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In addition to my annual list of best wines tasted for $12 or less ("The Year's Top QPR," http://www.wineloverspage.com/qpr/index.shtml), I've also selected the following 44 wines for exceptional quality in higher price ranges. Some came in at just a dollar over the "QPR" cutoff; others commanded many times that amount. But all represent good value and are highly recommended.
As with the QPR wines, France leads the list, although by a slightly smaller proportion, and regions outside Southern France increased their share when low-end pricing was taken out of the equation. The United States and Australia are also better represented on this list than on the low-end list. Specifically, 19 of the 44 wines on this list are from France (nine of them, just under half, from the Rhone, Languedoc or Provence); Seven each are from Italy and the U.S., four from Australia, two each from Spain, Portugal and South Africa, and one from Lebanon.
As with the budget list, red wines predominate, again probably more the result of my personal preference than any intrinsic value. I've included 30 reds, six whites, three dessert/fortified wines and four sparkling wines (three of them Champagnes.)
Here's the list. The wines are listed in ascending order of price; wines at the same price point are listed alphabetically. I'm looking forward to more great wines in 2002!
The Year's best wines over $12
Abbaye de Tholomies 1995 Special Cuvee Millenium Minervois ($12.99)
Peppery mixed-berry fruit and pleasantly earthy nuances on the nose and palate, opening up to surprising complexity with time in the glass.
Domaine de la Chanteleuserie 1999 Bourgueil ($12.99)
Appetizing cherry-pie flavors, fruit and spice. Almost Beaujolais-like, juicy fruit and tart acid in balance.
Domaine du Joncier 1998 Lirac ($12.99)
Forward aromas of fragrant black pepper and ripe, plummy fruit. Big, juicy and peppery flavors, mouth-filling and ripe, with lemon-squirt acidity and soft tannins that build a sturdy structure for appetizing fruit.
Pierre Sparr 1999 Alsace Pinot Gris ($12.99)
Fresh, delicate honeydew and lemon scents. Ripe and appetizing, crisp citric flavors, medium-bodied and very fresh; cleansing acidity balances with ripe fruit in a very long finish.
Rocca Albino 1998 Vignalunga Dolcetto d'Alba ($12.99)
Plummy and peppery, with a pleasant whiff of violets. Round and full, plummy black fruit, soft but perceptible tannic astringency and crisp fresh-fruit acidity.
Coldstream Hills 1998 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir ($13.99)
Attractive and complex Pinot scents of wild-cherry and mint. Bright fruit flavors or cherry and Pinot "tomato-skin" are framed by crisp acidity in one of the best Australian Pinots I've tasted.
Doro Polencic 2000 Collio Pinot Grigio ($13.99)
Fresh, clean and vibrant melon aromas. Full and ripe, crisp and dry, full of fresh fruit with hints of gentle mintiness and an elusive whiff of almonds.
Henriques & Henriques non-vintage Rainwater Madeira ($13.99)
Pleasant nutlike aromas, like cracking walnuts and pecans. Strong, full-bodied, but just off-dry, with slight fruit sweetness cloaked behind the snappy lemon-squirt tang that's the trademark of Madeira.
Bonny Doon 1997 Framboise Raspberry Wine With Grape Neutral Spirits ($14.99)
Ripe, juicy raspberries on the nose and palate. Thick as raspberry syrup and just as sweet, with tantalizing acidity and warming alcohol, with fresh lemon-squirt acidity in the finish.
Ca dei Frati 1997 Ronchedone Benaco Bresciano ($14.99)
Pleasantly complex aromas of red fruit - strawberry and plum - with herbal and earthy notes. Light in body but full in flavor, it offers red fruit and earthy nuances on the palate.
Domaine d'Aupilhac 1997 Montpeyroux Coteaux de Languedoc ($14.99)
Deep cherry-like scent adds marked herbal notes. Full and tart, black fruit and fragrant pepper; a "rustic" but interesting wine, complex and excellent with food.
Foreau non-vintage Vouvray Brut Methode Traditionnelle ($14.99)
Appetizing fresh apples and pears and a full, crisp flavor that's dry, creamy and long. A credible alternative to Champagne at a price the high-price bubbly can't touch.
