With all the wines on the shelves vying for your attention when you walk into a wine store or a supermarket, how do you choose which one to take home for dinner? A catchy name or pretty label stands out. A heavy bottle looks and feels important. But you wouldn’t be wrong to wonder whether the money you shell out for that wine might be paying for that designer label or studly bottle, rather than the juice inside.
In 2017, I recommended more than 250 wines in this column. Of those, I labeled slightly more than 100 as “Great Values.” The Great Value designation is subjective — after all, I recommend only wines I believe are worth what they cost. A Great Value offers extra excitement, performing at a level above its price. Value doesn’t necessarily mean cheap. The Ayala Brut Majeur Champagne I recommended last week impressed me so much, I gave it three stars (“exceptional”) and a Great Value tag because it far outperforms other $40 champagnes. But only a handful of my Great Values were over $20, and most of those were sparkling wines.
My list would suggest that wine’s best values come in the $12 to $20 range. In all, I put the tag on 27 wines that I also gave my highest rating of 3 stars. These ranged in price from $13 to $40. I gave 2 ½ stars (excellent to exceptional) and the Great Value label to 36 wines ranging from $10 to $24, and 2 stars (excellent) and Great Value to 38 wines ranging from $9 to $20. Eight wines, from $8 to $12, scored 1 ½ stars (very good to excellent) and great value.
France led the way with 41 Great Values, followed by the United States with 15 (10 from California, four from Oregon and one from New York), Italy (13), Spain (nine) and Portugal (six). Other countries included Chile, Germany, Bulgaria, Turkey, Armenia and South Africa. As 2017 was the year of rosé, 26 pink wines made the list — nearly a quarter of the total. That reflects the growing number of rosés in the market as well as my enthusiasm for them. Fifteen Great Values were sparkling.
So here is a case of wine for you: my 12 favorite Great Values from 2017, with the most expensive at $16 a bottle and the cheapest at $8. These are not just top scorers. Those I list here were memorable in a certain way, either their sheer quality for the price, or their uniqueness, or some other factor. I’ve ranked them in descending order, after applying a simple equation that takes into account my star rating — my enthusiasm for the wine — and the price. The better the wine and the lower the price, the higher the ranking. Consider these my Greatest Values of the year.
Note that some of these wines have moved on to the next vintage; don’t let that stop you from trying them. Others may be sold out. We provide the store lists to show where the distributors say the wines should be available, but it’s always best to call and check, or to ask a favorite retailer to order for you. Wines this good, at this price, are worth the wait — or the hunt.
12. Chateau Montaud Côtes de Provence Rosé 2016
Provence, France, $13
I like this rosé every year, but in 2017 it came in a three-liter box for $26, or about $6.50 a bottle, making it cheaper and more fun. Bottles are still available, though the boxes have sold out. I suspect they will reappear with the 2017 vintage for next summer’s picnics and patio parties. Alcohol by volume: 12 percent.
Distributed by M. Touton Selection: Widely available in the District, Maryland and Virginia.
11. Evolucio Blaufrankisch 2014
Weinland, Austria, $12
When I first tasted this spicy, delicious red, I made a note and put it aside. When I found it two weeks later and tried it again, I was even more impressed with its vibrancy and “flavors of black cherry, raspberry, caraway and fenugreek.” I used no vacuum pump or inert gas to preserve it, just replaced the screw cap and kept it at room temperature. Well-made wine can keep that way. (The distributor has moved on to the 2015, a great vintage in Austria.) ABV: 13.5 percent.
Distributed by Siema: Available in the District at Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits. Available in Maryland at Cranberry Liquors in Westminster, Crescent Beer & Wine in Bowie, Fenwick Beer & Wine in Silver Spring, Wine Market in Baltimore, Friendship Wine & Liquor in Abingdon, Midway Discount Liquors in Joppa, Old Town Market in Kensington, Spin the Bottle Wine Co. and ’Ye Old Spirit Shop in Frederick, Wine Bin in Ellicott City. Available in Virginia at Culpeper Cheese Company in Culpeper, Planet Wine & Gourmet in Alexandria, Unwined (Alexandria, Belleview).
10. Chateau de Passavant 2015
Anjou, Loire Valley, France, $15
Chenin blanc deserves more respect for its ability to delight, both dry and sweet. You could enjoy this dry version by itself, but it really wants to dance with poultry or seafood. Demeter-certified as biodynamic, made from organic grapes. ABV: 12.5 percent.
Distributed by Dionysus: Available in the District at Mom’s Organic Market, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Balducci’s and Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda, Mom’s Organic Market in Rockville, Wine Source in Baltimore. Available in Virginia at Balducci’s (Alexandria, McLean), J. Emerson Fine Wines & Cheese in Richmond, Mom’s Organic Market (various locations), Vienna Vintner.
