When I start tripping over the empty wine bottles gathering dust in my office, I know it’s time to share some recent finds with you'and to visit the recycling bin. Most recently, I’ve been tripping over 12 empties of tasty vino I’ve sampled over the past couple of months, all priced under $15'some well under $15. If you were to buy a mixed case of each of these wines, the entire 12-bottle case would cost you a mere $138.40.
A couple bottles of bargain Shiraz fairly new to Utah piqued my interest, in part because of their titillating titles. The brilliantly named You Bet Shiraz comes from South Eastern Australia ($7.95). The label describes this wine as “a cheeky little number,” but in fact it’s eminently quaffable. After a split in family unity caused third-generation founder James Begasse to leave granddad Jacques Begasse’s Ubet Wines, the result is the offspring You Bet Shiraz. 2002. You Bet Shiraz won a gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition for its soft plum-fruit, spicy-pepper and oak flavors.
In an attempt to appeal to antisnobbery wine consumers, Virgin Vines’ (yes, Sir Richard Branson again) slogan is “Unscrew it, let’s do it.” The bottle of 2004 Virgin Vines California Shiraz ($7.95) admonishes drinkers to “dare to enjoy this wine without dashes of pretentiousness or hints of snootiness.” To me, that suggests the wine is probably crap and shouldn’t be pondered too closely. But in fact it’s a perfectly acceptable, if not especially memorable, oaked Shiraz with lots of cherry and a hint of caramel. No aging needed for either of these bargain bottles.
Let’s talk Chardonnay. The cute label with a beret-topped French Gigi caught my eye. She is, apparently, Lulu B., the daughter of French winemaker Louis Bernard. As the label suggests, 2004 Lulu B. Chardonnay ($10.95) is simply charming! This southern France wine is brimming with green-apple flavors, hints of oak and a subtle honeyed finish'very pleasing indeed. Likewise, 2003 Peter Lehmann Chardonnay ($10.95) from Australia is judicious in its sparse use of oak for fermentation and maturation (only 10 percent), just enough to give it body, along with hints of smoky oak and creaminess on the palate. Crack open a bottle of this Aussie Chard the next time you indulge in chicken potpie.
The Little Penguin 2005 Chardonnay from Southeastern Australia ($14.95 per 1,500 ml) is out to topple Yellow Tail in the Australian jug-wine sweepstakes and might just do it. Named for the world’s smallest penguins which live along parts of Southeastern Australia’s coast, this Chardonnay has lots of appeal'and not just the price. It’s a crisp, bright-tasting, oak-free Chardonnay with plenty of tropical fruit flavors and good balance.
I have a new house sparkler: Charles de FÃ¨re Chardonnay Brut drinks a lot bigger than you’d expect from a $9.95 bottle. The wine comes from 20 miles outside the Champagne region, so it can’t be called Champagne. But it sure tastes like Champagne. It’s made in a full-bodied style with a big and creamy mousse and bone-dry finish. Wine X magazine called this wine “More fun than a barrel full of blondes!”
Here are the remaining six $15-and-under wines that pleased my palate and are highly recommended:
Spain: El Coto Rioja 2001 Crianza ($10.95)
Italy: Prunotto Fiulot 2003 Barbera D’Asti ($14.95)
Italy: Falesco Vitiano 2003 Bianco Umbria ($12.95)
France: Perrin RÃ©serve CÃ´tes du RhÃ´ne 2003 ($9.95)
France: 2004 Willm Pinot Gris ($13.95)
United States: 2004 Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy California Grenache ($12.95)