The Best Cheap Champagne Brands

2010 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA, $52. Chappellet offers wine lovers a cult wine connection without the high price. Adjacent to the much ballyhooed cult wine, Colgin Estate, the vines that make up Chappellet offer similar complexity and richness for 1/3 of the price. Indeed, this age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon remains one of the best values in Napa. It’s worth noting that Chappellet, which is still family run, was the first winery on Pritchard Hill and the first to concentrate on high-elevation hillside planting.

2010 Château Faizeau Montagne Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux, FR, $34.99. This rich, nicely structured red is 100% Merlot with notes of violet, blackberry, black cherry and warm spices. Vines for this wine grow on the highest point of the soft, rolling hills in the Montagne Saint-Emilion appellation—elevation does matter, even a small amount, lending concentration and finesse to the wine.

2010 Francois LeClerc, Gevrey Chambertin, Burgundy, FR, $65.  Francois is the son of respected winemaker Renee LeClerc, and we can assume that some wise fatherly input went into the final product. Indeed, Burgundy’s next generation shows great promise—this wine is soft, with marvelous structure and velvety edges; it has a mouth-watering, tart cherry aspect.

2009 Kenneth Volk Mourvedre, Enz Vineyard, Lime Kiln Valley, CA, $36. Volk, the former owner and founder of Wild Horse Winery, takes pride in quirky varietals. This Mourvedre is from vines planted in 1895, one of the oldest plantings in California. Adjacent to a lime quarry and dry farmed, the terroir is just exquisite.  The wine is light on its feet but packs a complex punch with layers of dark fruit. A thoroughly intriguing wine.

2009 La Prohibicion, Spain. $55. A unique, slightly exotic wine comprised of 100% garnacha tintorera Grown in the Bierzo region of Spain, this wine is simultaneously powerful and elegant. The rich nose of dark black fruits, coffee, dried roses, spices and smoked cedar is followed by a sultry texture on the palate. A great choice for the wine experimenter in your life.

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2011 Marcel Servin Chablis, Burgundy, FR, $25. This extraordinary Chardonnay hails from terroir that was classified as a Premiere Cru vineyard prior to World War I. During the war, the vines were decimated, hence the government had nothing left to classify. The vines grew back, but the classification was lost, which means we enjoy premium fruit without paying the price. Classically styled with precise, crisp fruit and aromas of lemon cream, textured with bright acidity, a delight.

2010 Nottingham Micro Lot Reserve, Livermore Valley, $48. This wine has all the buzzwords we like: hand-crafted, boutique and family-owned still has to taste good. Sourced from specialty growers in Livermore Valley just south of San Francisco Bay, this wine’s hallmark is its lingering tart cherry finish. A sophisticated wine with structure, rich fruit and balance, the tannins strike a perfect chord. Winemaker Collin Cranor, a mere 27 years-old, is the youngest award-winning wine maker in the Livermore Valley.

2008 Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red Wine, Napa Valley, CA, $125. Very well structured with firm tannins and layers of complexity. This one reminds me of a teenager—don’t wake it up (open it) too early or you’ll be sorry…give it a few years. The powerful structure, dark espresso and spice notes and firm tannins need some time to come together.

2011 Sandhi Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir, CA, $36. The Sandhi wines are a joint venture between famed sommelier Raj Paar, award-winning winemaker Sashi Moorman and former Screaming Eagle owner Charles Banks. This triple crown of wine genius yields elegant, beautifully balanced wines –the Pinot is lovely (all raspberry, wild strawberry cinnamon and earth) but don’t overlook the Sandhi Chardonnays. Great values.

2009 Sequoia Grove Cambium, Napa Valley, CA, $140. This is a limited quantity wine from one of Napa’s iconic producers. Grapes for the blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot) are selected from the best lots. Dense with blackberry, black cherry and spice, full-bodied with some vanilla, eucalyptus and cigar box notes. Winery notes that the wine can be cellared for 15 years.

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