As we turn the page on another year, this is the traditional time for reflection. I've tasted hundreds of different wines in the past 12 months, and while most were well made, the trend continues toward bigger, bolder reds with oodles of oak and richly extracted fruit. They're enjoyable for a sip or two, but overall, I find those wines to be a little overwhelming. My three favorites hail from different regions, but share a certain style that puts the emphasis on fresh fruit flavors and balance. Great on their own, these wines are also welcome at the dinner table.
2012 M. Lapierre Raisins Gaulois, $13.99
This is what Beaujolais Nouveau would be if it could. It's made with gamay noir grapes from the Lapierre estate's younger vines located in the Morgon region of France. The aromatics are marked by ripe red berry that carries through to the palate. It's a remarkably fresh wine with a silky finish that sports a cleansing touch of cranberry. This wine is priced right for everyday drinking.
2011 Syncline Wine Cellars Subduction Red, $21
A Rhone-styled red that blends mourvedre, grenache, syrah, counoise, carignan and cinsault, this wine is sourced from Washington's Columbia Valley. When I first tasted through the Syncline lineup, this wine floored me. Remarkably well balanced, it's the antithesis of so many over-the-top Washington reds. It has all the dark cherry and raspberry flavors you could want, with a bright food-friendly finish that's colored by spice and black pepper.
2011 Donkey and Goat Grenache, $27
This Berkeley, Calif., winery is riding the wave of the natural wine movement, boasting no cultured yeasts, added enzymes, nutrients or enhancers. The bush vine grenache from El Dorado vineyards is crushed the natural way as well--by foot. The result is a deeply flavored, meaty red with juicy berry flavors and touches of mineral and ginger on the lush finish.