J. M. Gerin 1999 Cotes du Rhone ($14.99)
Full, rich and complex aromas, plummy fruit, black pepper and a pleasantly earthy whiff of the barnyard. Big and "chewy," dark fruit and fragrant pepper flavors. A remarkable young wine.
Mak 1998 "Snowy River" Coonawarra red wine ($14.99)
An all-Australian blast of minty black fruit, plums, licorice and spice aromas leaps from the glass. Flavors follow the nose, plums and currants and minty, spicy oak.
Neil Ellis 1998 Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon ($14.99)
Ripe cherry-berry aromas with a whiff of spicy oak. Full and fresh, tart and forward black fruit on a firm framework of lemony acidity that provides a cleansing, food-friendly finish.
Pedroncelli 1997 Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County Petite Sirah ($14.99)
Plummy, grapey aromas and sweet oak with a hint of brown sugar, forward and appealing. Big and full, mouth-filling black fruit and caramel flavors; a lemon-squirt of acidity and distinct but palatable tannins.
Saint Cosme 1999 Cotes-du-Rhone ($14.99)
Plummy fruit with leathery and earthy aroma notes. Fresh and bright flavors, medium-bodied and long, with attractive black fruit and leather in a long finish.
Zenato 1998 Valpolicella Superiore Ripassa ($14.99)
Delicious, characteristic dried-cherry and licorice aromas of Valpolicella. Big, fruity and tart, full flavors follow the nose, with intense dried fruit and a pleasant bitterness in a long finish.
Morgadio 2000 Rias Baixas Albariño ($15.99)
Ripe pear and peach aromas with floral notes, aromatic and full. Crisp and fresh flavors of pears and snappy citrus, cleansing and tart; a pleasant bitter-almond finish.
Vittorio Puiatti 2000 Collio Pinot Grigio ($16.99)
Delicate melons and peaches entwined with subtle "mineral" scents. Clean and fresh fruit is perfectly balanced with crisp, citric acidity, with pleasant peach-bit bitterness in a very long finish.
Guillemette et Xavier Bresson 1999 "Le Petit Pretan" Givry 1er Cru ($16.99)
Ripe tomato and black fruit, tangy and spicy on the nose and palate. Quite big and full for a young Burg, accessible and appealing.
Mazzi 1997 "Poiega" Valpolicella Classico Superiore ($16.99)
Intense dried-cherry and almond aromas, elegant and inviting. Full and ripe, tart and pleasantly bitter black-cherry fruit flavors, with a subtle, pleasant "barnyard" note in the background, balanced and long.
Primo Palatum 1997 Minervois la Livinière ($16.99)
Pleasant and complex aromas of plums, black pepper and hints of leather. Plummy fruit flavors are spiced with a double dash of fragrant pepper that persists in a long, clean finish.
Babcock 1998 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($17.99)
Fruity black cherries and fresh tomatoes with slightly tart tomato-skin and cherry-cola flavors, so forward that it almost seems sweet at first, but it finishes full and dry.
Laurel Glen 1997 "Counterpoint" Sonoma Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($17.99)
Delicious herbal black-fruit aromas of plums and fresh fennel. Mouth-filling and tart, fresh fruit surrounding sweet but astringent tannins, fruity and balanced. Approachable now but will benefit from time.
Burgess 1998 Russian River Valley Zinfandel ($18.99)
Typical Zinfandel aromas of blackberry jam add a slight sappy, stemmy note that's not unpleasant. Big and jammy berrylike fruit is shaped by lemony acidity in the flavor.
Casa Castillo 1998 "Las Gravas" Jumilla ($18.99)
Peppery and earthy grace notes over deep black fruit, with a leafy, loamy "forest floor" undertone. Ripe, tart and tannic, plummy and full.
Domaine de Monardière 1998 Vieilles Vignes Vacqueyras ($18.99)
Black pepper, leather and a hint of spice surrounding tasty berry fruit on the nose and palate. Lots of fruit and lots of structure, a very pleasant wine.
Domaine de Monardière 1999 Vacqueyras Blanc ($18.99)
Rich white fruit and complex sappy aromas add delicate nutlike wafts of toasted hazelnuts and almonds, very appealing. Rich and full, with pleasant mixed-nut qualities lingering in the finish.
