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vale do bomfim2Raiding the bottom shelf at the supermarket looking for gems is frustrating. Most of the wines are competently made but few stand out. There are of course good reasons for that. These are commodity wines meaning they are mass produced, relatively inexpensive, consistent from vintage to vintage, and made to please ordinary consumers who don’t care much about the nuances of fine wine and just want a beverage to relax with or have with dinner. A winery that takes risks or strives for something different risks turning consumers off.

Thus, it is all the more important to recognize quality when it pops up unexpectedly in this sector. For my purposes, budget wines have an average price of $12 or below. Here are the seven that stood out from the pack this year. (Click on the link for the full review)

Top Score:

1. Vale Do Bomfim Red Blend Douro, Portugal 2013  89 pts.

I love the wines from the Douro and this one is typical; an exceptional value. Polished yet rugged, a blend of Portuguese varietals dominated by Tinta Barroca.

 

Followed closely by (in no particular order):

2.  Ironstone Cabernet Franc Lodi 2013 88 pts.

A great finish and layered depth make this wine stand out. It’s great to see Cabernet Franc get some budget level love.

3.  Hogue Cellars Riesling Columbia Valley 2013  88 pts.

Simple but so refreshing and well balanced it is dangerously addictive.

4. Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel California 2013 88 pts.

An old standby in the budget category. Put simply Bogle makes the best budget wines year after year, and this old vine Zin is always satisfying

5. McManis Family Vineyards Merlot California 2013 88 pts.

Another reliable producer, this wine is seductive and sexy, a smooth operator.

6. Smoking Loon El Carancho Malbec Central Valley, Chile 2013  88 pts.

Spicy and complex with lots of character for a budget wine.

And one more because it is such an exceptional value:

7.  Rosa dell’Olmo Barbaresco 2010  87 pts.

I have never seen a Barbaresco for under $20. This one was selling for under $10 at Trader Joe’s and it is a very nice wine with a lovely nose.

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