One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to get my samples pile under control. I am perpetually behind, but it got far worse at the end of the year as I was traveling far more than anticipated. So, in keeping with said resolution, I decided to sift through my samples to find some wines under $20 suggested retail.
2020 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Blanc, California: Retail $15. Under screwcap. 60% Grenache Blanc, 32% Vermentino, 8% Clairette Blanche. This is always one of the samples that I look forward to the most as I really love what Bonny Doon represents both in the region and the American wine scene in general (e.g., innovation, environmental stewardship). I also particularly like their focus on Rhône varieties, including those lesser known to Americans. This flagship white always delivers: great tropical fruit, minerality, and verve, all for around fifteen bucks? Yowza. Very nice. Excellent. 90 Points.
2019 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant, California: Retail $17. Big Ass Bottle. Under screwcap. 56% Grenache, 30% Cinsault, 13% Syrah, 1% Petite Sirah. Not too long ago, this was a $40+ wine and the jewel of the Bonny Door lineup. While I am not sure where Randall Grahm would place it now, it is less than half the price and a bit more ubiquitous than it once was. On the light side in color, but rich in aromas of red fruit (black cherry, cassis), spice (clove, black pepper), and herbal (thyme, sage). The palate is nicely balanced with the aforementioned fruit, a dash of spice, and more than enough tartness to go around. Sure, this might not be as complex as previous iterations, but it is a fine quaff. Excellent. 90 Points.
2020 21 Brix Winery Pinot Grigio, Lake Erie, NY: Retail $15. Under screwcap. I have no idea how this wine found its way into my sample pile, but when I grabbed it, I was a little worried. Growing up in Ohio and Michigan, Lake Erie did not have the greatest reputation (the Cuyahoga River, which bisects Cleveland and feeds into the lake caught fire in 1969 and led to the creation of the EPA, the Clean Water Act, and even Earth Day). A lot has changed, mostly for the good, but it is still difficult to erase or transform those negative images of one of the Great Lakes. Add that this is a Pinot Grigio, a variety that spans the gamut from really good to insufferable, I was nervous. Well. While I am not a fan of the slight sweetness here (1.25% Residual Sugar), it actually seems to work (and I am sure that my mother-in-law would *love* it). Pale straw in the glass with mostly ripe tropical fruit and dashes of white pepper and minerality. The palate is rich and round, with that touch of sweetness masking the acidity, which is too bad since I think more than anything else, this wine could use a jolt of tartness. Still? Like I said, pool, parents, parades, this wine has a place. Very Good. 88 Points.
These next two wines check-in at north of $20, but keep in mind that they are three-liter boxes, the equivalent of four regular 750ml bottles (which makes it $10 a bottle for the mathematically challenged). Don’t be too quick to eschew the box, by the way, as it is one of the more environmentally friendly ways of getting your vino and the quality of the contents has increased dramatically. Last, these are only available through the Gratsi website, but the $40 includes shipping….
NV Gratsi Old Country White, Columbia Valley, WA: AVA Columbia Valley, WA (Horse Heaven Hills). Retail $40, 3.0L Box. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. This is only available from the website and at the equivalent of $10/bottle (750ml), this is a solid deal. Extremely light in color, as close to “clear” as I have seen in a while. Tropical and tart on the nose with some minerality and an herbal aspect. The palate is dry, tart, and refreshing; this is likely not a wine that will alter the trajectory of your life, but it will make cooking, sitting by the pool, conversing with the in-laws a much more pleasant endeavor. Very Good. 88 Points.
NV Gratsi Old Country Red, Columbia Valley, WA: Retail $40 (3-liter box). The most I could find about this wine was that it is a Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Wahluke Slope in the Columbia Valley, Washington. What does that mean from a varietal standpoint? No idea. The nose presents a wheelbarrow-full of fruit along with a bucket-full of earth, and maybe a water bottle-full of intrigue. The palate follows the theme as the fruit is paramount, followed by a bit of gritty determination, and then just enough sophistication to ponder whether your stance on box wines needs a reassessment (it does). Very Good. 89 Points.
2019 Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon Cuvée Alexandre Apalta Vineyard, Colchagua Valley, Chile: Retail $25. 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Carménère, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot. OK, so this one is technically not under twenty bucks, but it likely will be on most shelves. There really are some outstanding values coming out of Chile, so that is why I include it here. Quite dark in the glass, with a lovely, enticing nose of intense blackberry, cassis, black pepper, black cherry, floral notes, Christmas spice, really a whole bunch going on. The palate exhibits much of the same, along with intense acidity, drying but subtle and integrated tannins, and an impressive finish. I have to admit that on day one, this was rather disjointed and a bit odd, but the time open did wonders: juicy, complex, really fantastic. Thus, decant! Oh. And Whoa. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2019 Pascual Toso Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina: Retail $12. Under screwcap. Fairly dark in the glass with blackberry, plum, and a bit of spice. The palate is much the same, with plenty of fruit, some depth, and a bit of black pepper. Look, this is not trying to be anything else but a relatively fruity quaff with a touch of intrigue. A good choice for a bad movie and a bowl of popcorn. Very Good. 87 points.