Wine 1: Roncier Blanc de Blancs. In my opinion, this wine is one of the best kept secrets on the shelf today. It's a white Burgundy, but is non-vintage and comes from a variety of fields, so it doesn't get the AOC designation. What this really means is that you're getting some of the leftover grapes from some of the great vineyards of the Burgundy region of France. There's no oak aging of this wine--no barrels, no wood chips, so it goes down smooth. The best part: it's only $8 a bottle, and easily has the taste of a domestic white three times the price. I drank quite a bit of this when I first saw it on the shelves a year ago, and have loved it ever since.
Wine 2: Fetzer Gewürztraminer. Another favorite. I've served this with roast pork and baked apples; it's a sweet wine that's easily accessible to the non-wine drinker, and it has another incredible attribute: it goes amazingly well with Thai food or other spicy fare. Sweet wines tend to stand up well to spicy foods--there's not a lot of subtle complexity that can get lost when your tongue is getting blasted. And another bargain at $7.
Wine 3: 2003 Castillo de Monséran Garnacha. Sorry, couldn't find a website. This comes from the Cariñena region of Spain, and is obviously made from grenache grapes. Again, another budget favorite. Smooth and silky, some good fruit flavors, and suitable for hearty fare like burgers, pizza, and Mexican food. At the same time, it has some lovely flavors and lacks many of the down sides of your cheaper reds. Highly recommended. $7.
Wine 4: 2001 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot. This one got a lot of attention for being in the recent Wine Spectator Top 100. It's a great wine, but I didn't get too excited about it--and that has nothing to do with the movie Sideways, a movie that I haven't even seen yet. (For those unfamilar, it's now fashionable to trash merlot and love pinot noir.) And while I agree with that general sentiment, I think that merlot has a much better place as a blending wine. I've had some expensive and high-end merlots in my day, and have just never been enthusiastic. For this price, this is great, but in my opinion it's just not that interesting. $11.
WIne 5: 2001 Napa Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Not a bad wine, this is from a vineyard that the Gallo family got its grubby paws on about fifty years ago. While obviously they're excited about being able to claim the "Napa Valley" name, it makes it damned hard to find information about the wine. Anyway, this wasn't bad, but I've had much better cab savs for the price. Some decent berry flavors, but for a 3.5 year old wine I would have expected something a little smoother. $17. (By the way, I have nothing against Gallo--they own a lot of vineyards, and often go out of their way to obscure said ownership, as the Gallo name has become associated with crap jug wine. I even met one person who bought one of their carafe-bottled wines because she needed a carafe, and it was cheaper to buy one of the Gallo wines than to buy an empty one from a department store.)