Given today's economic realities, I'm drinking less expensive wines. Picking the top wines of the last year reflects this reality. The good news is that you don't have to spend a bundle to score an exceptional wine. The following top five made the list because each one struck me, for one reason or another, as memorable. Any number of other bottles could have been included, but these are some of my most recent favorites:
2007 La Verme Saint Pierre, Cotes du Ventoux, $11.99
This French syrah offers dark, earthy aromas of ripe cherry and plum with flavors that explode on the palate. It is a beautifully intense wine, fruit driven (bright berry and cherry) but with layers of flavor that unfold in the glass. It's great now, but also shows definite aging potential—a remarkable value.
2007 Der Pollerhof Gruner Veltliner, $14.50
The only white on my list, this gruner is a wine for all seasons and is remarkably versatile—makes a great aperitif and pairs well with a wide variety of foods. It offers lovely aromas of spring vegetables and summer squash along with floral hints of orange and lime. It's surprisingly rich in the mouth with a refreshingly crisp finish. Try it with shellfish, spicy Asian cuisine or roasted poultry.
2005 Domaine des Tours REserve, $14.99
Des Tours owner Emmanuel Reynaud also heads the fabled Chateau Rayas in Chateauneuf du Pape. Like Rayas, grenache dominates the blend at his winery in Vaucluse where this wine hails from. This Reserve is an elegantly structured wine, with velvety raspberry fruit up front, that gives way to spicy cherry and white pepper on the finish. It's a wine of exceptional quality and beautiful richness. I bought a case.
2007 Tait Ball Buster, $18.99
A blend of 78 percent shiraz, 12 percent cabernet sauvignon and 10 percent merlot aged 12 months in a mix of used French and American oak, the Ball Buster is a quintessential Barossa Valley red, big but balanced. The complex array of aromas includes raspberry, blueberry, mocha, espresso, anise and earth. The palate is silky smooth and oozing with ripe cherry and berry fruit. This one is a real crowd pleaser.
2006 Fraser Cabernet Sauvignon, $24.50
More proof that the Idaho wine scene has made substantial gains in the past few years. Intense aromas of toasty oak, dark fruit, espresso, smoke and spicy dark chocolate pour from the glass. Rich and velvety in the mouth, there is a flavor explosion of lush ripe cherry and cassis fruit with soft oak, smooth tannins and hints of mocha. This is a world-class cabernet from a Boise-based winery. Cool.