by a stony minerality that glides into the long finish against fine tannins,” wrote Harvey Steiman, awarding 91 points and advising readers to, “Drink now through 2020.”
Calvert Woodley also has No. 84 on the Top 100, a $20 Portuguese red blend, Duorum Douro, priced at $18.99 (so a case discount brings it down to $209 or $17.42 per bottle for 12). This blend of grapes traditionally used to make Port, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, plus some Tinta Roriz has earned solid scores from the critics in six straight vintages.
“This has a delicate core of violet, plum and red berry flavors that are broad yet well-defined,” wrote Spectator’s Kim Marcus, scoring it 91 points. “Medium-grained tannins gain power midpalate, with mineral and shiso leaf notes on the taut finish. Drink now through 2020.”
Presuming you appreciate the taste of shiso leaves, this wine may be a worthwhile splurge.
And finally, the least expensive red on the Top 100 reportedly available locally may actually not be. At No. 32 on the Top 100 Wines is 2012 Viña Carmen Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley Alto Gran Reserva, listed at $15 but carried at Montgomery County Liquor stores for $12.95 a bottle. Yet the website is showing that it is “temporarily out of stock,” so when it’s restocked, it may not be the 2012 vintage that made the Top 100. In case it does come back, Marcus wrote about the 91-point wine:
“A rich, well-spiced red, with luscious flavors of tar, licorice and dark plum, supported by ample acidity and firm tannins,” adding that it, “Offers a lip-smacking finish of dark chocolate and pepper. Drink now through 2019.”
Sounds good, especially if you can find it for $13 a bottle.
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