Each year, the Serious Foodie posts a list of the quality wines we consider bargains – and hopefully wines you can easily find.  Our red wine list gets posted every Fall, after considerable research and input from our associate tasters.  Last year we did 20 wines under $20 – we decided to expand it a bit by including five more wines, and going to the $25 level.  There were quite a few great wines that came in just above $20 that we felt it would warrant the extra few bucks for some tasty wines.
There were quite a few quality bargain wines from Italy this year, and a few pinot noirs made the list.  In the past, it’s been hard to find quality bargain red wines from California, but we found a few that were outstanding.
We have identified five special wines from this group of 25:

The Top 5 Value Wines for 2014

Brancaia  Tre Toscana, Cambria Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Julia’s Vineyard, Domaine de Pallus Chinon Les Pensees de Pallus, Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina Riserva Nipozzano, and Tolani Valdisanti.
Let us know what you think of these wines, and send along the names of your favorite bargain bottles.  Here’s our complete list (alphabetically ordered):


2011 Alta Vista Malbec Mendoza Premium ($19)

There is always one or two malbecs from Argentina that make the list – and this year, the Alta Vista rose to the top.  It’s got a deep, juicy flavor of red stone fruits with a some floral and spice notes.

2010 Brancaia  Tre Toscana IGT ($18)

Brancaia 2010A blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from Tuscany.  This a surprisingly sophisticated wine for this price point, having an excellent balance of fruit, spices, and acid.  The typical aroma and flavor of sangiovese (cherry) comes through loud and clear, but the other accents of chocolate and coffee make this one a winner.  Nice lingering flavors. Perfect with steak.  A Top 5 Value Wines for 2014.


 2007 Byron Santa Barbara Pinot Noir ($20)

One of the surprising finds of the year, we found both the Santa Barbara and the Santa Maria Valley pinot noirs worthy of regular purchase.  The Santa Barbara was a bit more substantial, and had a much more lasting, pleasant taste.  There is a mix of red berry (very typical for Santa Barbara pinot noirs), with some nice black licorice, herb and cedar notes.  Works well with a variety of foods.

2010 Cambria Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Julia’s Vineyard ($18)Cambria Julie

One of our pinot noir surprises from California.  This pinot is a bit more tannic than the Byron, but also a bit more subtle and still packs a lot of ripe red berry and dried herbs into every mouthful, with a lasting aftertaste.  This is a well balanced wine that matches with grilled vegetables, fish, and pork. A Top 5 Value Wines for 2014.

2010 Casa Lapostolle Cabernet Cuvee Alexandre ($20)

A quality bargain wine from a well-regarded Chilean producer, this is an inky-dark wine with lots of up-front fruit (red berry and cassis) flavors with a nice level of tannins that allow it to drink early, but would also cellar well. Besides the fruit, you’ll find oak, smoke, and spice. It finishes well, with lingering spice and berry flavors.  Has about 10% cabernet franc.

2011 Casanova di Neri Rosso di Montalcino ($20)

Casanova di Neri Rosso

Earlier this year, the Serious Foodie had a sangiovese tasting event, with most people raving about the Casanova di Neri – (click HERE to see our full review).   This is a nicely balanced wine from Tuscany with aromas and flavors very typical of sangiovese from Montelcino: cherry, violets and red fruits.  The wine is very complex, having a great mouth feel.  Perfect with most Italian inspired dishes.

2012 Cell Block Shackled Red ($20)

A favorite of associate taster Paul – this is a wine very much in the same vein as “The Prisoner” from Oren Swift, one of the favorite wines at The Serious Foodie.  Shackled Red is mostly zinfandel with tempranillo and petit syrah, giving this wine quite a bit of flavor power.  Dark fruit and chocolate predominate the flavors which has a pleasant lasting mouth feeling.  However, you might find this one is a bit hard to find.

2010 Columbia Crest Walter Clore Private Reserve ($25)columbia-crest-walter-clore-private-reserve-2010

Of all the red wines we tasted this year, we consider this Columbia Crest one of our top wines, regardless of the price – and it was the one wine that convinced us to change the price range of our annual review.  Finely structured, with light tannins, good acidity, giving to an exotic fresh blueberry and herbal flavor. It’s long and gentle finish reminds us of wines in the three figures. NOTE – got this on sale; it is usually more than $25.  Because of this, we did not include this wine as one of our top 5.

 2009 Columbia Crest Primitivo Reserve ($25)

Another beauty from Columbia Crest, this one using 100% primitivo (zinfandel).  This wine rivals some of the best California zinfandels, having a fruit-forward style or red berries (raspberries) and chocolate flavors with a soft, complex finish.  We really liked its silky texture of balanced oak and fruit.

