It has been a wild year here in Washington. The political maelstrom of the Mueller report and impeachment hearings left us dizzy, while sports championships for the Mystics and the Nationals gave us something to cheer. From Nancy Pelosi’s clap to baby shark, 2019 gave us a lot of reasons to drink.

Thankfully, there was plenty of wine.Best of all, there was plenty of inexpensive, delicious wine to delight us throughout the year. Here is our third annual list of the greatest values of the year — a case of 12 wines, each under $20 a bottle, that I awarded the great value label.

Great values perform above their price. A Great Value isn’t necessarily cheap, but you might think it costs more than it does when you taste it.

Choosing just 12 to feature as the year’s greatest values was not easy. I look for a variety of styles, grapes and regions to reflect the diversity of the market and the hard work done by winemakers, importers and retailers. Mostly, I chose wines that excited, surprised and delighted me. Many more could have made this list. Once chosen, I determined the rankings using a simple formula that combines price with my quality rating. So you will see a 2.5-star wine ranked above a 3-star bottle if its price is lower.

12. La Closerie des Lys Pinot Noir 2017

2½ stars

Pays d’Oc, France, $17

Wow, this delicious pinot noir seems to defy gravity: Its color, body and flavors leave an impression of weightlessness. There’s no obvious power to this wine, yet its essence reverberates like an echo in the mountains. Absolutely delightful. Alcohol by volume: 13%

11. Charles & Charles Rosé 2018

2½ stars

Columbia Valley, Wash., $14

Here’s an all-American, juicy rosé, right down to the flag motif on the label. Don’t think of it just for summer — it has heft to match the heartier foods of winter. The blend is based on syrah and cabernet sauvignon, which give a bold palate of fruit flavors with the bracing acidity and dry finish we expect from a fine rosé. The wine is a partnership of French winemaker Charles Bieler of Bieler Père & Fils and Washington State winemaker Charles Smith, perhaps best known for Kung Fu Girl Riesling. ABV: 12.6%

10. J. Lohr South Ridge Syrah 2016

3 stars

Paso Robles, Calif., $16

During a tasting last March in the District of the Rhone Rangers, a group of U.S. wineries that make Rhone Valley-style wines, the J. Lohr Syrah impressed the audience with its easy-drinking, uncomplicated style and its rich flavors of blueberries and blackberries, buttressed by American oak. But when Steve Lohr, the family-owned winery’s CEO, said it retails for “about $15,” the audience was amazed. This is a terrific value and one to keep on hand for burger night. ABV: 13.5%

9. Famille Brocard Margote Chardonnay 2017/2018

2½ stars

France, $13/$15

Wow. This is simply one of the best chardonnays under $15 I’ve tasted in a long time. The Brocard family makes wine in Chablis. Sourced from outside the Chablis demarcation, this captures that style without carrying the price. Exquisitely balanced, it’s brimming with flavors of citrus and peach that seem to reach for the sky, and a taut stoniness that keeps it grounded. The importer is now selling the 2018, and the price has gone up because of the U.S. tariffs. ABV: 13%

8. Lab Rosé 2018

2 stars

Lisbon, Portugal; $10 for a bottle, $25 for three-liter box

If you’re stocking up for a backyard neighborhood barbecue, look for this charmer in the three-liter box. It’s a steal and is rich in bright red berry fruit and sunny fun. Warning: My bottle seemed to spring a leak, because it sure emptied mighty fast! ABV: 12.5%

7. Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc 2018/2019

2½ stars

Stellenbosch, South Africa, $12

When I recommended this wine in February, I wrote: “Here’s a strategy: Buy a case, then drink one bottle a month and enjoy its evolution. By the time you’re done, the 2019 vintage will be here.” Well, the 2019 is now on sale, and it is every bit as good as previous vintages. Chenin blanc may claim the Loire Valley as its spiritual homeland, but South Africa does it best (at least in its dry version). Ken Forrester is one South Africa’s maestros with this grape. ABV: 13%

6. Barnard Griffin Riesling 2017

2½ stars

Columbia Valley, Wash., $12

Washington’s Columbia Valley tends to showcase a ripe, fruity profile of riesling. This lovely bottling from Barnard Griffin is exemplary, offering peach and even a hint of mango, with some lime and orange zest to lend tension and keep the wine in balance. Bravo! ABV: 12.2%

5. Domaine Antugnac Chardonnay 2018

3 stars

Haute Vallée de L’Aude, France, $14

We don’t expect to find chardonnay grown in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains in the western reaches of Languedoc, but brothers-in-law Christian Collovray and Jean-Luc Terrier are chardonnay experts in the Macon region of Burgundy. They are among several Burgundian producers who are exploring less expensive land in the south of France in an effort to produce great value wines. They have succeeded with this beautiful chardonnay, bursting with flavors of fresh fruit and flowers, with a filigree of minerality. ABV: 13%

4. Fiorini Becco Rosso Lambrusco Grasparossa 2017

3 stars

Italy, $14

This is not your grandmother’s lambrusco, that fizzy, slightly sweet red wine she kept in the refrigerator door for a nip after grandpa went to bed. This dry sparkling red wine, redolent of dried fruit and wild herbs, is a traditional Italian partner to salumi and is ideal for barbecue and pizza, especially pies featuring pepperoni and sausage. Affirmation that life is, indeed, good. ABV: 11.5%

3. Santa Julia Tintillo Malbec-Bonarda 2018

3 stars

Mendoza, Argentina, $13

If you enjoy your red wines chilled, and jam-packed with fruit rather than laden with wood, here’s one for you. The best word to describe this wine is “joyful.” The first sip ignites a party. And if your party is outdoors, it comes in cans, too. Stock up on this for your house red. Alcohol by volume: 13%

2. Laroque Cabernet Franc 2017/2018

3 stars

Cite de Carcassonne, France, $12/$13

“Wow! Here’s where we need a ‘Run, don’t walk to your wine store’ emoji. This is a bargain-priced red, made entirely of cabernet franc, that combines some Bordeaux style with the freshness and fruitiness of wines from France’s Mediterranean coast. Look for the dark cherry flavors and white pepper spice characteristic of the grape. Open it at least an hour before dinner and serve it slightly chilled. I was glad I didn’t finish the bottle the first night, because the wine was even better the following evening. One of the best bargain wines I’ve tasted all year.” The distributor is now on the 2018, and you will pay a bit more because of U.S. tariffs, but this is still a fantastic value. ABV: 13.5%

1. Impero Collection Premium Pinot Grigio Trebbiano 2018

2½ stars

Terre di Chieti, Italy, $10

This wine greets you with a smile and prompts one at first sip. It’s a lovely inexpensive white, perfect for sipping by itself before dinner or with lighter first courses and salads — a great everyday house white. There are also two reds under the Impero Collection label at the same price, bottled as a private label for the distributor. I hope they made a lot. ABV: 12.5%

Three stars: Exceptional Two stars: Excellent One star: Vary good


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