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Updated on September 16, 2008

When I first started to drink red wine I had no clue what I was doing. All I knew is that some tasted great and others, well, others made me want to reconsider drinking red wine at all. When ever I had a chance to partake in some good wine I always made a point to ask what kind it was, where they got it from and how much it cost. For a while it seemed as though the cost was the key, all the good wines I tasted were rather pricey. It made me cringe as I walked down the isles of the local wine shop and saw the wines I had tried and loved, and then thinking of the thought of spending $40-50 for a bottle I knew would only last for a night. As time went on, I continued to ask local self taught sommeliers and inquire about wines. What I noticed was not always did the pricier wine taste better, and in fact some cheaper wines had the finish and taste of an expensive high class caliber.

So let me pass it on, so you don't have to take a shot in the dark as hope and pray that the $30 you spent was worth the money. In fact some of my favorite all time wines are actually cheap in the grand scheme of things. So enjoy and raise your glass to good wine and good health!

1-Tintra Shiraz, Australia 2005 $17.99

Break this out on Valentine's Day and it will scotch any chocolate craving. Leave it in a decanter for a few hours, and the wine gains dimensions beyond those rich tannins, adding layers of fruity mushroom and pipe tobacco scents. A wine like this is something you want to always have on hand, you never know when the need to impress someone will arise.

2- Veramonte Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2006 $9.99

At an outrageous price for a wine that received a 90+ rating by two different organizations, you can't go wrong. You should feel compelled to but it simply for price alone. Deep, dark ruby red. Concentrated blackberry and black cherry aromas with well-integrated oak. Juicy red and black fruit highlighted with earthy notes and elegant oak that lend a creamy mouth feel. Plush with soft, rich tannins, this wine is concentrated, round and luxurious with a long finish.

3- Ridge Three Valley Reds, Sonoma County California 2006 $19.99

One of the friendliest Ridge zins I've tasted in a long time, this is exuberant and focused on fresh black cherry flavors. It has a cool, foresty feel to balance the tannins and their lasting spice. Give these tannins anything meaty, especially slow-smoked ribs. The blend comes from a blind taste test conducted over the spring to help develop the right blend and texture of the wine. A very classy wine.

4- Rodney Strong Russian River Pinot Noir 2006 $20.00

Any time you have a chance to sample a Pinot from the Russian River Valley, you know you are in for a treat. The Russian River Valley is known to produce the finest Pinots in the world, due to rare weather patern found in this geographic area, only to be complimented by the rich sediment deposits from the annual flooding of the valley. The very rich character of this wine is not dulled by an overly soft texture but balanced perfectly to give it the cherry and currant flavors. This wine is ready to drink, and pairs well with any dish.

5- Fontanafredda Briccotondo Barbera Italy 2006

The grapes for this wine are grown on estate-owned vineyards located on hillsides in the Monferrato and Langhe region of Piemonte. Ruby-red in color with purple highlights. The nose is packed with black fruit, especially blackberries and plums, with slight spicy overtones hinting at black pepper and cinnamon. Sweet, soft tannins come together in a closely-woven texture that merges with the fruit, while a crisp freshness provides a long, tasty finish.

6- Pillar Box Padthaway Reserve Red South Australia 2006 $12.99

The grapes for the 2006 Reserve Shiraz were selected from the best Shiraz parcels used to make Pillar Box Red. They were aged in new oak, 75% French and 25% American. Opaque purple-colored, it offers up a classy bouquet of smoke, vanilla, saddle leather, bacon, and blueberry. This leads to a full-bodied, plush, seamless wine with no hard edges to its lengthy finish. It has the stuffing to evolve for 2-3 years but I can think of no reason for delaying gratification. It is a great value.

7- Pillar Box Padthaway Red South Australia 2006 $11.99

Pillar Box red is an opaque red/black color with a scarlet rim. It displays aromas of sweet, ripe red berries, underpinned cinnamon spice and dark chocolate. The palate is rich and fleshy with vibrant raspberry and blackcurrant fruit intertwined with a citrus-like cedary oak complexity. The tannins are full yet soft and supple, combined with the gentle acidity to produce a lingering, harmonious finish.

8- Chateau Souverain Alexander Valley Merlot 2005 $16.99

I am, admittedly one of those wine snobs who feels like a merlot is a “sellout” wine. Although now and then I do come across a wine which inspires me to rethink my philosophy, this wine being one of those merlots. Deep ruby in color, this concentrated Alexander Valley Merlot offers classic aromas of ripe black plum, blueberry and currant. The core of vibrant fruit balances nicely with the soft, round tannins creating a lush and juicy mouth feel. Notes of cinnamon and nutmeg, which come from aging in oak barrels, meld nicely with the rich fruit and lead to a long, velvety finish.

9- Ravenswood Icon Syrah Blend Sonoma California 2005 $17.99

This is one of those wines of which I spoke of. It blew my mind when I was told that it was a bottle that could be bought for under $20. This wine has the finish and complexity of a small batch estate wine. It's bottle is beautifully etched and has a presence of refinment, but it's not the bottle that will leave you impressed. The wine is blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre. It delivers.

10- Di Majo Norante Ramitello Rosso Italy 2003

Made from 80% Prugnolo (Sangiovese) and 20% Aglianico. The wine was aged in large oak barrels for 2-3 years. The wine displays an intense ruby-red color with violet reflections. The scent of plums comes through on the nose. On the palate, the wine is full-bodied and velvety with a perfect balance between the flavors of plum and woodland berries. Hints of licorice are evident in the persistent finish.

These are more or less some of my favorites. There are so many more out there waiting to be discovered, and spread to friends and winos all over. The key is to find what you like and continue to buy that, while you branch out and find new things to fall in love with. Wine is a historical icon, and with its ever growing popularity we can only wait with anticipation as the craft delivers.


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