2009 Coriole Vineyards Sangiovese Shiraz ($20)

This unusual blend of 60% sangiovese/40% shiraz from Australia showed up on an airport Vino Volo – and it was worthy of further exploration.  We used it quite a bit this summer, and was one of our feature wines in June (click HERE to see our full review)

2010 Dei Vino Nobile di Montelpuciano ($22)

One of our top wines from the Serious Foodie May tasting event.  It has prominent, but not over-powering, aromas and flavors of cherry and plum.  It is a full-bodied “goes with everything” wine (click HERE to see our full review).

2012 Di Majo Norante ($10)

The wine is a little funky on the nose, but does evoke some citrus (dried orange peels) along with red berries (cherry and strawberry,mostly).  The flavor is dominated by the same red berries character, with a hint of chocolate.  For a bargain red wine, this is very well balanced and shows good length – astounding for a $10 sangiovese.

2011 Domaine de Pallus Chinon Les Pensees de Pallus ($18)

DOM DE PALLUS CHINONLast year, we ranked the Chateau de la Bonneliere Chinon among our top 5 value wines of the year.  It’s still one of our favorites, but the Domaine de Pallus 2011 was an outstanding wine for the price – and is one of the Top 5 Value Wines for 2014. This French beauty is a universal red – working well with poultry, pork, fish, and stands up to a bit of spice (think a medium curry).  The taste is an intense blackberry and cherry fruit with some tobacco and herbal notes that ripple underneath. There’s a nice bright finish, which lingers.

2010 Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina Riserva Nipozzano ($20)Frescobaldi Rufina Riserva Nipozzano

This is a wine that has risen to many top 10 lists this year, and for good reason.  The sophisticated black cherry, spice, tobacco and earth flavors prevail in this dense red. The tannins verge on being gritty in texture, yet there’s adequate acidity to keep this fresh.  This is an excellent example of the wines from the Rufina sub-region if Chianti. A Top 5 Value Wines for 2014.

2011 J. Hofstatter Lagrein ($20)

Hofsatter LagreinLagrein is an indigenous grape of northeastern Italy (Alto Aldige), making light but flavorful wines. The Hofstatter has bright tastes of blackberry, plum, and a bit of tobacco, with flavors that last long on the palate.  It is well-balanced, can be sipped on its own, but works well with fatty, smoky meats.  Click HERE to see our full review.


2009 Manos Negras Soil Sel Pinot Noir ($15)

A surprising pinot noir from Argentina, this wine is built more like a zinfandel than a pinot:  very deep red, this wine exhibits up-front ripened red fruit flavors that stay bright with a decent amount of acidity, and has a nice persistent flavor.  A favorite of associate taster Paul.

2011 Mantellassi Poggio Etrusco Morellino di Scansano ($18)

We liked the strong black cherry aroma and the fruit forward taste.  It was not as earthy as the Chianti wines, with mild tannins and a good finish. This was a well balanced, food-friendly wine.

2011 Michael David Petite Petit ($18)

This wine, and other varieties from this producer, were introduced to us at one of our favorite local restaurants.  A smoky note of bacon fat adds some charm to the velvety wild berry, cedar and cherry flavors, set on a smooth body. Long finish. Petite syrah and petit verdot.

 2012 Mocali Morellino di Scansano ($15)

Mocali Morellino di ScansanoThis wine made our list last year – and the latest vintage was even better.  Very fragrant, offering sweet black currant, violet and spice aromas. This is supported by a vibrant structure, with refined tannins and a mineral streak on the lingering aftertaste.  Fantastic wine for the price.

 2009 Picket Fence Pinot Noir ($17)

Associate taster Paul found this wonderful Russian River pinot, and has become one of his go-to wines. Tight and sleek, with savory herb, wild berry and black cherry fruit that’s ripe and structured, with touches of mineral and cedar.

 2010 Querciabella Maremma Toscana ($22)Querciabella Mongrana

A blend of Sangiovese (50%), Merlot (25%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (25%).  Querciabella is a well-regarded winery that makes many wines, some very expensive.  For the price, the Maremma Toscana is a sophisticated, balanced wine, giving you flavors of tart cranberries and red cherries, with soft tannins.

 2011 Quinta do Crasto Douro Tinto ($13)

More and more Portuguese wines are showing up on restaurant lists, providing a lot of value for the money.  This wine provides intense, lively flavors of mixed berries (boysenberry, blueberry and blackberry) with a bit of spice on the finish. For a few bucks more, buy the superiore version if available.

 2009 Tolani Valdisanti ($25)

A Tuscan blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, and 5% Cabernet Franc.  We like most of the wines from Tolani.  This is a full-bodied wine, having a deep fruit flavor, with distinctive flavors from the oak aging. There is an excellent balance of acid and fruit intensity, with tannins that indicate a cellar worthy wine. A Top 5 Value Wines for 2014.


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