10 ways to score amazing affordable wine

How to pick a great bottle at a great price? Use our lessons from the 2013 Sunset International Wine Competition

Wine-aisle rescue

Jeffery Cross

Wine-aisle rescue

You’ve filled your shopping cart with the building blocks for dinner, then make a flying pass down the wine aisle for a couple of bottles to wow your friends. But which ones? Few of us have a wineshop clerk on speed dial, so we’re left eyeballing the shelves wondering if the $28 Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley is really better than the $18 bottle from Monterey. What about the $42 Sangiovese from Washington versus the $22 Chianti Classico? Sans hard evidence, we pick our price and reach for the prettiest label.

But Sunset has a better way. The Sunset International Wine Competition gathered 50 of the most experienced wine pros in the West—winemakers, sommeliers, journalists, teachers—to rate nearly 3,000 wines. In our blind tasting, the field was level: Judges knew variety, region, and vintage, but not price. Meaning $12 bottles faced off anonymously with their more expensive counterparts—and sometimes scored better.

Go to sunset.com/2013medals to find the entire list of award-winning wines. And read on to learn some of the most compelling lessons from the 2013 competition—and how to get more bang for your wine-buying buck.

Today's most interesting whites are not Chardonnay

Jeffery Cross

Today's most interesting whites are not Chardonnay

No disrespect for the most-drunk wine in the United States (many Chards won medals), but the varieties that really caught our judges’ fancy included Grenache Blanc, Riesling, Viognier, Picpoul Blanc …

  • Acquiesce 2012 Picpoul Blanc (Lodi; $22)
  • Aimée 2012 Pinot Grigio (Napa Valley; $22)
  • Bokisch 2012 Vista Luna Vineyard Garnacha Blanca (Borden Ranch, Lodi; $16)
  • Carmen 2011 El Pacifico Vineyard Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc (Leyda Valley, Chile; $15)
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen 2011 “Eroica” Riesling (Columbia Valley; $20)
  • Claudia Springs 2012 Klindt Vineyard Pinot Gris (Anderson Valley; $22)
  • Clif Family 2012 “Rte. Blanc” Sauvignon Blanc (Napa Valley; $24)
  • Curtis 2011 “Heritage Blanc” Grenache Blanc/Roussanne/Viognier (Santa Barbara County; $20)
  • Doña Paula 2011 Torrontés (Valle de Cafayate, Salta, Argentina; $16)
  • Gilbert Cellars 2012 Riesling (Columbia Valley; $20)
  • Handley 2012 Pinot Gris (Anderson Valley; $20)
  • King Estate 2011 Pinot Gris (Oregon; $17)
  • Schug 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (Sonoma Coast; $20)
  • Silvan Ridge 2011 Viognier (Rogue Valley, Oregon; $18)
  • Starborough 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand; $15)
  • Viansa 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (Sonoma County; $20)
 

The Willamette Valley is rocking the Noir

Jeffery Cross

The Willamette Valley is rocking the Noir

Oregon’s chilly midsection produces a delicate style of Pinot that made a powerful impression.

  • Alloro 2010 “Riservata” Pinot Noir (Chehalem Mountains, Oregon; $45)
  • Anam Cara 2010 Nicholas Estate Pinot Noir (Chehalem Mountains, Oregon; $32)
  • ArborBrook 2010 “Origin 1866” Pinot Noir (Chehalem Mountains, Oregon; $40)
  • Chehalem 2010 Ridgecrest Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir (Ribbon Ridge, Oregon; $60)
 

A few wineries always hit the mark

Jeffery Cross

A few wineries always hit the mark

If you find yourself without a cheat sheet in the wine aisle, know that you can trust these West Coast brands to deliver high-quality, affordable bottles across their portfolios.

  • Barnard Griffin (Richland, WA)
  • Bogle Vineyards (Clarksburg, CA)
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle (Woodinville, WA)
  • McManis Family (Vineyards Ripon, CA)
  • Milbrandt Vineyards (Prosser, WA)

Malbecs are a mixed bag

Malbecs are a mixed bag

Argentina’s signature grape is surging—bottles from that country and a growing number from our own vineyards are crowding market shelves. But quality varies wildly and price is no guide. These nine deliver.

Argentina

  • Colomé 2010 “Vino Tinto de Gran Altura” Malbec (Valle Calchaqui, Salta, Argentina; $30)
  • Crios 2012 Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina; $15)
  • Diseño 2011 Old Vine Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina; $11)
  • Doña Paula 2007 Selección de Bodega Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina; $40)
  • Middle Sister NV “Wild One” Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina; $12)
  • Redwood Creek 2011 Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina; $8)
West Coast

  • Clayhouse 2010 Malbec (Paso Robles; $15)
  • Imagery Estate 2010 Malbec (Cloverdale Peak, Pine Mountain; $42)
  • Tertulia 2008 Malbec (Columbia Valley; $32)

There's worthy bubbly beyond France

There's worthy bubbly beyond France

Debate raged: Must all sparklers mimic the minerally character of Champagne to earn a medal? “Why should they?” argued a judge who used to make Champagne. “These are great wines.”

