Under $10, Under $20
1999 Clos du Bois Sonoma Chardonnay, $9
A fascinating Chardonnay from winemaker Margaret Davenport. Clos du Bois is a huge operation, releasing more than 12 million bottles of Sonoma county wine per year. Based on the size of their operation, you might expect a bland, made-by-committee style. Yet somehow, even in their inexpensive Sonoma series, Davenport finds a way to inject some personality. The 1999 Chardonnay gives an understated first impression. But there is plenty of good Chardonnay flavor that especially emphasizes the tropical fruit flavors. Try this with grilled fish, especially swordfish and trout.
1998 Domaine des Tourelles Coteaux de Languedoc, $9
For years, experts considered wines from the Languedoc area of France to be some of the worst in Europe. That reputation kept the prices low. Things are rapidly changing. Lucky for us, the Languedoc wines are still low-priced, but the quality keeps getting better and better. The Domaine des Tourelles is a perfect example. A deep garnet color, it is a fragrant, rich wine that matches with food impeccably. It is an absolute steal at $9. Perfect with grilled steak.
1999 Le Mas du Cedre Cotes du Rhone Blanc, $12
Winemaker Jean-Pierre Labounere is very proud of the fact that he uses no chemicals on his 35-acre vineyard. He likes to make wine in the old-fashioned style. A true anachronist, he even refuses to filter his wines. This means you might find a touch of sediment at the bottom of his bottles, but you will also find defiantly individualistic wine in that bottle. Most wines hitting the market at this price range are bland and without personality. Thank goodness, there are some heretics out there who trust the consumer's astuteness. Labounere's Cotes du Rhone Blanc is a big, intense wine made mostly from Grenache. How he gets such concentrated flavor for so little money is beyond me. For a flawless evening, go to an Oriental market, get a barbecued duck, and serve it with this wine.
1998 Huntington North Coast Merlot, $12
Huntington's motto is "Elegant Wines at an Affordable Price." It's also a good description of this wine. 87% of the wine is from Mendocino Merlot, 12% is from Carignane, and 1% from Zinfandel. The flavor is toasty with oak and marked by plum and raspberry flavors. I recently tried this wine with an Oriental take on Chilean Sea Bass. The combination was simply spectacular. Also a great wine with turkey.