This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Jan. 2, 2006.

My top wine values of 2005

Every New Year's Day, I go through all my databases of wine-tasting reports, sorting out the best wines and best values and looking for signs of developing trends and issues.

Sadly, particularly from the standpoint of those of us who insist on quality in wine but also seek value, the primary trend that I noticed at the end of 2004 continued unabated in 2005: Prices of good wines continue to rise, and the "floor price" for wines that most enthusiasts would consider acceptable is also going up.

Twelve months ago today, looking back over the previous year, I warned, "To be blunt, the days of excellent wine for $10 or less are fading." A year later, it appears that the realm of really good single-digit wine is not merely faded but has just about gone. Even with my focus on "affordable wines of value," only 12 of the hundreds wines that I tasted during 2005 came at retail price tags below $10, fewer than half of the 26 under-$10 bargains that I had reported in 2004.

What's at the root of the rising-price trend? It's not as easy to point to a single factor as it was last year when the effects of a couple of years of the strengthening Euro against the U.S. dollar came home to roost at the same time as a world wine "glut" began to abate. I'd guess that we're seeing a combination of the lingering effect of those factors, along with market pressure driven at least in part by popular wine-related movies like Sideways and Mondovino, which lured new consumers into the fine-wine market.

Also, in many cities, including Louisville, where I buy most of my wine for review, we're seeing the entry of new, excellent wine shops that boast interesting inventories and knowledgeable staff but that frankly seek more of an upscale market than the discount trade. There's no question that a significant share of my own wine buying has shifted to these shops, lured by very interesting wines that, unfortunately, run closer to the middle teens and twenties than the single-digit range.

Bargain-hunting readers needn't fear that I'll abandon my commitment to finding the "sweet spot" between quality and affordable values, and I hope we'll never see a time when the under-$10 niche disappears completely. But it's getting more and more difficult to find them, and you have to kiss more and more frogs in order to discover the occasional princess.

My final report on 2005 singles out 62 wines that achieved my top rating for "QPR," the wine-geek term for "Quality-Price Ratio," ranging in price from $8.49 (for an Argentine Malbec) to $47.99 (for a great Bordeaux producer's "second label" in the outstanding 2000 vintage).

Interested in a few statistics? France led the way, both overall and in the budget category, with 21 wines overall - exactly one-third of the total - and nine of the 23 wines under $12. Italy ranked second with 16 value wines (but only 3 under $12), barely edging out California (14 wines) overall; California, however, showed more strength in the low-cost category with six under $12. The rest of the value winners were widely scattered, including Spain (3), Argentina (2), and Australia, Canada, Germany, Lebanon, Madeira and Portugal making the list with 1 entry each.

Broken out by price, we find 11 wines over $25, 28 in the $12-$25 range and 23 under $12, of which, as noted, only a paltry dozen were tagged at less than $10.

Curiously, three of the under-$12 wines come from the same producer, Laurel Glen, with its 2002 and 2003 California "REDS" blend and its excellent 2003 "Terra Rosa" Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina, all $9.99, a glowing testament to winery owner/winemaker Patrick Campbell's lasting commitment to quality and value.

Here are the 23 best-value wines for $12 or less that I tasted during 2005, ranked in order of the actual retail price that I paid. You may click each link to view a more detailed tasting note in our standard "shelf-hanger" format. In virtually all instances, I purchased these wines from retail shops in and around Louisville, Ky. For your shopping convenience, I have added specific links for each wine to the databases at to help you compare prices and check availability at selected vendors online.

To view the full list of all 62 top-value wines of 2005 in all price ranges, see my just-updated QPR Digest Page,

Wines retailing for $12 or less

Barbadillo non-vintage Oloroso Sherry "Full Dry" (Spain), $11.99. (Find it on
Bruno Verdi 2004 "Sangue di Giuda" "Paradiso" Oltrepò Pavese (Italy), $11.99. (Find it on
Cartlidge & Browne 2003 California Pinot Noir (California), $11.99. (Find it on
Clos Roche Blanche 2004 Touraine Pineau d'Aunis Rosé (France), $11.99. (Find it on
M. Chapoutier 2002 Belleruche Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc (France), $11.99. (Find it on
Selbach 2002 "Riesling Dry" (Germany), $11.99. (Find it on
Zardetto Prosecco Brut (Italy), $11.99. (Find it on
Botromagno 2003 Gravina (Italy), $10.99. (Find it on
Peachy Canyon Winery 2002 Paso Robles "Incredible Red" Bin 115 Zinfandel (California), $10.99. (Find it on
Vinum Cellars 2004 "CNW Chard-No-Way" Wilson Vineyards Clarksburg Chenin Blanc (California), $10.99. (Find it on
Réserve Grand Veneur 2003 Côtes du Rhône (France), $10.49. (Find it on
André-Michel Brégeon 2002 Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie (France), $9.99. (Find it on
Chateau du Donjon 2002 "Grande Tradition" Minervois (France), $9.99. (Find it on
Domaine de Fondrèche 2003 Côtes du Ventoux "Instant" rosé (France), $9.99. (Find it on
E. Guigal 2002 Côtes du Rhône Blanc (France), $9.99. (Find it on
Laurel Glen 2003 "Reds" Lodi Red Wine (California), $9.99. (Find it on
Laurel Glen 2002 REDS California Red Wine (California), $9.99. (Find it on
Laurel Glen 2003 "Terra Rosa" Mendoza Malbec (Argentina), $9.99. (Find it on
Selby 2003 Sonoma County Rosé of Syrah (California), $9.99. (Find it on
Three Thieves 2003 Tempranillo (Spain), $9.99. (Find it on
Chateau de Paraza 2002 Minervois "Cuvee Speciale" (France), $8.99. (Find it on
Hugues Beaulieu 2003 Coteaux du Languedoc Picpoul de Pinet (France), $8.99. (Find it on
Bodegas Norton 2003 Mendoza Malbec (Argentina), $8.49. (Find it on