Exceptional Excellent Very Good
It has been a wild year here in Washington. The political maelstrom of the Mueller report and impeachment hearings left us dizzy, while sports championships for the Mystics and the Nationals gave us something to cheer. From Nancy Pelosi’s clap to baby shark, 2019 gave us a lot of reasons to drink.
Thankfully, there was plenty of wine. I even discovered one called Collusion, a word that reverberated through the political echo chamber for the first half of the year. There’s probably a wine called Quid Pro Quo, but I haven’t found it yet.
Best of all, there was plenty of inexpensive, delicious wine to delight us throughout the year. Here is our third annual list of the greatest values of the year — a case of 12 wines, each under $20 a bottle, that I awarded the great value label.
Each year, I recommend about 250 wines in this column. This year, I labeled 119, 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 costs more than it does when you taste it.
My great values for 2019 ranged from $9 for the sprightly La Salette 2018 Cotes de Gascogne, and Le Petit Balthazar rosé, both from France, to $47 for the Charles Orban Brut Rosé Champagne, a stellar bubbly for Valentine’s Day. Most great values ranged in price from $14 to $25, which is the “sweet spot” for price and value.
I gave the great value label to 39 wines with 3-star ratings, another 48 with 2.5 stars and 32 with 2 stars. France accounted for 43 of them, followed by Italy with 23, the United States with 18 and Spain with 15.
Choosing just 12 of these to feature as the year’s greatest values was not easy. I look for a variety of styles, grapes and regions to reflect the diversity of the market and the hard work done by winemakers, importers and retailers. Mostly, I chose wines that excited, surprised and delighted me. Many more could have made this list. Once chosen, I determined the rankings using a simple formula that combines price with my quality rating. So you will see a 2.5-star wine ranked above a 3-star bottle if its price is lower.
U.S. consumers are already feeling the effect of the new U.S. tariffs on some European wines. Our top two greatest values for 2019 were, in fact, a tie — the Impero Collection Premium Pinot Grigio-Trebbiano 2018 from Italy (2.5 stars, $10) and the Laroque Cabernet Franc 2017 (3 stars, $12) from France. I cast the tiebreaker for the Impero, because the Laroque sold out shortly after my review, and the 2018 vintage now on retail shelves costs an additional dollar because of the new tariffs. (Italian wines have not been affected — yet.) Another French wine on this list, a lovely chardonnay from a Chablis producer, rose in price with the new tariffs.
My usual caveat: Like the Laroque, some of these wines have moved to the next vintage. 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.
12. La Closerie des Lys Pinot Noir 2017
Pays d'Oc, France, $17
Wow, this delicious pinot noir seems to defy gravity: Its color, body and flavors leave an impression of weightlessness. There’s no obvious power to this wine, yet its essence reverberates like an echo in the mountains. Absolutely delightful. Alcohol by volume: 13 percent.
Imported by Vintage 59, distributed by Winebow: Available in the District at Metro Wine & Spirits, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Beer, Wine & Co. and Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda, Downtown Crown Wine and Beer and Finewine.com in Gaithersburg, Friendship Gourmet Market in Chevy Chase, Grosvenor Market in Rockville, Knowles Station Wine & Co. in Kensington, Parkway Deli & Restaurant in Silver Spring. Available in Virginia at Oakton Wine Shop in Oakton.
11. Charles & Charles Rosé 2018
Columbia Valley, Wash., $14
Here’s an all-American, juicy rosé, right down to the flag motif on the label. Don’t think of it just for summer — it has heft to match the heartier foods of winter. The blend is based on syrah and cabernet sauvignon, which give a bold palate of fruit flavors with the bracing acidity and dry finish we expect from a fine rosé. The wine is a partnership of French winemaker Charles Bieler of Bieler Père & Fils and Washington State winemaker Charles Smith, perhaps best known for Kung Fu Girl Riesling. ABV: 12.6 percent.
Distributed by RNDC: Available in the District at 1 West Dupont Circle Wines & Liquors, Ace Beverage, Barrel House Liquors, Connecticut Avenue Wine & Liquor, Whole Foods Market (various locations), Giant Food (various locations), Harris Teeter (various locations), Harry’s Reserve Fine Wines & Spirits, Lion’s Fine Wine & Spirits, Metro wine & Spirits, S&R Liquors, Safeway (various locations), Sherry’s Fine Wine & Spirits, Target. Available in Virginia at various locations of Giant Food, Harris Teeter, Safeway, Target, Wegmans, Whole Foods Market.
