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Friday, November 19, 2010

Best American Wines Under $20

F&W honors eight new American value wines.

The winners of F&W's 13th annual American Wine Awards, chosen from a field of nominees at blind tastings, celebrate the diversity of America's West Coast vineyards.

Most U.S. wine comes from California, and the state delivered 5 winners for less than $20—two from the 2007 vintage, which was stellar throughout most of the state. Specifically, two winning bottles came from Sonoma County, a powerhouse region that produces exceptional Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinafandel, and consistently gives good value. While all of these wines are well worth a search, most—like Columbia Crest's Merlot from Washington state—are widely available. The quality and price point of these award-winning bottles make them an ideal choice for Thanksgiving, dinner parties or gift giving.


Sauvignon Blanc

2008 Honig ($16)
Winemaker Kristin Belair innovates with different winemaking methods on different parcels of grapes, allowing her, for instance, to emphasize the grapefruity character of a specific lot. The Napa winery itself is innovative, too: All energy needed for production, cooling and bottling is solar-generated.


2008 Mount Eden Vineyards Wolff Vineyard ($20)
In 2008, bad weather in California's Edna Valley drastically cut the amount of fruit from Wolff Vineyard but packed flavor into the grapes. Jeffrey Patterson makes this wine exactly the same way he makes Mount Eden's pricier estate Chardonnays, producing a white with vivid flavors of pear, peach and lime.

Pinot Gris

2008 Elk Cove ($19)
Elk Cove benefited from the fine 2008 vintage in Oregon's Willamette Valley, where it's been producing top Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris since the 1970s. A cool summer and sunny fall meant ideal grapes, and winemaker Adam Campbell accented their brightness by fermenting this lemon-zesty wine in stainless steel tanks.


Pinot Noir

2008 Wallace Brook ($19)
This Oregon red offers the lively, aromatic appeal of Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs costing twice as much. An affordable secondary brand made by the Willamette Valley's Adelsheim Vineyard, one of the pioneering producers of Oregon Pinot Noir, this Wallace Brook shows the ripeness of the great 2008 vintage.


2007 Columbia Crest H3 ($15)
This widely available Merlot comes from Washington's Horse Heaven Hills (hence H3), a promising region for complex, full-bodied reds. Its ripe blackberry fruit keeps some needed restraint thanks to the skill of winemaker Ray Einberger.


2007 Four Vines, Old Vine Cuvée ($14)
Founder-winemaker Christian Tietje scoured vineyards from California's top Zinfandel counties—from Amador to Paso Robles—to assemble the fruit for this streamlined red. It's sumptuous in style, full of blackberry and blueberry fruit.


2008 Red Car, Boxcar ($20)
Winemaker Carroll Kemp started Red Car back in 2000 in his Los Angeles driveway with two barrels of Syrah. His output has grown since then, but Syrah remains the focus, as in this highly polished red's array of classic, cool-climate Syrah flavors: plum, dark berries and black pepper.

Cabernet Sauvignon

2007 Louis M. Martini, Sonoma County ($17)
Michael Martini's winemaking team used vineyards around the county for a straightforward red that also has considerable finesse. That deft touch isn't surprising, as Michael himself has been making wine for more than 30 years, and his family for more than 100.