9. Loosen Bros. Dr. L Sparkling Riesling
Sparkling Riesling may be Germany’s best-kept secret. This delightful example shows Riesling’s bubbly personality at its best. ABV: 12.5 percent.
Distributed by Country Vintner: Available in the District at MacArthur Beverages, Rodman’s; on the list at Circle Bistro and Momofuku. Available in Maryland at Eddie’s Liquors and Wells Discount Liquors in Baltimore; Edgewater Liquors in Edgewater; Franklins Restaurant, Brewery & General Store in Hyattsville; Montgomery County Liquor & Wine (several locations); Silesia Liquors in Fort Washington; Wine World Beer & Spirits in Abingdon; World Gourmet Wine & Beer in Potomac; on the list at Rip’s Wine and Spirit Shop in Bowie . Available in Virginia at the Brew Shop in Arlington, Wegmans (Dulles, Fairfax, Fredericksburg, Lake Manassas), Wine House in Fairfax.
8. Cavalchina Bardolino Chiaretto 2016
Veneto, Italy, $16
This zesty, juicy rosé made from the grapes that typically go into Valpolicella (corvina, rondinella and molinara) is super, year after year. It’s great by itself, but it excels with salty or garlicky foods such as olives or hummus. This is a rosé to drink year round and not worry about having the freshest vintage. ABV: 12.5 percent.
Distributed by Bacchus: Available in the District at Ace Beverage, Calvert Woodley, Cork Market, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits and the Italian Market in Annapolis, Edgewater Liquors in Edgewater, Friendship Wine & Liquor in Abingdon, John Brown General and Butchery in Cockeysville, Orion Wine & Spirits in Frederick, Port of Call Liquors in Solomons, Piazza Italian Market and Wishing Well Liquors in Easton, Town Center Market in Riverdale, Wine Source in Baltimore; on the list at the Crossing at Casey Jones in La Plata, Limoncello in St. Michaels.
7. Domaine de Chevalier La Petite Lune 2015
Bordeaux, France, $16
The only thing getting the Bordelais more excited than their 2015 vintage is the 2016. When I saw this wine was from Domaine de Chevalier, one of my favorite producers, I immediately had high expectations. The wine didn’t disappoint, and is phenomenal for the price. This blend of 70 percent merlot and 30 percent cabernet franc is rich and ripe with cherry, plum and blackberry fruit and a lush texture to carry all that fruit. Classy. ABV: 13.5 percent.
Distributed by M. Touton Selection: Available in the District at Connecticut Avenue Wine & Liquor, Press Liquors, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits in Annapolis, Downtown Crown Wine and Beer in Gaithersburg, Grosvenor Market and Rollins Beer-Wine-Deli in Rockville, Hillandale Beer & Wine and Veridian Market & Wine in Silver Spring, Montgomery Gourmet Beer & Wine in Bethesda, Old Farm Liquors and Plus Mart in Frederick, Silesia Liquors in Fort Washington. Available in Virginia at Balducci’s in Alexandria, Chain Bridge Cellars and the Vineyard in McLean.
6. Marietta Cellars Old Vine Red Lot Number 66
What a treat it was to reunite with this old friend and find it as good as ever. Based on zinfandel, this savory, stylish blend is so good it may distract you from your meal. ABV: 13.5 percent.
Distributed by Bacchus in the District, Country Vintner in Maryland, Select in Virginia: Available in the District at Ace Beverage, Burka’s Wine & Liquor, Circle Wine & Liquor, Harry’s Reserve Fine Wine & Spirits, Magruder’s, Metro K Supermarket, Modern Liquors, Paul’s of Chevy Chase, Rodman’s, Safeway (various locations), Schneider’s of Capitol Hill, Whole Foods Market (H Street NE, P Street, Foggy Bottom, Tenleytown), World Market; on the list at Agora, Canopy, Chef Geoff’s, Morrison-Clark Inn. Available in Maryland at the Bottle Shop in Potomac, Calvert Wine & Spirits in Hunt Valley, Cork 57 Beer and Wine and Georgetown Square Wine and Beer in Bethesda, Cranbrook Liquors in Cockeysville, Midway Discount Liquors in Joppa, Mills Fine Wine and Spirits in Annapolis, Montgomery County Liquor & Wine (various locations), Rodman’s in White Flint, Wells Discount Liquors and Wine Source in Baltimore, World Market in Rockville; on the list at 13.5% Wine Bar in Baltimore, Botanero in Rockville, Republic in Takoma Park. Available in Virginia at Balducci’s (Alexandria, McLean), Harris Teeter (various locations), Safeway (various locations), Trader Joe’s (various locations), Wegmans (various locations), Whole Foods Market (various locations), World Market.
