Wine of the Times for under $100

Photo Illustration by Eric Meyers
I'm often asked about the merits of "bargain" wines and recommendations related thereto. For inquiring minds and to quench this curiosity, here are a number of palate-pleasers under $100:

1994 Smith Woodhouse Vintage Port ($85)
Smith Woodhouse is a specialist producer of premium quality Ports. Declared Vintage Port is only made in the most exceptional years and comprise less than two percent of all Ports produced. The Smith Woodhouse 1994 Vintage came primarily from its own Quinta da Madalena in the Rio Torto. This Quinta is among the best in the Douro valley. This Port is an excellent deep color, with some evolution on the rim. Rich aromas of dark crushed berries are combined with floral hints. The succulent and voluptuous palate is dominated by copious of fruit, pepper and black cherry flavors that provide an elegant and harmonious finish and good potential for additional ageing. Smith Woodhouse 1994 Vintage Port pairs wonderfully with cheeses like creamy Blue Stilton or Aged Cheddar. (

2006 Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva ($53)
Produced exclusively from the highest quality grapes grown on the estate of the same name, the Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva is a sublime gift for the oenophile on your list. The 2006 vintage is a stylish wine featuring an intense ruby red color with scents of red fruit, licorice and ripe blackberries. The palate is well-balanced and complex with good acidity and elegant fruit flavors. Palate-filling with smooth tannins and distinctive flavors, Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico delivers a long, lingering finish that keeps you wanting more. Antinori brand wines are revered for their complexity, character and a savory palate. Company namesake Marchesi Antinori is a true winemaking innovator, combining both old world and modern techniques with elegance and finesse. For 26 generations, the Antinori family has carried on their mastery of wine making. There are only a handful of families who can claim such prestige producing and marketing remarkable wine uninterrupted for six centuries. (

Franciscan Estate 2007 Magnificat ($50)
Magnificat is one of California's original Meritage wines, and is an artful expression of Franciscan Estate vineyards and the vintage. The heart of this blend is source off the 240-acre Oakville Estate, which has been the backbone of this wine since its inception in 1985. Magnificat is made entirely with braditional Bordeaux varietals, blended based on expression and characteristics of the vintage. In 2007, the blend contains four of the Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon for fruit complexity, structure and body; Merlot adding roundness and texture; Petit Verdot giving backbone and deep color; and Malbec for plush and mouthfeel. This deep garnet wine is rife with supple aromas of dark cherry, ripe Italian plums, anise, mocha, clobe and tobacco. Flavors are deeply layered with boysenberry, dark cherry and cocoa. (

La Follette 2009 Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay ($30)
This Sangiacomo Chardonnay is La Follette's nod to white Burgundy, made in an intentionally reductive style. Its slightly green hue and bright acidity speak to its cool climate origins. These grapes were gently pressed and the juice put straight to French Oak barrels, aged sur lies for 10 months. Gentle and judicious stirring of the barrels helped the winery achieve its desired characteristics. Native primary and secondary fermentations were long and steady, adding layered complexity to this wine where fresh thyme, wood spice and honeydew melon commingle with musk notes in the heady bouquet. Citrus acids on entry, with a concentrated palate of nectarine and lemon curd, is set against good minerality. Multi-layered and balanced, the acid persists through the long finish. (

La Follette 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($30)
This wine is handcrafted to display the characteristics that Sonoma Coast Pinot is known for: effortless tannins, racy acidity and the complexity of the region's wild yeast fermentations. This bottling displays fresh cranberry and raspberry fruit on the nose, marked by sasparilla and a sweet floral note. With some time in a glass, darker Earth and savory aromas emerge. Smooth, palate-caressing mouthfeel on entry, with supple tannins and juicy pomegranate acids on the late palate. This wine is best at cellar temperature and continues to unfurl with aeration. (

Quivira 2008 Wine Creek Grenache ($26)
This vinification was conducted with only wild yeast and the naturally occurring bacteria found in Quivira's cellar. Aging in 400-500 liter oak casks for 15 months rounded out the rough edges, revealing a wine with underlying power and an invitingly supple feel on the palate. Quivira's 2008 Wine Creek Grenache shows all the savory and spice notes that make it a versatile match for everything from Szechuan peppercorn duck breast, to King salmon cooked on a cedar plank. (

Graham's "Six Grapes" Reserve Port ($22)
Graham's Six Grapes is the most sought after Reserve because its made with grapes from only A-rated vineyards. They are harvested by hand in the fall and fermented for a short period of time before the addition of 100% neutral grape spirit alcohol. This step stops fermentation, preserves the wine's natural grape sugars, and give it its unique richness. Aged for three years in cask, it is bottled ready to drink. The Graham's "Six Grapes" Reserve Port is a delectable choice with concentrated black-ruby color and aromas of ripe plums and dark cherries. Bottled young to conserve its fresh, assertive style, this is a great introductory Port can be enjoyed either on its own, or pairs easily with dark chocolate desserts. (

Quivira 2009 Fig Tree Sauvignon Blanc ($18)
This vineyard, named for a majestic 130-year old Black Mission fig tree that stands amongst the vines, became certified 100% organic and Biodynamic in late 2005. This 2009 Sauvignon Blanc continues the winery's practice of stainless steel fermentation with native yeast. This, combined with six months of aging on the lees, gives this wine both rapier-like focus and a sense of presence and length on the palate. (

Quivira 2009 Grenache Rose ($15)
Quivira's 2009 Grenache Rose is a floral and fruit infused wine that is a pure joy to drink. Fully dry, but with a gentile nature that makes you want to invite it out on a summer picnic. This charming rosé wine would be a gracious way to welcome a guest into your home upon arrival. (

Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Brut Sparkling ($10)
Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Brut is a nice sparkling wine for celebrating the joy of everyday. Fresh citrus aromas are accented by soft, creamy yeast characters. Flavors of green apple and lemon cream linger along with the bubbles on the palate. Robert Mondavi believed that great wine was not just for special occasions. I couldn't agree more. This libation pairs well with a wide array of dishes - from shellfish appetizers to chicken entrées to luscious fruit desserts. It's also perfect on its own when a little celebrating is in order. Serve well-chilled. (

***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***

Merilee Kern

Branding, consumer product trends, leisure and lifestyle expert Merilee A. Kern is a good life connoisseur who keeps her finger on the pulse of the marketplace in search of new and innovative must-haves and exemplary experiences at all price points, from the affordable to the extreme. The best of the best across all product, service and travel categories–as well as noteworthy marketplace change ...(Read More)

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