10. J. Lohr South Ridge Syrah 2016
Paso Robles, Calif., $16
During a tasting last March in the District of the Rhone Rangers, a group of U.S. wineries that make Rhone Valley-style wines, the J. Lohr Syrah impressed the audience with its easy-drinking, uncomplicated style and its rich flavors of blueberries and blackberries, buttressed by American oak. But when Steve Lohr, the family-owned winery’s CEO, said it retails for “about $15,” the audience was amazed. This is a terrific value and one to keep on hand for burger night. ABV: 13.5 percent.
Distributed by RNDC in the District and Virginia, Breakthru in Maryland: Available in the District at Calvert Woodley, Continental Wine & Liquor, Harris Teeter (various locations). Available in Maryland at Eastport Liquors in Annapolis, Edgewater Liquors in Edgewater, Fishpaws Marketplace in Arnold, Jim’s BottleWorks in Bel Air.
9. Famille Brocard Margote Chardonnay 2017/2018
Wow. This is simply one of the best chardonnays under $15 I’ve tasted in a long time. The Brocard family makes wine in Chablis. Sourced from outside the Chablis demarcation, this captures that style without carrying the price. Exquisitely balanced, it’s brimming with flavors of citrus and peach that seem to reach for the sky, and a taut stoniness that keeps it grounded. The importer is now selling the 2018, and the price has gone up because of the U.S. tariffs. ABV: 13 percent.
Imported and distributed by Elite: Available in the District at A-1 Wines & Liquors, the Bottle Shop, Connecticut Avenue Wine & Liquor, Paul’s of Chevy Chase, Wagshal’s Deli, Wardman Wines. Available in Maryland at Franklins Restaurant, Brewery and General Store in Hyattsville; the French Paradox Wines in Stevenson; Grosvenor Market in Rockville; Iron Bridge Wine Co. in Columbia; Spirits of Mt. Vernon and Wells Discount Liquors in Baltimore; Wine Bin in Ellicott City. Available in Virginia at Arrowine and Cheese in Arlington, Locke Store in Millwood, Market Street Wineshop in Charlottesville, Planet Wine & Gourmet in Alexandria, the Wine Outlet in Great Falls.
8. Lab Rosé 2018
Lisbon, Portugal; $10 for a bottle, $25 for three-liter box
If you’re stocking up for a backyard neighborhood barbecue, look for this charmer in the three-liter box. It’s a steal and is rich in bright red berry fruit and sunny fun. Warning: My bottle seemed to spring a leak, because it sure emptied mighty fast! ABV: 12.5 percent.
Imported by Tri-Vin Imports, distributed in the District and Maryland by DMV, in Virginia by Dionysos: Available in the District at Morris Miller Wine & Liquor, Paul’s of Chevy Chase, Riggs Liquors, Rodman’s, S&S Liquor, Yes! Organic Market (Georgia Avenue). Available in Maryland at Apple Greene Wine & Spirits and Dunkirk Wine & Spirits in Dunkirk; Canton Crossing Wine + Spirits in Baltimore, Eastport Liquors in Annapolis; Frederick Wine House and Old Farm Liquors in Frederick; Hair O’ the Dog in Easton, Hunt Valley Wine Liquor & Beer in Cockeysville; Laurel Beer, Wine & Spirits in Laurel, Mt. Airy Liquors in Mt. Airy; the Perfect Pour in Elkridge, Pine Orchard Liquors and Wine Bin in Ellicott City, Sunny’s Fine Wines & Liquors in Eldersburg; Town Center Market in Riverdale Park; Village Pump Liquors in College Park, Waugh Chapel Village Wine & Spirits in Gambrills, the Winery in Chester. Available in Virginia at Wegmans (various locations).
7. Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc 2018/2019
Stellenbosch, South Africa, $12
When I recommended this wine in February, I wrote: “Here’s a strategy: Buy a case, then drink one bottle a month and enjoy its evolution. By the time you’re done, the 2019 vintage will be here.” Well, the 2019 is now on sale, and it is every bit as good as previous vintages. Chenin blanc may claim the Loire Valley as its spiritual homeland, but South Africa does it best (at least in its dry version). Ken Forrester is one South Africa’s maestros with this grape. ABV: 13 percent.