Huet 1999 Clos du Bourg Demi-Sec Vouvray ($18.99)
Earthy honey and apple aromas and flavors structured with snappy acidity, opening up to substantial richness and complexity; moderate fresh-fruit sweetness is well structured with snappy acidity.
Rupert & Rothschild 1998 Coastal Region "Classique" ($19.99)
Appetizing and complex aromas of black cherry and dark chocolate invite a taste, revealing a ripe, juicy and full flavor with tart black fruit over soft, accessible tannins.
Sean H. Thackrey non-vintage Pleiades IX Old Vines ($20.99)
Cinnamon and cloves in a remarkably spicy scent, with aromatic menthol and "tree bark." Similar exotics on the palate, spicy flavors, bright, plummy fruit and lemon-squirt acidity. An earthy, complex Mediterranean-style blend.
Mazzei 1998 "Fonterutoli" Chianti Classico ($21.99)
Full, pleasant black-cherry aromas gain texture and complexity from delicate, pleasantly earthy scents of leather and the barnyard. Ripe and plummy fruit structured by lemon-tart acidity and soft tannins, enjoyable now but ageworthy. A classic.
Chateau de Pibarnon 1998 Bandol ($22.99)
Fresh and juicy black-cherry and plum flavors structured on tart acidity, making it a fine food wine. Still young, but not as fiercely tannic or closed as many of its Bandol brethren.
Penfolds 1998 Bin 389 South Australia Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz ($23.99)
Big mint and plum aromas, full and ripe. Brawny on the palate, peppery black fruit and lemony acidity in balance with distinct oak and substantial alcohol, astringent tannins and forward fruit. Easy drinking now, better with time.
Veritas 1999 Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot ($29.99)
Minty and full, "sweet" black-fruit flavors backed by fresh acidity and dry tannins, strong and warm. Built to last, but drinking very well now.
Edmunds St. John 1999 El Dorado County "Wylie-Fenaughty" Syrah ($29.99)
Ripe, plummy fruit aromas with pleasant menthol and black-pepper; whiffs of smoke and "bacon fat" add complexity and a distinct Rhone-like character.
Jean Vesselle non-vintage Champagne Brut "Oeil de Perdrix" ($30.99)
Delicious and appealing, earthy and toasty; apples and bread dough and a whiff of cocoa. Full and rich, creamy at first, with a tartly acidic cleansing flavor that makes it an exceptional food match.
1994 Chateau Musar ($32.99)
Forward black cherries, herbs and fragrant pepper and a distinct but pleasant whiff of the barnyard. Full and complex, fruit and earth; zingy acidity and soft tannins set up a very long finish.
Champagne Gosset-Brabant Cuvée de Reserve Brut ($32.99)
Ripe and full aromas bear rich, almost opulent fruit, honey-dipped apples and a delicate scent of milk chocolate - a sampler box of candies.
Champagne Egly-Ouriet Brut Rosé ($34.99)
Apples and toast mingle in an appealing scent; crisp fruit and cocoa notes enhance its creamy, mouth-filling flavor.
Henri et Gilles Remoriquet 1999 Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Au Dessus des Malconsorts ($45.99)
An exceptional value by the lofty standard of the genre. A subtle and complex mix of delicately spicy aromas over ripe cherry and tomato-skin. Clean and fresh, youthful fruit on a crisp acidic base with soft tannins.
Porto Niepoort Vintage 1994 ($29.99/half-bottle)
Deep black fruit and licorice framed by a hint of menthol. Strong and sweet in flavor, with balance and elegance, firm acidity and substantial but palatable tannins. Still a baby, showing great promise but needs time.
Champagne Pol Roger 1990 Brut ($59.99)
Bread dough and apple and lemon aromas. Full-bodied and rich, apples and subtle earthy tones with a bright acidic high note; flavors unfold and develop with time in the glass.
A word about availability: I purchased all these wines at retail wine shops in and around Louisville, Ky., and the prices listed are the actual retail price I paid; pricing may vary in other parts of the world.
I have no way of knowing their availability in other parts of the world or from online merchants; but in seeking any wine of interest, I always recommend starting with a good wine shop in your own community. Don't be shy about asking the management for help. A friendly and knowledgeable wine merchant can be your best friend in your effort to find any wine of interest or, failing that, to find a good similar alternative.
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View Robin Garr's best wines under $12 for 2001