Exceptional Excellent Very Good
As 2018 spirals to a close, we can at least console ourselves that we drank well while the circus unfolded around us. And we didn’t have to drink expensively.
Here is our second annual list of Greatest Values of the Year: a case of 12 wines, each costing under $20 a bottle, that I awarded the Great Value label.
Of the more than 250 wines I recommended in this column over 2018, I labeled 121, nearly half, as Great Values. This designation is the second part of my personal evaluation system, along with star ratings: three stars for exceptional wine, two for excellent and one for very good. If I recommend a wine, I believe it is a good value for its price, given its category and its quality. Great Values perform above their price. A Great Value isn’t necessarily cheap, but you might think it would cost more than it does when you taste it.
My Great Values in 2018 ranged in price from $4, for the nonalcoholic sparkling rosé grape cocktail from Welch’s, to $45, for the Argyle Spirit Hill Blanc de Blanc 2014, a top-notch single-vineyard sparkling wine from Oregon. Very few were over $25, mostly sparkling wines and port, two specialty categories. Seventeen were rosés.
I gave the Great Value label to 31 three-star wines and 42 with 2.5 stars, while 45 two-star wines and three 1.5-stars impressed me enough for the designation.
And where did these come from? France accounted for more Great Values than any other country, with 37. That reflects France’s history with wine, of course, but also some very strong vintages in 2015 and 2016. One of my favorite wines of the year was the Chateau de Santenay Clos Philippe le Hardi Hauts-Côtes-de-Beaune Bourgogne 2016, a delicious and voluptuous steal at $26. Italy had 17 Great Values, the United States 13 and Spain 12. Ten came from Portugal, while countries south of the equator had a strong showing, including 10 from South Africa.
Most years, when I recommend kosher wines for Passover, my reaction is, “Okay, I could drink this once a year.” This year, however, I rated three kosher wines as Great Values, and I’d be happy drinking them any day. One of them makes this list of 12 under $20.
Selecting this list of Greatest Values wasn’t easy. There were many more wines that qualify, and the list could easily look different. I chose a variety of categories and countries to reflect the diversity of wines available in our markets. This diversity and quality are testaments to the work done by winemakers and importers, especially, but also distributors and retailers. The ranking was determined by a simple formula that combines price with my quality ratings.
The top two wines were easy selections, though. The Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda from Argentina and the Badenhorst Curator white from South Africa are the type of fist-pumping, table-thumping, OMG-how-did-they-do-this type of wines every oenogeek lives for. For $10 a bottle, we can drink like royalty.
A caveat: Some of these wines have moved to the next vintage or are no longer available from the distributor. Use these recommendations as a guide to look for other wines from these producers. Where possible, I have updated the store lists to reflect the distributors’ assessment of current availability.
Rkatsiteli is grown in some states in the eastern United States, but its homeland is Georgia, the nation in the Caucasus region that lays claim to being the birthplace of wine. This Dila-O is blended with mtsvane, another native Georgian grape, and is an “amber” wine, fermented on its skins in the traditional style that is enjoying a new vogue, and aged underground in clay qvevri. Alcohol by volume: 13 percent.
Imported and distributed by Georgian Wine House: Available in the District at Batch 13, Cordial Fine Wine & Spirits (Union Market, the Wharf), Potomac Wine & Spirits, Yes! Organic Market (12th Street NE); on the list at Compass Rose, Maydan, Maxwell Park, Supra, Tabard Inn, Tail Up Goat, Tyber Creek. Available in Maryland at Annebeth’s and Mills Fine Wine and Spirits in Annapolis, Bin 604 Wine Sellers and Wine Source in Baltimore.
Penedes, Spain, $17
This is a perennial favorite of mine for bargain bubbly, from a local importer and with great availability throughout the region. It is the classic Cava grapes of xarello, parellada and macabeo, fermented and aged in the traditional champagne method, with the second (bubbly) fermentation in the bottle. Enjoy this with spicy salami, pasta or other light foods, or just turn a tough workday into a celebration. ABV: 11.5 percent.