Imported by USA Wine Imports, distributed by Winebow: Available in the District at Metro wine & Spirits, Paul’s of Chevy Chase, Rodman’s, Whole Foods Market (P Street), Yes! Organic Market (12th Street). Available in Maryland at Balducci’s, Bradley Food & Beverage and Capital Beer & Wine in Bethesda, Edgewater Liquors in Edgewater, Jason’s wine & Spirits and Pine Orchard Liquors in Ellicott City, Old Town Market in Kensington, Woodmore Wine and Spirits in Lanham. Available in Virginia at Balducci’s (Alexandria, McLean, Reston), Glascock Grocery & Nick’s Deli in Marshall, Total Wine & More (Arlington, McLean), Unwined (Alexandria, Belleview), Wegmans (various locations), Whole Foods Market (Alexandria, Arlington, Crystal City, McLean).
6. Barnard Griffin Riesling 2017
Columbia Valley, Wash., $12
Washington’s Columbia Valley tends to showcase a ripe, fruity profile of riesling. This lovely bottling from Barnard Griffin is exemplary, offering peach and even a hint of mango, with some lime and orange zest to lend tension and keep the wine in balance. Bravo! ABV: 12.2 percent.
Distributed by Winebow: Available in the District at Metro Wine & Spirits, Rodman’s, Union Kitchen. Available in Maryland at Absolutely Wine or Spirits in Columbia, Beer, Wine & Co., Bradley Food & Beverage and Georgetown Square Wine and Beer in Bethesda, Bel Pre Beer & Wine and Fenwick Beer & Wine in Silver Spring, Bethesda Co-Op in Cabin John, Downtown Crown Wine and Beer in Gaithersburg, Takoma Park-Silver Spring Co-Op in Takoma Park.
5. Domaine Antugnac Chardonnay 2018
Haute Vallée de L'Aude, France, $14
We don’t expect to find chardonnay grown in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains in the western reaches of Languedoc, but brothers-in-law Christian Collovray and Jean-Luc Terrier are chardonnay experts in the Macon region of Burgundy. They are among several Burgundian producers who are exploring less expensive land in the south of France in an effort to produce great value wines. They have succeeded with this beautiful chardonnay, bursting with flavors of fresh fruit and flowers, with a filigree of minerality. ABV: 13 percent.
Imported by Vintage 59, distributed by Winebow: Available in the District at Cairo Wine & Liquor, DCanter, Grape Intentions, MacArthur Beverages, Metro Wine & Spirits, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Beer, Wine & Co. and Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda, Downtown Crown Wine and Beer and Finewine.com in Gaithersburg, Fenwick Beer & Wine in Silver Spring, Montgomery County Wine & Liquor Stores (Falls Grove, Kensington, Potomac, Rockville), Rodman’s (White Flint), Westside Wine Cellar and Beer in Derwood.
4. Fiorini Becco Rosso Lambrusco Grasparossa 2017
This is not your grandmother’s lambrusco, that fizzy, slightly sweet red wine she kept in the refrigerator door for a nip after grandpa went to bed. This dry sparkling red wine, redolent of dried fruit and wild herbs, is a traditional Italian partner to salumi and is ideal for barbecue and pizza, especially pies featuring pepperoni and sausage. Affirmation that life is, indeed, good. ABV: 11.5 percent.
Imported by de Grazia Imports, distributed in the District and Maryland by Bacchus, in Virginia by Free Run: Available in the District at Ace Beverage, Calvert Woodley, Lion’s Fine Wine & Spirits, Paul’s of Chevy Chase, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Cheers & Spirits and Fishpaws Marketplace in Arnold, Crescent Beer & Wine in Bowie, Eastport Liquors in Annapolis, Edgewater Liquors in Edgewater, Piazza Italian Market in Easton, Pine Orchard Liquors in Ellicott City, Wine Source in Baltimore.
3. Santa Julia Tintillo Malbec-Bonarda 2018
Mendoza, Argentina, $13
If you enjoy your red wines chilled, and jam-packed with fruit rather than laden with wood, here’s one for you. The best word to describe this wine is “joyful.” The first sip ignites a party. And if your party is outdoors, it comes in cans, too. Stock up on this for your house red. Alcohol by volume: 13 percent.
