Top 20 for $20!

Have you ever been in that situation where you want to drink something a little better than your everyday wine, but don’t feel like breaking out that big gun, high priced vino? So how do you find those solid mid level wines? The trick is when reaching for that $15-20 bottle of wine to select one that tastes like a $50 bottle and not like a $10 bottle… which many of them can!

With that in mind I have compiled a short list of 10 reds and 10 whites that fall into this category and are readily available. Meaning that at most retail wine shops you should find these for around $15-20 and if you see them on a wine list for around $30-40 then you have found yourself a great deal!


Rodney Strong 2008 Cabernet, AlexanderValley(Possibly my favorite of all!)

Bertani Secco-Bertani Valpolicella Ripasso 2008

Gloria Ferrer 2007 Pinot Noir, Carneros

Columbia Crest 2008 Horse Haven Hills Merlot (Can find this under $15!)

Poggio al Tesoro Mediterra 2008

Beringer 2007 Cabernet, KnightsValley

Terra D’Oro 2007 Zinfandel, Amador

Saint Cosme 2010 Côtes du Rhône

Catena Zapata 2008 Malbec, Mendoza

Torbreck  2009  “Woodcutter’s”Shiraz,BarossaValley


Freemark Abbey 2009 Chardonnay, NapaValley

St. Supery 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, NapaValley

King Estate 2010 Pinot Gris, WilliametteValley

Chateau St. Michelle 2009 Eroica Riesling, ColumbiaValley

Taittinger Domaine Carneros 2007 Brut Sparkling, Carneros

Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuisse2009

Conundrum 2009 White Wine Blend, California

Millbrook 2010Tocai Friulano, Hudson Valley NY

Feudo di San Gregorio 2009 Falanghina, Southern Italy

Whitehaven 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough NZ

If I missed your favorite $15-20 bottle of wine feel free to leave a comment and let us all know what it is… Cheers!


When is a Wine Ready to Open?

This past weekend I was at a birthday party for my friend’s oldest daughter. Along with the games, bouncy houses, controlled mayhem, presents and cake was of course… some good wine! Someone bought over a perennial favorite of mine, The Prisoner. This is a BIG Napa Zinfandel blend from Orin Swift that has a large cult following as it is not super expensive but packs a big punch.

It was the 2009 vintage, so it was still a little young but we decided to open it anyway. After we tasted it, my buddy who bought it over looked at me with an expression of confused disappointment and said “I don’t think this is that great?!”… and he was right. It had a good amount of fruit and a bit of spice, but that was about it. The Prisoner runs around $25-30, but at that point it tasted more like a $10-15 bottle of wine. It wasn’t bad, it was just sort of…there. The reason for this is quite simple; it needed more time.

So how are you supposed to know when a bottle is ready to drink? They say that only about 5% of wine in the world is actually meant to age. I find that number a little low, as it includes all the local international wines that never make it into the US. I would say of the wine the average US consumer purchases that number is closer to 10-15%. Still not a huge percentage, so most wines that you buy can be opened up right away and they will be ready to rock. But how do you determine what falls into the 10-15% that need aging, and how long do you age them?

The truth is there is no real rule of thumb as there are numerous factors that go into equation including region, varietal, time in oak, vintage, alcohol levels, etc. It also depends on your palate and how you enjoy your wines. If you like your wines with the fruit front and center, than you may not want to age your wines too long. Time tends to let the wine mellow out and allows the  subtle complexities to emerge. But if you are an old world wine kind of guy or gal, then you will need to let most of your wines age a bit longer so the secondary characteristics from the oak and terroir (fancy name for soil, earth and everything involved with it) can evolve and bring balance to the fruit, alcohol and tannins.

So as a simple guideline, here is what I would recommend. First off, reds need more time to age than whites, with most whites not needing any. Secondly, expensive wines need at least a couple of years of aging, probably more. Not because they are necessarily better wines, but if they have a high price tag on them they will probably be pretty tight and wound up in their youth… this is especially true of California reds. High end, cult Napa Cabs could use minimally 3-5 years and can age much longer while Pinots, Zins, Syrahs, etc. could be opened a little younger.

Quality European wines need a relatively long time to age as well. This is because they are typically not as fruit driven as California wine, so it’s all the complexities that make those wines delicious. Unfortunately, they take time to develop which is why the top Italian and French wines can age 5-10 years before they are truly ready to be enjoyed. Again, if you are looking for the fruit, forget about aging and open ‘em up! The worst thing that can happen is the wine may be a little more simplistic than you anticipated.

My final thoughts… When aging your wines, be sure to have them in somewhat of a temperature controlled environment. Ideally you want them at 55 degrees and 55-75% humidity or as close to that as possible. Which means leaving your good bottles above your hot stove for 5 years is more like cooking your wine than letting it age. Lastly, be sure to give your wines time to breathe. If you open up a bottle and feel like it should be a hell of a lot better than it is, leave it alone for a while or better yet decant it. If it is a well made wine it will get significantly better with some aeration. Remember… patience is a virtue.