Imported by Grapes of Spain, distributed by Elite: Widely available in the District and Virginia at independent wine retailers, grocers and Whole Foods Markets. Available in Maryland at Balducci’s in Bethesda, Old Line Fine Wine, Spirits and Bistro in Beltsville, Snider’s Super Foods and Veridian Market & Wine in Silver Spring, Wine Source in Baltimore.
Piemonte, Italy, $15
I love this for its dark cherry fruit and aromas of old leather and wood smoke, and the way it continued to gain complexity over several evenings. The distributor is out of stock for this vintage, but stores may still have some — and the winery also produces a delicious barbera and nebbiolo. ABV: 13 percent.
Imported and distributed by Dionysos: Available in the District at Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Balducci’s and Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda, Wine Source in Baltimore. Available in Virginia at Balducci’s (McLean), Screwtop Wine Bar & Cheese Shop in Arlington, Unwined (Alexandria, Belleview).
Rhone Valley, France, $18
This lively kosher wine is just what we expect from Cotes du Rhone: bright dark fruit flavors with a hint of wild herbs and mountain air. I’d drink this any day of the year, but preferably the day after it’s opened; it gets even better with some air. Kosher for Passover. ABV: 14 percent.
Distributed by M. Touton: Available in the District at Burka’s Wine & Liquor, Cairo Wine & Liquor, Capital City Wine & Spirits, Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, Eye Street Cellars, Harry’s Reserve Fine Wine & Spirits, Magruder’s, Morris Miller Wine & Liquor, Rodman’s, Wine Specialist. Available in Maryland at the Bottle Shop in Potomac, Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda, Moti’s Market in Rockville, Old Farm Liquors and Riverside Liquors in Frederick, Quench! Beer-Wine-Deli in Silver Spring, Silesia Liquors in Fort Washington, the Wine Harvest (Potomac).
Bordeaux, France, $16
Textbook Bordeaux, offering the traditional “pencil” graphite aromas over scents of plum, cherry and blackcurrant. And the wine kept getting better over a few days, suggesting it will last for several years in your cellar, and will reward decanting if you can’t wait. Sustainably farmed, it is packaged in a traditional wooden box for a case. Since I wrote this up in April, the wine has moved to the 2016 vintage and the price has gone up a bit. That shouldn’t deter you from trying it. ABV: 13 percent.
Imported and distributed by Le Storie: Available in the District at Ace Beverage, DCanter. Available in Virginia at Arrowine and Cheese in Arlington, Chain Bridge Cellars in McLean, Corks & Kegs, J. Emerson Fine Wines & Cheese, Once Upon a Vine (both locations) and Union Market in Richmond, Department of Beer and Wine and Grape + Bean (Old Town, Rosemont) in Alexandria, Tastings of Charlottesville and Wine Warehouse in Charlottesville, Vino Market in Midlothian; on the list at Alley Light and Bizou in Charlottesville, Can Can Brasserie, Cask Cafe, Saison and Rowland in Richmond.
Really good California pinot noir at $10 that actually tastes like pinot noir and not some steroidal cocktail mixed from a recipe of concentrates and flavorings? I’m in. The winemakers at Avalon have sourced some excellent fruit from coastal vineyards, and enough of it to get it into national distribution. ABV: 13.5 percent.
Distributed by Bacchus in the District and Maryland, Republic National in Virginia: Available in the District at Ace Beverage, Magruder’s, Paul’s of Chevy Chase, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits in Annapolis, Fairgrounds Discount Beverages in Timonium, Hop N Grape in North Bethesda, Total Wine & More (Laurel, Towson), the Wine Harvest (Gaithersburg, Potomac), Wine Source in Baltimore. Available in Virginia at Ashburn Wine Shop in Ashburn, Dominion Wine and Beer in Falls Church, Leesburg Vintner in Leesburg, Total Wine & More (various locations), Vienna Vintner in Vienna.
This wine tastes much more sophisticated than the price would imply, a factor of good winemaking and an exceptional vintage in Bordeaux. It’s deep, rich and minerally, with dark fruit flavors and amazing persistence. Buy several bottles to drink over the next few years with steaks, roasts or anything from the grill. Certified organic. ABV: 14 percent.