  • Banfi 2012 Rosa Regale (Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG, Italy; $23)
  • Gloria Ferrer 2004 “Royal Cuvée” Reserve Brut (Carneros; $32)
  • La Marca NV (Prosecco DOC, Italy; $17)
  • Rack & Riddle NV Blanc de Blancs (North Coast; $20)
  • Robledo 2009 Brut Cuvée (Los Carneros; $45)
  • Segura Viudas NV Brut Reserva (Cava DO, Spain; $10)
 

For red wine lovers, Cab and Pinot are just the beginning

Jeffery Cross

For red wine lovers, Cab and Pinot are just the beginning

Our judges soldiered through veritable oceans of solid Cabernet and Pinot Noir to get to their real entertainment—the knockout alternatives to the West’s marquee reds.

  • Ancient Peaks 2010 Margarita Vineyard Petit Verdot (Paso Robles; $35)
  • Carmen 2011 Apalta Vineyard Gran Reserva Carmenère (Colchagua Valley, Chile; $15)
  • Claudia Springs 2010 Rhodes Vineyard Grenache (Redwood Valley; $22)
  • Jeff Runquist 2011 Cooper Vineyard Barbera (Amador County; $26)
  • Marchesi 2009 “Emma” Reserve Sangiovese (Columbia Valley; $42)
  • Shadow Chaser 2012 Grenache (McLaren Vale, Australia; $15)
  • Vina Robles 2010 Petite Sirah (Paso Robles; $26)

Spain is the new Italy

Jeffery Cross

Spain is the new Italy

Remember when we discovered Chianti, Pinot Grigio, and Prosecco? Now it’s Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Albariño from Spain—and increasingly from California, Southern Oregon, and Washington.

Spain

  • Condes de Albarei 2011 Valle del Salnés Albariño (Rías Baixas DO; $12)
  • Murviedro 2012 Colección Sauvignon Blanc (Valencia DO; $8)
  • Bodegas Riojanas 2010 Puerta Vieja Crianza (Rioja DOCa; $15)
  • Castillo de Monséran 2010 Garnacha (Cariñena DO; $7)
  • Ergo 2010 Tempranillo (Rioja DOCA; $15)
  • Murviedro 2012 Colección Tempranillo (Utiel-Requena DO; $8)
  • Verano 2011 Tempranillo/Cabernet (Valencio DO; $14)
  • Viña Eguía 2008 Crianza (Rioja DOCA; $15)
West Coast

  • New Clairvaux 2012 St. James Block Albariño (Tehama County; $17)
  • Camaraderie 2009 Tempranillo (Yakima Valley; $28)
  • Casa de Arcilla 2010 Tempranillo (Paso Robles; $14)
  • Hoyt Family 2010 Tempranillo (Paso Robles; $35)
  • Kenneth Volk 2009 John Smith Vineyard Tempranillo (San Benito County; $36)
  • Matchbook 2009 Tempranillo (Dunnigan Hills; $15)
 

Crazy red blends aren't just gimmicks

Jeffery Cross

Crazy red blends aren't just gimmicks

Winemakers crafting avant-garde mash-ups—putting Cabernet and Zinfandel in the same bottle, for instance—are blending for quality (not just using up excess juice).

  • Beaulieu Vineyard 2009 “Beaurouge” (Napa Valley; $25)
  • Buena Vista Viticultural Society 2011 “The Count of Buena Vista” (Sonoma County; $20)
  • Cholame 2010 “Cross Country” (Monterey County; $20)
  • Deering 2009 “Ideal, A Better Red” (Sonoma Valley; $45)
  • Enkidu 2009 “Humbaba” (California; $28)
  • Lone Madrone 2009 “Old Hat” (Paso Robles; $46)
  • Martella 2010 “GTA” (California; $32)
  • Renwood 2010 “Clarion” (Amador County; $20)
  • Telaya 2009 “Turas” (Columbia Valley; $32)

Some big-ticket wines are truly worth it

Roger T. Schmidt / Getty Images

Some big-ticket wines are truly worth it

Many wines count on sticker shock to deliver a marketing message. (A $100 bottle has to be good, right?) Without the ability to flash their price in our blind judging, the expensive wines rode on merit alone. These bottles earned exceptional scores.

  • Betz Family 2010 “Père de Famille” Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley; $68). Dark chocolate and leather under gorgeous cassis and black cherry.
  • Kenefick Ranch 2009 “Chris’s Cuvée” Cabernet Sauvignon (Calistoga, Napa Valley; $65). Concentrated but fresh, minty blackberry with elegant tannins and a streak of minerality.
  • La Rochelle 2010 Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands; $75). Big, ripe, and round, with black cherry, cola, and silky tannins.
  • Ravenswood 2010 Old Hill Single Vineyard Zinfandel (Sonoma Valley; $60). Violets, pepper, and spice over layers of black fruit.
  • Trinchero 2009 Cloud’s Nest Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Mount Veeder, Napa Valley; $70). Black cherry and cassis with whiffs of violet and cedar.
  • V. Sattui 2009 “Paradiso” (Napa Valley; $70). Juicy cherry-berry fruit with cinnamon, cocoa, and vanilla shadings.

