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12 Great American Values, in No Particular Order

Palmina Santa Barbara County Pinot Grigio 2011, $17

Palmina is devoted to making wines from Italian grapes grown in Santa Barbara County. This pinot grigio is fuller-bodied than what might come from northeast Italy, but it’s lively, vivacious, balanced and properly refreshing.

Qupé Santa Barbara County Marsanne 2011, $20

Bob Lindquist is one of the unsung heroes of California wine, and his Qupé label is consistently overlooked, possibly because he makes wines of little-known Rhône grapes like marsanne. This is actually a blend of two Rhône grapes, 79 percent marsanne and 21 percent roussanne. Pleasantly weighty and harmonious with persistent floral, nutlike flavors.

Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2010, $20

While much of California has veered from making bombastic chardonnays to lean “no oak” versions, Jim Clendenen has stayed the course, making wines that are direct, restrained and balanced. The 2010 chardonnay is lively and inviting, smoky and spicy.

Lieb Family Cellars North Fork of Long Island Pinot Blanc 2009, $19

What is it about pinot blanc? It would be easy to dismiss this wine as nondescript, as it doesn’t offer a cornucopia of fruity adjectives in a glass. Yet it is simply delicious: dry and creamy with lightly herbal, mineral flavors. The texture draws you in.

Hermann J. Wiemer Finger Lakes Dry Riesling 2011, $17

The label says “Dry Riesling,” but in fact it’s slightly sweet, like an old-school German kabinett riesling from the days before global warming. Nonetheless, it’s superb, with deep three-dimensional flavors, tangy and lightly fruity.

Ravines Finger Lakes Dry Riesling 2011, $15

A perfect contrast to the off-dry Hermann J. Wiemer style. The Ravines Dry Riesling is truly dry and intensely mineral, succulent and lip-smacking. A great house white.

Heitz Napa Valley Grignolino 2009, $20

Grignolino? From Napa Valley? While other producers have converted their Napa vineyards of esoteric grapes into more lucrative cabernet sauvignon, Heitz has held out and continues to make this ruby-colored red, bone dry with dark, spicy flavors and a refreshing bitterness.

Bonny Doon Vineyard Central Coast Contra Old Vine Field Blend 2009, $16

Contra is an old-style blend, reminiscent of the days when Italian immigrants planted multiple grapes side by side, harvesting and vinifying them together. This wine is 55 percent old-vine carignan, a scorned grape worthy of scorn when overcropped but winsome and perfumed when tended with care. This wine, which also has grenache, mourvèdre, zinfandel, petite sirah and syrah in the blend, is dry, fruity and harmonious with a streak of licorice.

Lenz North Fork of Long Island Merlot 2007, $15

I keep hearing that merlot is making a comeback. If more merlots tasted like Lenz’s, perhaps it never would have left. The ’07 is plummy, earthy and balanced, dry, lively and pleasing.

Montinore Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2010, $18

Once upon a time, American pinot noirs were known as bridge wines, perfect for restaurant dinners because they were versatile to bridge diverse dishes. Then a powerfully fruity style became popular, which won high ratings but obliterated the dinnertime harmony. The 2010 Montinore reverts to a time when pinot noir could be counted on as fresh, energetic and subtle.

Oberon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, $18

How could good Napa Valley cabernet be this cheap? Prices for grapes in 2009, in the wake of the economic crisis, were down, and the Michael Mondavi family, which produces Oberon, is clever about finding good grapes at low prices. It also makes wines for drinking, not tasting. The ’09 offers real Napa flavors and structure without the veneer of artifice that mars many low-cost cabernets. Subsequent vintages will cost more.

Broadside Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon Margarita Vineyard 2010, $20

Broadside teams up Chris Brockway of Broc Cellars, which produces excellent, restrained wines, and Brian Terrizzi of Giornata, which focuses on Italian grapes grown in California. This cabernet, from a single vineyard in a cooler southern part of Paso Robles, is animated by lively acidity and is made in a restrained style that nonetheless is insistently spicy and stony.


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