5. Hugl Weine Zweigelt Rosé 2016
Austria is most famous for its outstanding white wines such as gruner veltliner and Riesling. This delightful rosé from Zweigelt, Austria’s main red grape, is vibrant and peppery, with loads of cherry and raspberry flavors. The distributor is now sold out; the stores listed below placed orders after July. ABV: 12 percent.
Distributed by Kysela: Available in the District at Calvert Woodley, Capitol Hill Wine and Spirits, Central Liquors, Eye Street Cellars, Magruder’s, Morris Miller Wine & Liquor, Righteous Cheese, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Antietam Spirits in Boonsboro, Columbia Fine Wine & Spirits in Columbia, Eddie’s Liquors in Baltimore, Maple Lawn Wine & Spirits in Fulton. Available in Virginia at Beer Run and Market Street Wineshop (Downtown) in Charlottesville, Crystal City Wine Shop in Crystal City, Ellwood Thompson’s Natural Market and Libbie Market in Richmond, Screwtop Wine Bar & Cheese Shop in Arlington, the Town Duck in Warrenton, Unwined in Alexandria; on the list at Ashby Inn in Paris.
4. Chateau de Marjolet Cotes-du-Rhone 2015
Rhone Valley, France, $15
Rhone wines have crept up in price, but this beauty manages to overdeliver for the category. Deep and savory, with a sense of mountain air, sea breeze and wild herbs. ABV: 14 percent.
Distributed by Lanterna: Available in the District at Cork & Fork; on the list at Le Chat Noir, Le Grenier, Marvin. Available in Maryland at Chesapeake Wine Co.and Wine Source in Baltimore, Finewine.com in Gaithersburg, Quench Beer-Wine-Deli in Silver Spring, Shawan Liquors in Hunt Valley; on the list at 49 West Coffeehouse, Winebar & Gallery, Level Small Plates Lounge and Pascal’s Chophouse in Annapolis, Barrett’s Grill in Hunt Valley, Cultured in Baltimore, Laurrapin Grille in Havre de Grace.
3. Confidencial Reserva 2013
Lisboa, Portugal, $12
This wine reminded me why Portugal is one of my favorite regions to hunt for value. It’s a stylish, juicy red with Bing cherry and sour plum flavors, a texture like the rough side of velvet and elegant tannins. It’s a red-meat wine. ABV: 13.5 percent.
Distributed by DMV: Available in the District at Calvert Woodley, Paul’s of Chevy Chase, World Market, Yes! Organic Market (various locations). Available in Maryland at Colonial Liquors in La Plata; Dawson’s Liquors in Severna Park; Dunkirk Wine & Spirits in Dunkirk; Eastport Liquors and the Italian Market in Annapolis; Eddie’s Liquors in Baltimore; Fishpaws Marketplace in Arnold; Hunt Valley Wine, Liquor & Beer in Cockeysville; Maple Lawn Wine & Spirits in Fulton; Nick’s of Calvert in Prince Frederick; Nick’s of Clinton in Waldorf; North Ridge Wine & Spirits and Petite Cellars in Ellicott City; Old Farm Liquors in Frederick; Old Line Fine Wine, Spirits & Bistro in Beltsville; Port of Call Liquors in Solomons; Sunny’s Fine Wine & Spirits in Eldersburg; Town Center Market in Riverdale; Wine World Beer & Spirits in Abingdon; Woodmore Wine and Spirits in Lanham; Yes Organic Market in Hyattsville.
2. Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2016
This wine shined when I rated 29 of America’s favorite cheap wines. It stood out from the crowd of mediocre plonk because it had clean, bright fruit flavors and “a good balance of acid and sweetness.” Best of all, it’s available everywhere, from convenience stores to wine megamarts. ABV: 13.5 percent.
Distributed by Republic National: Widely available in the District, Maryland and Virginia.
1. Goru Verde 2015
Jumilla, Spain, $10
When I started compiling this list, this was the first wine I thought of. Back in June, I said it “may be the best $10 red I’ve tasted in a long time.” It still is. Made from organic monastrell (mourvedre) grapes, it features dark cherry and dried fig flavors with hints of black olive, tea and tobacco. ABV: 14 percent.
Distributed by DMV: Available in the District at Paul’s of Chevy Chase, World Market, Yes Organic Market (various locations). Available in Maryland at Aloha Liquor, Bristol Liquors, Mt. Vernon Supermarket and Smitty’s Liquors in Baltimore; Dulaney Wines & Spirits in Towson; Dunkirk Wine & Spirits in Dunkirk; Franklin Liquors in Ijamsville; Frederick Wine House, Riverside Liquors, Spin the Bottle Wine Co. and Trout Liquors in Frederick; Hunt Valley Wine, Liquor & Beer in Cockeysville; the Italian Market in Annapolis; Montgomery Village Beer & Wine in Gaithersburg; Town Center Wine & Spirits and Yes Organic Market in Hyattsville; the Winery in Chester; World Market in Rockville.