Imported by Winesellers, distributed by Winebow: Available in the District at Ace Beverage, Calvert Woodley, Grand Cata, Metro Wine & Spirits, Rodman’s, Wardman Wines, Whole Foods Market (Foggy Bottom, H Street, P Street, Tenleytown). Available in Maryland at Bradley Food & Beverage and Georgetown Square Wine and Beer in Bethesda, Downtown Crown Wine and Beer in Gaithersburg, Friendship Gourmet Market in Chevy Chase, Pine Orchard Liquors in Ellicott City, Rodman’s (White Flint), Takoma Park-Silver Spring Co-Op in Takoma Park, Woodmoor Supermarket in Silver Spring. Available in Virginia at Whole Foods Market (Alexandria, Arlington, Crystal City, Tysons).
2. Laroque Cabernet Franc 2017/2018
Cite de Carcassonne, France, $12/$13
Here was my review of the 2017: “Wow! Here’s where we need a ‘Run, don’t walk to your wine store’ emoji. This is a bargain-priced red, made entirely of cabernet franc, that combines some Bordeaux style with the freshness and fruitiness of wines from France’s Mediterranean coast. Look for the dark cherry flavors and white pepper spice characteristic of the grape. Open it at least an hour before dinner and serve it slightly chilled. I was glad I didn’t finish the bottle the first night, because the wine was even better the following evening. One of the best bargain wines I’ve tasted all year.” The distributor is now on the 2018, and you will pay a bit more because of U.S. tariffs, but this is still a fantastic value. ABV: 13.5 percent.
Imported by Aquitaine Wine USA, distributed in the District and Maryland by M. Touton Selection, in Virginia by Republic National: Available in the District at Eye Street Cellars, Morris Miller Wine & Liquor, Open Door Market, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Angelo’s Beer Wine Liquor in Waldorf, the Bottle Shop in Potomac, Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda, Castle Liquors in Mt. Airy, Choice Wine & Beer in Wheaton, Downtown Crown Wine and Beer in Gaithersburg, Hop N Grape in North Bethesda, Old Farm Liquors and Viniferous in Frederick, Old Line Fine Wine, Spirits & Bistro in Beltsville, Pine Liquors and Silesia Liquors in Fort Washington, Potomac Beer & Wine in Rockville, Rosewick Wine & Spirits in La Plata, World Gourmet Wine & Beer in Potomac. Available in Virginia at Arrowine and Cheese in Arlington, Vienna Vintner in Vienna, Libbie Market in Richmond, Magnolia Foods in Lynchburg, Mermaid Winery (Norfolk, Virginia Beach), Vintage Wines in Harrisonburg, Yiannis Wine & Food in Virginia Beach.
1. Impero Collection Premium Pinot Grigio Trebbiano 2018
Terre di Chieti, Italy, $10
This wine greets you with a smile and prompts one at first sip. It’s a lovely inexpensive white, perfect for sipping by itself before dinner or with lighter first courses and salads — a great everyday house white. There are also two reds under the Impero Collection label at the same price, bottled as a private label for the distributor. I hope they made a lot. ABV: 12.5 percent.
Imported by Caput Mundi, distributed by Impero: Available in the District at Batch 13, Imperial Wine & Spirits, MacArthur Beverages, Salumeria 2703. Available in Maryland at Dawson’s Market in Rockville, Di Pasquale’s Marketplace in Baltimore, Finewine.com and Gemelli’s Italian Market in Gaithersburg, Friendship Gourmet Market in Chevy Chase, Giolitti Delicatessen in Annapolis, Maple Beer & Wine in Bethesda, Orion Wine & Spirits in Frederick, Rodman’s (White Flint), the Wine Harvest (Potomac). Available in Virginia at Arrowine and Cheese and the Italian Store (Lyon Village, Westover) in Arlington, Cafe Torino & Bakery and Grapevine in Warrenton, City Vino in Fredericksburg, Crystal Palate in Norfolk, Marchese Italian Market, Rigoletto Bakery & Cafe and Yiannis Wine & Food in Virginia Beach, Market 2 Market in Alexandria, Vienna Vintners in Vienna, the Wine Attic in Clifton, WineStyles (Montclair, South Riding).
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.