$12 can buy a very good bottle of wine

Jeffery Cross

$12 can buy a very good bottle of wine

If you’ve slogged through enough cheap wine to think, If I can afford it, I won’t like it, you’ve been buying the wrong bottles. You can give your weeknight sipping a serious upgrade with this list of supermarket stars unearthed by our judges. Here are our imported bottle picks:

Gold-medal whites 

  • Albamar 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (Casablanca Valley, Chile; $11)
  • Echo Bay 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand; $12)
  • Lindeman’s 2012 “Bin 95” Sauvignon Blanc (South Eastern Australia; $6)
  • Matua 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand; $12)
  • New Harbor 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand; $12)
  • Rosemount 2012 Chardonnay/Semillon (South Eastern Australia; $7)
  • Rosemount 2012 Diamond Label Chardonnay (South Australia; $9)
Gold-medal reds 

  • Dow 2009 Vale do Bomfim (Douro DOC, Portugal; $12)
  • Goosebump 2011 “Velvety Red” (Sicilia IGT, Italy; $10)
  • PKNT 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Rapel Valley, Chile; $9)
Silver-medal whites 

  • Bex 2011 Riesling (Nahe QbA, Germany; $10)
  • Bolla 2011 “883 Selection” (Soave Classico DOC, Italy; $10)
  • Doña Paula 2012 “Los Cardos” Sauvignon Blanc (Mendoza, Argentina; $10)
  • Marqués de Alella 2011 Pansa Blanca (Alella DO, Spain; $12)
  • Mezzacorona 2012 Pinot Grigio (Dolomiti IGT, Italy; $9)
  • Nein Lives 2011 Riesling (Mosel QbA, Germany; $10)
Silver-medal reds 

  • Banfi 2010 “Centine” (Toscana IGT, Italy; $11)
  • Caminada 2011 Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina; $10)
  • Cecchi 2011 Bonizio Sangiovese di Maremma (Toscana IGT, Italy; $10)
  • Henry’s Drive 2010 “Pillar Box Red” (Padthaway, Australia; $12)
  • Murviedro 2012 Colección Syrah (Valencia DO, Spain; $8)
  • Real Compañía de Vinos 2011 Tempranillo (Tierra de Castilla VdT, Spain; $10)
  • Rosemount 2011 Diamond Label Cabernet Sauvignon (South Eastern Australia; $9)
  • The Show 2010 Garnacha (Calatayud DO, Spain; $12)

Domestic bargains for $12 and under

Jeffery Cross

Domestic bargains for $12 and under

Gold-medal whites/rosé 

  • Avalon 2012 Pinot Grigio (California; $12)
  • Barnard Griffin 2012 Rosé of Sangiovese (Columbia Valley; $12)
  • Ménage à Trois 2011 Pinot Grigio (California; $10)
Gold-medal reds

  • Cycles Gladiator 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (Lodi; $12)
  • Dancing Bull 2011 Zinfandel (California; $12)
Silver-medal whites 

  • Acrobat 2011 Pinot Gris (Oregon; $12)
  • Cabana 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (Lodi; $9)
  • Coppola Rosso & Bianco 2011 Chardonnay (California; $11)
  • Estancia 2011 Pinnacles Ranches Chardonnay (Monterey County; $12)
  • Geyser Peak 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (California; $10)
  • Hess Select 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (North Coast; $11)
  • Kenwood 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (Sonoma County; $12)
  • Line 39 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (Lake County; $10)
  • Pacific Rim 2011 Riesling (Columbia Valley; $10)
Silver-medal reds 

  • Avalon 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (California; $10)
  • Bogle 2010 “Essential Red” (California; $11)
  • Cameron Hughes 2009 Meritage (California; $12)
  • Coastline 2011 Merlot (Paso Robles; $11)
  • Coppola Rosso & Bianco 2011 “Rosso” (California; $11)
  • Gnekow Family 2010 “Campus Oaks” Old Vine Zinfandel (Lodi; $10)
  • J. Lohr 2011 “Wildflower” Valdiguié (Monterey; $10)
  • Little Black Dress 2011 Merlot (California; $10)
  • McManis Family 2011 Malbec (California; $11)
  • McManis Family 2011 Merlot (California; $10)
  • McManis Family 2011 Petite Sirah (California; $11)
  • Montevina 2010 Zinfandel (Amador County; $12)
  • Purple Cowboy 2011 “Tenacious Red” (Paso Robles; $12)
  • Un4seen 2009 Red (California; $10)

Printed from:
http://www.sunset.com/food-wine/wine-pairings/wine-deals-00418000084705/