The start of a new year is a time for reflection and a time for everyone's top picks from the past year. When it comes to wine, it's not always the expensive bottles that are the most impressive. In fact, I've been disappointed more than once with wines that were supposed to wow mewines with big reputations and big price tags. On the other hand, a number of bottles priced under 20 bucks caused me to take a second look at the label.
Some of what I found most appealing in 2005 were the sleepers: wines from different regions or wines made from unusual grape varieties. The 2003 Josef Hogl Gruner Veltliner Federspiel qualifies under both categories. Gruner Veltliner is an Austrian white wine variety fairly new to Boise. It produces a lovely dry wine with beautiful aromas and touches of pepper and spice, not unlike some Alsatian whites. What makes the Hogl stand out is the purity of fruit, the impeccable balance and the beautifully focused finish that lingers on and on. Priced at $15.99 a bottle, it is an exceptional value for a uniquely attractive wine.
Cahors in southern France is definitely off the beaten path, but the grape that flourishes there is something of a rising star. Thanks to an influx of wines from Argentina, Malbec has exploded onto the scene. Cahors is the other region best known for this variety, and the 2002 Ch. De Gretzels Prestige (a blend of 70 percent Malbec and 30 percent Merlot) is an outstanding example at a reasonable price ($15.50). It's an elegantly structured wine with pure blackberry and cassis fruit aromas and a velvety texture. The flavors are highlighted by creamy berry and currant with a rich core of dark cherry fruit.
My last pick is from neither an unusual region nor an unusual grape. Australian Shiraz blends are about as mainstream as you can get, but when they are good, they are very, very good, and that certainly applies to the 2004 Tait The Ball Buster. Nothing subtle about this wine. The flavors almost knock you back, but again, what's so appealing is the purity of fruit. The texture in the mouth is silky smooth, the finish nearly infinite in duration and the flavors surprisingly complex. Sweet blackberry and currant dominate, but touches of smoke, anise and even bacon come through. At just $15.99 a bottle it is an amazingly seductive wine.