Distributed by Elite: Available in the District at Arrowine and Spirits, the Bottle Shop, District Liquors, Downtown Liquors, D’Vines, Lion’s Fine Wine & Spirits, Morris Miller Wine & Liquor, P&C Market, Rodman’s, S&R Liquors, Streets Market (Massachusetts Avenue), Tenley Market, Tenley Wine & Liquor, Virginia Market, Wardman Wines, Watergate Vintners & Spirits, Whole Foods Market (Foggy Bottom, H Street, P Street, Tenleytown), Yes! Organic Market (Georgia Avenue); on the list at 1230 DC, Bacio Pizzeria, Prego Again. Available in Maryland at Balducci’s in Bethesda, Cheers & Spirits in Arnold, Dawson’s Liquors in Severna Park, Decanter Fine Wines in Columbia, Greenbelt Co-op in Greenbelt, Hops & Vines in Odenton, Old Farm Liquors and Riverside Liquors in Frederick, Shawan Liquors in Hunt Valley, Snider’s Super Foods in Silver Spring, Wine Cellars of Annapolis, Wine Underground in Baltimore, Yes! Organic Market in Hyattsville . Available in Virginia at Arrowine and Cheese, Grand Cru and Twisted Vines Bottleshop in Arlington, Balducci’s (Alexandria, McLean), Branch & Vine and Libbie Market in Richmond, Lee’s Market and Planet Wine & Gourmet in Alexandria, Leesburg Vintner, Norm’s Beer & Wine in Vienna, Streets Market (Alexandria, Arlington), Wine Warehouse in Charlottesville, Whole Foods Market (various locations) , Secret Garden Cafe in Occoquan.
Rhone Valley, France, $14
This red offers everything we want in a Cotes du Rhone: dark fruit flavors, the “garrigue” of wild herbs, and a hint of the mistral wind and Mediterranean sea air that define our image of southern France. The balance and depth are exceptional. It could be enjoyed and admired by itself, but it exceeds with any roast meat. ABV: 14 percent.
Imported and distributed by Well Crafted Wine and Beverage Co.: Available in the District at MacArthur Beverages. Available in Maryland at Wine Works in Baltimore; on the list at Antrim 1844 in Tenleytown. Available in Virginia at Cheesetique (various locations), Farm Fresh and Union Market in Richmond, Leesburg Vintner in Leesburg, Swirl & Sip in Fairfax, Uncork’d in Suffolk; on the list at Eat in Virginia Beach, Origin Wine Social in Norfolk, Stellar Wine Co. in Portsmouth.
South Australia, $13
This is a lovely viognier, with scents of jasmine and honeysuckle, and a hint of ginger on the full-bodied palate. Wine Spectator magazine agreed, ranking it in its top 100 wines of the year. So buy up while you can! ABV: 13 percent.
Imported by Negociants USA; distributed by Country Vintner: Available in the District at Cairo Wine & Liquor, Calvert Woodley, Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits, Paul’s of Chevy Chase, Rodman’s, Whole Foods Market (P Street, South Capitol), Wide World of Wines; on the list at Eno Wine Bar. Available in Maryland at the Bottle Shop in Potomac, Decanter Fine Wines in Columbia, Georgetown Square Wine and Beer and Geste Beer and Wine in Bethesda, Pine Orchard Liquors in Ellicott City, Ridgely Wines & Spirits in Lutherville, Rip’s Wine and Spirit Shop in Bowie, Rodman’s (White Flint), Snider’s Super Foods in Silver Spring, Valley Wine & Spirits in Hagerstown, Wells Discount Liquors and Wine Source in Baltimore, Woodmore Wine and Spirits in Lanham, World Market in Rockville; on the list at Harry Browne’s in Annapolis. Available in Virginia at Locke Store in Millwood, Total Wine & More (McLean, Fredericksburg), Wegmans (various locations), World Market (Falls Church, Pentagon City); on the list at Rincome in Arlington.
Austria, $12 (1 liter)
Gruner veltliner is one of my favorite white wines; top bottlings offer impressive complexity and nuance, while basic offerings like this Ruttenstock provide pure, simple pleasure. Put this in the “patio pounder” category, as it goes down easily. So it’s a good thing it comes in a liter-size bottle, because you’ll be looking for the extra wine! ABV: 12 percent.
