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Best red and white wines under $15

Its foil wrap rendering it anonymous, a white wine is poured into a tasting flight for Plonkapalooza’s four judges.

KAYANA SZYMCZAK FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Its foil wrap rendering it anonymous, a white wine is poured into a tasting flight for Plonkapalooza’s four judges.

Wine enthusiasts look forward to the moment when it all comes together. With good friends around the table, we love pouring special bottles that highlight the occasion as much as the meal. Fortunately, we do not need to be wine experts with extensive cellars to have the pleasure. Our eighth annual wine tasting confirmed that there has never been a better time to freshen up wine routines with a vivid array of budget-friendly bottles.

Every October, we conduct a blind tasting of 50 wines called Plonkapalooza. While “plonk” is British slang for cheap wine, we use the term to describe value-priced bottles that accompany weeknight meals and Sunday suppers. We invite three distinguished sommeliers from area restaurants to select wines they would be happy to pour into your glass. Joining me this year were Brahm Callahan, wine director at Grill 23 & Bar in the Back Bay; Jason Kilgore, beverage manager-sommelier at Catalyst Restaurant in Kendall Square, Cambridge; and Kate Moore, head sommelier at Bistro du Midi in Back Bay near the Public Garden.

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Our process is straightforward. We ask five wine shops in the area to nominate wines, readily available throughout the state, that represent outstanding values. This year, we set the maximum price per bottle at $15 (up from $12 in previous years). We compile nominations, settle on a final list, and purchase five whites and five reds from each retailer. We wrap the bottles to conceal their identities, and assign a number to each. Over the course of an afternoon, we taste the 50 wines, take notes, and discuss impressions. Before wines are revealed, each taster nominates his or her favorites. With four tasters, the highest number of votes a wine can receive is four.

This year, an unprecedented three wines — a California viognier, a merlot-dominant Bordeaux, and an Austrian zweigelt — each received four votes. Three more wines garnered three votes each: a Spanish parellada (a white grape common to cava sparkling wine), a French chenin blanc (a Vouvray done in a slightly sweet style) and a Portuguese blend of touriga nacional, tinta roriz, and alforcheiro. Wines earning one or two votes included a falanghina from Italy and an agiorgitiko from Greece. (See Page 21 for a list of all wines.)

Tasters talked at length about the top vote-getters. The favorite white was a 2011 Cline Cellars North Coast Viognier ($13). This marks the first time a wine from the Golden State won the hearts of all four tasters. In his notes, Callahan described it as “ripe, lush, creamy yellow apple, peach, apricot, very floral [with] classic phenolic bitterness.” Kilgore remarked about the varietal’s “fantastic aromatic expression” and Moore enjoyed its “high-toned acidity.”

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Another top vote-getter was a 2009 Chateau la Guilbonnerie from Blaye, in the Cotes de Bordeaux ($14). Kilgore and I enjoyed the aromas of gamey meat, tea leaves, and dried herbs. Callahan identified leather, red cherry, violets, and bacon. Moore described it as “soft and elegant.” It was gratifying to find Bordeaux from a great vintage for such a nice price.

If there was a darling in the bunch, it would have to be a 2010 H&M Hofer Zweigelt from Austria ($15). The varietal, a crossing of St. Laurent and Blaufrankisch grapes, comes in a chubby 1 liter bottle with a crown cap. This zweigelt is made by an organic producer and grown just beyond Vienna’s northern suburbs. I found its light color and minty nose utterly beguiling. Kilgore loved how it “leaped from the glass but was very pretty and perfumed.” Moore called out its incense-like aromas. Callahan enjoyed its “tart pretty acidity” and secondary spice characteristics.

Tasters were impressed with the high overall quality and sense of place that characterized this group of wines. Raising the maximum bottle price to $15 broadened the array of well-made and interesting wines in the mix. While not a hard and fast rule, paying a few dollars more for a bottle (especially in this price range) often bodes well for quality. The winemaker can afford to do things like hand-harvest grapes vs. harvest mechanically, for example. In the case of reds, it might mean the difference between using oak barrels vs. oak chips. While some styles of wine did not resonate with tasters as much as others, there were no bad wines among the nominations. We put forth the list of 50 wines as solid recommendations for a year of more adventurous wine-drinking.

