Broken any wine resolutions yet? Not me, mainly because I tend to resolve to do things rather than avoid them. It's easier that way because you get a whole year to deliver on the vow. For example, I promised myself to seek out more roussanne and assyrtiko (two white grapes deserving wider recognition) and aglianico (an Italian red finally making fast friends with the in crowd). With 360 days to go, I could procrastinate. But I may do something out of character and start early, specifically with the examples below.
Some people of my acquaintance have long been heeding a resolution that has become the mantra of many wine, spirit and beer drinkers in recent decades (though not necessarily just at New Year's). Drink less but better, they say. Good plan. But in January, when credit-card bills pile up, I'm more in the mood to revise that mantra. Drink less-expensive but better.
With that in mind, here's the first under-$20 column of the year. A second one will follow next week.
Terres d'Avignon Réserve des Armoiries 2010 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $14.95
Succulent and ripe, this complex Côtes du Rhône red delivers berries with a slightly sweaty, smokedmeat essence along with lots of superfine tannins for a dry finish. Try it with roast lamb or chicken or cellar it for up to six years.
Coto de Hayas Garnacha Centenaria 2011 (Spain)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $17
The Garnacha Centenaria is made by Bodegas Aragonesas, a large co-operative in the out-of-theway Campo de Borja appellation of northern Spain. But the juice tastes like a craft product, owing, no doubt, to the century-old vines, which yield small, rich berries. It's dense, supple and luscious, with a creamy texture carrying flavours of cherry, cedar and spice, with tannic grip and lively acidity for structure. Amazing red for the money, and perfect for rare lamb chops.
Donnachiara Irpinia Aglianico 2008 (Italy)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $18.95
For those with a taste for rustic reds (count me in), this southern Italian red shows a pleasantly subtle waft of hay and manure, as in a well-tended horse stable. The texture is nicely polished, with berries, licorice, spice and minerals in the mix. Bison burgers or lamb sausage would be lovely with it.
Luis Felipe Edwards Gran ReservaRoussanne 2010 (Chile)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $16.95
Typically relegated to blends (with marsanne and viognier) in the Rhône Valley, the white roussanne grape lacks the solo-player profile of, say, chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. Sad, because it can rise to attractive heights, offering an uncanny tea note and luscious honey. You'll find those assets on display here along with tinned apricot, all in good balance with the acidity. Try it with light fish dishes.
M. Gassier Nostre Païs Costières de Nîmes2010 (France)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $18.95
There's so much bitter-herb action here that the wine could qualify as the maror course at a Passover seder. But that's the essence so many of us love about southern French reds. With concentrated fruit to back up the greenery, it is well structured, though perhaps not a supple crowd-pleaser. Serve it next to braised red meat.
Château Maison Neuve 2009 (France)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $15.95
Good red Bordeaux is not exactly synonymous with value. But there are decent buys to be had from lesser appellations, such as Blaye, especially from the fine 2009 harvest. Maison Neuve's 2009 displays impressive concentration, with a classic cassis core, a nuance of pencil shavings and dusty, dry tannins. Cellar it for up to five years or serve it now with medium-rare beef or lamb.
Harper's Trail Thadd Springs VineyardRiesling 2011 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $19.99
The first estate winery in Kamloops, Harper's Trail is located just outside the city on the banks of the South Thompson River. The wines are made at the Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland by veteran Michael Bartier, who has done a fine job with this white. Off-dry but with refreshing acidity for balance, it offers up stone fruit, apple, lime and mineral flavours on a pleasantly chalky texture. Try it with light seafood. harperstrail.com.
Coppi Peucetico Primitivo 2007 (Italy)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $13.95
Two words: black tea. It's a dominant note in this well-balanced primitivo from the southern Puglia region. There's also plenty of sweet plum-like fruit, vanilla and spice set on a dusty texture. It's a good partner for barbecued ribs or roast duck.
Santo Assyrtiko 2011 (Greece)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $16.95
A signature of the island of Santorini, assyrtiko has made good quality strides in recent years, and the white wines seem to be finding increasing distribution in North America. This one is light-bodied, with green apple and floral notes lifted by lemon-like acidity. Great for lightly prepared shellfish.