Klaus Wittauer Selection, imported by Select Wines and Siema, distributed by Siema in the District, Maryland and most of Virginia, by Select Wines in Northern Virginia: Available in the District at Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, Wagshal’s (Massachusetts Avenue, New Mexico Avenue), Wardman Wines; on the list at Cafe Berlin. Available in Maryland at Cranberry Liquors in Westminster, Dunkirk Wine & Spirits in Dunkirk, Hop N Grape in North Bethesda, Orion Wine & Spirits in Frederick, Town & Country Wine Liquor Etc. and Wishing Well Liquors in Easton, Wine Bin in Ellicott City. Available in Virginia at Bon Vivant Wine & Brew in Smithfield, Capital Wine in Fredericksburg, Chain Bridge Cellars in McLean, Foods of All Nations and Tastings of Charlottesville in Charlottesville, Great Bottles in Suffolk, Little Washington Winery Tasting Room in Washington, Oakton Wine Shop in Oakton, Screwtop Wine Bar & Cheese Shop in Arlington, Unwined (Alexandria, Belleview), Vienna Vintner in Vienna, Vino Market in Midlothian; on the list at Metzger Bar & Butchery in Richmond, Rincome in Arlington, Tavola in Charlottesville, Trummer’s Coffee Shop in Gainesville, Trummer’s on Main in Clifton.
Swartland, South Africa, $11
I have not made a secret of my love for the wines of Adi Badenhorst, especially his Secateurs chenin blanc, which I have reviewed here for several vintages and regard as a perennial “great value” at about $15. When I tasted the Curator, a blend of chenin blanc, chardonnay and viognier, I thought it was a more expensive wine in Badenhorst’s line, but no, it is priced even lower. It floored me with its quality for the price, racy acidity, medium body and pure fruit unencumbered by oak. This is another “patio pounder,” a “table pounder,” whatever cliche you want to use for an exciting, inexpensive wine. The Curator red blend is also delicious and a great value, though the white has an edge IMHO. Run. Don’t walk. ABV: 12.5 percent.
Imported by Broadbent Selections, distributed by Country Vintner: Available in the District at 1 West Dupont Circle Wine & Liquors, Grape Intentions, Manhattan Market, Pearson’s, Rodman’s; on the list at Millie’s in Spring Valley. Available in Maryland at Beers & Cheers Too and Downtown Crown Wine and Beer in Gaithersburg, the Bottle Shop in Potomac, Georgetown Square Wine and Beer in Bethesda, Old Town Market in Kensington, Rodman’s (White Flint), Wells Discount Liquors in Baltimore; on the list at Gertrude’s in Baltimore. Available in Virginia at Cheesetique (Shirlington), on the list at Northside Social (Arlington, Falls Church) .
Mendoza, Argentina, $9
Wow. Make this your winter house red. We associate Argentina with malbec, but here’s the country’s sleeper red. Bonarda is known as charbono in California, where just a few old vineyards survive, and this wine should make California winemakers sorry they replanted to cabernet. (There is a grape called Bonarda in Italy, but the Argentine/Californian grape actually hails from the Savoie, in France.) This wine, from the producers of the popular Altos los Hormigas malbec, is a juicy delight, packing explosive fruit and just enough earthiness to keep it grounded. Stock up. ABV: 13 percent.
Imported by Altos Las Hormigas, distributed by Bacchus: Available in the District at Ace Beverage, Cork Wine Bar and Market, Eye Street Cellars, Grand Cata, Magruder’s, Paul’s of Chevy Chase, Potomac Wine & Spirits, Rodman’s; on the list at Daikaya, Magnolia. Available in Maryland at Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits in Annapolis, Dawson’s Liquors and Goska’s Liquors in Severna Park, Chesapeake Wine Co. and Wine Source in Baltimore, Fishpaws Marketplace in Arnold, Iron Bridge Wine Company in Columbia, State Line Liquors in Elkton, Wishing Well Liquors in Easton.
Availability information is based on distributor records. Wines might not be in stock at every listed store and might be sold at additional stores. Prices are approximate. Check Winesearcher.com to verify availability, or ask a favorite wine store to order through a distributor.