Absent from this year’s nominations was malbec from Argentina and any wine from Australia. And in the final list, where was picpoul, that lovely white grape from the Languedoc that charmed us in past tastings? These varietals and regions appear to have been edged out when retailers made their final selections. Having an expanded pool of wines from which to choose, there was only one duplicate among initial nominations. Retailers take the task seriously. One tasted and re-tasted with a colleague before finalizing nominations.

Working with these shops and sommeliers affirmed that Boston is home to talented wine professionals. They do their utmost for customers and patrons because they, too, revel in those moments when it all comes together.

TOP SCORING WINES

(4 votes each)

WHITE

2011 Cline Cellars North Coast Viognier

REDS

2009 Chateau la Guilbonnerie Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux

2010 H&M Hofer Zweigelt Niederosterreich

(3 votes each)

WHITES

2011 Torres “Sangre de Toro” Catalunya

2011 Domaine Le Capitaine “Les Aumones” Vouvray

Demi-Sec

RED

2008 Grilos Vinho Tinto Dao

----------

JASON KILGORE

CATALYST, KENDALL SQUARE

FAVORITES

WHITES

2011 Fuso
Verdicchio di
Matelica, Italy

2011 Torres
“Sangre de Toro” Catalunya, Spain

2011 Cline Cellars North Coast

Viognier, California

2011 Brunn Gruner Veltliner, Austria

2011 Domaine
Le Capitaine “Les

Aumones” Vouvray, France

REDS

2009 Chateau la Guilbonnerie Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux, France

2008 Grilos Vinho Tinto, Portugal

2010 H&M Hofer Zweigelt, Austria

2011 Carletto

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Italy

2008 Harlaftis “Nemea,” Greece

----------

BRAHM CALLAHAN

GRILL 23 & BAR, BACK BAY

FAVORITES

WHITES

2011 Fuso

Verdicchio di

Matelica, Italy

2011 Torres “Sangre de Toro” Catalunya, Spain

2011 Cline Cellars North Coast
Viognier, California

2010 Sacha Lichine “La Poule Blanche,” France

2011 Domaine Le Capitaine “Les
Aumones” Vouvray, France

REDS

2009 Damien Lorieux Tuffeaux Bourgueil, France

2009 Chateau la Guilbonnerie Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux, France

2008 Grilos Vinho Tinto, Portugal

2010 H&M Hofer Zweigelt, Austria

2008 Harlaftis “Nemea,” Greece

----------

KATE MOORE

BISTRO DU MIDI, BACK BAY

FAVORITES

WHITES

2010 Marcel Hugg Pinot Blanc

Reserve, France

2011 Torres

“Sangre de Toro” Catalunya, Spain

2011 Cline Cellars North Coast

Viognier, California

2011 Brunn Gruner Veltliner, Austria

2011 Balnea

Verdejo, Spain

REDS

2009 Domaine Coste-Caumartin Bourgogne Pinot Noir, France

2009 Chateau la Guilbonnerie Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux, France

2010 DalMaso

Montemitorio, Italy

2010 H&M Hofer Zweigelt, Austria

2011 Carletto

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Italy

----------

ELLEN BHANG

WINE WRITER, THE BOSTON GLOBE

FAVORITES

WHITES

2010 Bodegas

Martinez Lacuesta Rioja, Spain

2011 Cline Cellars North Coast

Viobrahgnier, California

2010 Sacha Lichine “La Poule Blanche,” France

2011 Cantina

del Taburno

Falanghina, Italy

2011 Domaine Le Capitaine

“Les Aumones” Vouvray, France

REDS

2009 Domaine Coste-Caumartin Bourgogne Pinot Noir, France

2009 Chateau la Guilbonnerie Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux, France

2008 Grilos Vinho Tinto, Portugal

2010 H&M Hofer Zweigelt, Austria

2010 Aurora Rosso Piceno, Italy

Ellen Bhang can be reached at bytheglass@
globe.com
.
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