My newspaper column, and much of what I do, focuses on value wine – I still drink a good amount of better wines that many readers will enjoy.
My real price break for value wine comes at about $20. I define “the better stuff” for my budget  at $25-$50. I have always kept some ‘better stuff’ around the house but it’s not wine I usually open on a Tuesday night. These wines are for weekends and when having guests over for a glass of good wine.
I love some of the wines I wrote about in the newspaper column posted here, but there is no doubt there is a substantial quality difference when you double up the price.
Here are some notes and links on wines I enjoyed over the past year at a little higher price point. And, these are in no particular order.

The view outside Penner Ash’s tasting room
Penner Ash 2006 Willamette Valley – A great wine from one of Oregon’s signature producers. This is a $45 bottle of Pinot that just never disappoints. Penner Ash wines always have a beautiful lingering finish that is lush as it is satisfiying. This bottle is full flavored but a medium-style Pinot Noir. This wine scored a 90 from Robert Parker. Penner Ash is widely distributed. I drank this wine in January of 2011 and then visited Penner Ash in July. It’s a must stop if you visit Willamette Valley. Penner Ash has great Pinot and fabulous views for your camera!
Claudia Springs 2007 Zinfandel – I traveled to California’s Mendocino County in January and this winery was a real surprise. Bob Klindt is making some marvelous Zinfandel and Pinot Noir. On the front of the palate this $24 wine had cedar, cranberry, and currant. I liked the dusty feel in the mouth. They only made 292 cases of this wine so it’s not going to be easy to find. His Zin was a big hit at last year’s huge Zin-fest in San Francisco. Our press group had a delightful visit. Watch a video I recorded of Bob talking about his wines here.
Gary Eberle

Eberle Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah – This 50-50 blend is a big ol’ glass of beautiful wine. Big plum flavors, hints of vanilla, and a really plush mouth feel makes it easy to understand why it’s been honored time again in all the wine press. Eberle wines are widely available. This bottle sells for $29. Gary Eberle makes a great lineup of juice. He is also a real pioneer. Read more from this September newspaper column.

Ledgestone 2008 Frontenac – This was perhaps the biggest surprise of 2011 for me. I traveled Wisconsin in late April for a story on Wisconsin wines for Palate Press. I had never had Frontenac, a cold climate grape, and frankly was plenty skeptical. I was taken with its strong sour cherry flavor and great balance at Tim Abel’s winery. This is regional winemaking at its best. They can’t grow Cabernet and shouldn’t try. This $28 bottle of Frontenac was a real revelation.
Don Lange, chatting in July 2011

Lange 2005 Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir – I’ve written many times about Lange wines in my newspaper column, blog, and the quarterly magazine Madison. I’ve visited 3-4 times, including this July, and always come away very impressed. I opened this 2005 treasure this year and was again just blown away. It had dark blueberry, blackberry and a smoky spice that I just loved. And like all Dundee Hill Pinot, the Freedom Hill had that wonderful earthiness I love. It’s premier wine at a premier price worth every nickel at $60.

Justin Vineyards 2008 Cabernet – This was simply the best glass of Cabernet I had all year. And it comes in at a surprising $25. The wine had cherry, caramel,  and chocolate throughout it’s beautiful and rich mouth feel. The tannins were balanced and it paired magnificently with a grilled Bison Ribeye. I first had Justin Cab at a fine Paso Robles restaurant in 2010. I tasted the reserve which was $55. This wine is just as good. Go find some if you like Cabernet.
Oreste Strappiano 2009 Langhe Rosso – It’s really difficult to find affordable Nebbiolo wines. So when I wandered into Vino 100 in Columbus, Oh., and saw “Langhe” on a label I had to buy it. The Langhe region is known as the primo region in the Piedmont for the Nebbiolo grape. This $25 blend has Nebbiolo, Docetto, and Barberra. The wine was surprisingly light and nicely balanced. It just might have been the best Italian I tasted all year – and that includes a few much more expensive Tuscan Brunellos!
Oregon’s Willamette Valley, July 2011 – I spent three days in Oregon wine country and tasted more great Pinot than I can note here. I brought back a case of wine, and most of it remains in my wine storage cooler. Read about some great wines and experiences here, here, and here.Mendocino, January 2011 – Another wine trip that yielded more than a few remarkable wines was that visit to Mendocino. I loved the Claudia Springs wines and others. The real hit for me was Coro Mendocino, a Zinfandel blend. I wrote a piece for Palate Press but the wine is hard to get in the Midwest. A few of the producers do have midwestern distributors but its worth a try at $37 if you can find it.

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