Better bargain wines: The cream of the crop at $20 and under

Some of the better wines — and best bargains — tasted in recent months.

Same goes with Mandolin’s 2008 Riesling. Not too sweet, with zingy acidity and hints of apricot and pear, it’s great with food, especially spicy. Would be perfect with Chinese food.

2008 Villa San-Juliette Petite Sirah ($15) - Lush and plummy, with a dusty (in a good way, I swear) quality. I think there’s some cocoa in there, too. And I tasted this one in May, when it was really hot — my least favorite time to drink lush reds. I’d bet I’d like it even more now.

2010 Terrazas Reserva Torrontes ($15) - A very floral white wine, with zingy citrus and an interesting almondy bitterness.

2010 Colores del Sol Malbec ($12) - Juicy cherries and hints of smoke. Nice stuff.

2010 Santa Julia Malbec - Meaty and lush. Would be great with a thick burger. I had mine with a meatloaf sandwich. And a steal at $10.

2003 Montecillo Gran Reserva ($25). Lots of cherries and (I’m admittedly echoing the tasting notes provided by the winemaker), with hints of balsamic and licorice. I’d give it a little chill and enjoy it with a big grilled steak. Okay, I had it with a pressed pork sandwich, which was also pretty tasty.

click to enlarge Montecillo Gran Reserva - Bodegas Montecillo
Bodegas Montecillo
Montecillo Gran Reserva

  • Bodegas Montecillo
  • 2003 Montecillo Gran Reserva

People send me wine. Yes, poor me. They do this because they want me to write about it.

Some of this wine is good. Much is so-so. A little is actually bad.

As much as I enjoy semi-informed viciousness, I hate to write mean things about wines I don’t like. So, as the golden rule goes, if I can’t say something nice, I say nothing.

Which is why I'd like to tell you about some of the better wines — and best bargains — I’ve tasted in recent months.

Chances are you’ve had some of Italy’s most popular sparkling wine, Prosecco, made from a grape by the same name. With Italians falling over themselves to supply America’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for these sparklers, I was still surprised to see winemaker Ruffino making one. I tend to associate Ruffino with the iconic Chianti they also make. Still, after tasting their Prosecco (good stuff), I’m keeping an open mind. ($15 a bottle.)

Speaking of good and inexpensive bubblies, Spain’s Jaume Serra Cristalino is lovely — and has a criminally low price of about $10.

2009 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Chardonnay ($20) - I confess I’ve come to think of Robert Mondavi wines as grocery store wine (read: meh). Which is unfair, really, since this was a nice wine. Especially since I was expecting it to be the typical buttery chardonnay big winemakers such as this one have made in recent years. In other words, I was nicely surprised.

2009 Fat Monk Pinot Noir Central Coast ($15) - Good stuff. Especially considering it’s only $15 a bottle. You’d typically have to shell out twice as much for a decent pinot noir.

Of course, for inexpensive and drinkable pinot noir, you really can’t beat the 2008 Mandolin Pinot Noir ($11). Never thought I’d say an eleven dollar pinot noir is, um, pretty good. But this stuff is. Ideal lightly chilled on a picnic.

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