Last year about this time, I offered up a list of thirteen wines that stood out as something special. In the spirit of stretching your dollar even further, this year's list covers not just specific wines, but also their regions — and a few entire countries — of origin. Great sources for reliable valuables, they're listed here in (reverse) order of their proximity to the East Bay.
New Zealand: Pinot Noirs, Pinot-Chardonnay sparkling wines, and Sauvignon Blancs are the varietals to look for in Kiwi wines — and while those first two may be hard to come by for under $10, great values abound among wines made from the latter, the country's most-planted varietal. Marlborough, New Zealand's leading wine region, is the name to look for. We particularly liked the 2005 Sacred Hill Whitecliff Sauvignon Blanc ($9.99), enjoying the ample tropical fruit and vegetal notes in its pungent aroma. The 2006 vintage is now available.
France: We've all been there: staring blankly at a wall of inexpensive French wines whose labels are littered with words that mean nothing to us. The next time this happens to you, do yourself a favor and ask for help. Your neighborhood wine purveyor can surely lead you in the right direction. And you might just walk away with a gem like the woodsy, velvety 2005 Chateau Le Roc Côtes du Frontonnais red wine ($9.99), the charming and intensely berry-ish Domaine Astruc Syrah-Viognier blend ($8.99), or the full-bodied and crisp 2007 Abel Clément white blend ($7.99).
Spain: Year in and year out, the Marqués de Cáceres White Rioja (usually under $5 at Trader Joe's) and Borsao Red Wine (widely available and also around $5) have been Wineau favorites. The Borsao, made of 75 percent Garnacha and 25 percent Tempranillo, is a great example of why Garnacha (aka Grenache) is a great value when it comes to low-priced Spanish reds. We also recently praised the elegance of the 2005 Castillo de Daroca Garnacha-Syrah ($6.99), noting it would be a great companion to a spicy tomato sauce.
Lodi: While California's Central Valley may lack name recognition as a wine region, its lower real estate prices and winemaking costs translate to great values for consumers — especially when it comes to Zinfandel. We like an offering from Alameda's own R&B Cellars: the 2005 R&B Cellars Swingsville ($9.99), a blend of 87 percent Lodi-grown Zinfandel and 13 percent Petite Syrah. The 2006 is now available.
Livermore: Even closer to home, Tamas Estates, Concannon Vineyard, and Wente Vineyards are local wineries consistently producing solid values — and in Concannon's case, "solid" occasionally inches towards sublime. In the under-$10 category, we've especially liked the Pinot Grigio and the Zinfandel from Tamas Estates, Concannon's Syrah and Petite Syrah, and a couple of Wente's whites: the Morning Fog Chardonnay and the Monterey-grown Riverbank Riesling. If you're going to splurge, consider Concannon's Reserve Chardonnay — the 2006 vintage ($20) earned Best of Region and Best of Class in the Greater Bay Area appellation.