With all the wines on the shelves vying for your attention when you walk into a wine store or a supermarket, how do you choose which one to take home for dinner? A catchy name or pretty label stands out. A heavy bottle looks and feels important. But you wouldn't be wrong to wonder whether the money you shell out for that wine might be paying for that designer label or studly bottle, rather than the juice inside.
In 2017, I recommended more than 250 wines in this column. Of those, I labeled slightly more than 100 as "Great Values." The Great Value designation is subjective -- after all, I recommend only wines I believe are worth what they cost. A Great Value offers extra excitement, performing at a level above its price. Value doesn't necessarily mean cheap. The Ayala Brut Majeur Champagne I recently recommended impressed me so much, I gave it three stars ("exceptional") and a Great Value tag because it far outperforms other $40 champagnes. But only a handful of my Great Values were more than $20, and most of those were sparkling wines.
Wine bargains of 2017Chateau Montaud Côtes de Provence Rosé 20162 stars
Provence, France, $13
I like this rosé every year, but in 2017 it came in a three-liter box for $26, or about $6.50 a bottle, making it cheaper and more fun. Bottles are still available, though the boxes have sold out. I suspect they will reappear with the 2017 vintage for next summer's picnics and patio parties. Alcohol by volume: 12 percent.
Evolucio Blaufrankisch 20142 stars
Weinland, Austria, $12
When I first tasted this spicy, delicious red, I made a note and put it aside. When I found it two weeks later and tried it again, I was even more impressed with its vibrancy and "flavors of black cherry, raspberry, caraway and fenugreek." I used no vacuum pump or inert gas to preserve it, just replaced the screw cap and kept it at room temperature. Well-made wine can keep that way. (The distributor has moved on to the 2015, a great vintage in Austria.) ABV: 13.5 percent.
Chateau de Passavant 20152.5 stars
Anjou, Loire Valley, France, $15
Chenin blanc deserves more respect for its ability to delight, both dry and sweet. You could enjoy this dry version by itself, but it really wants to dance with poultry or seafood. Demeter-certified as biodynamic, made from organic grapes. ABV: 12.5 percent.
Loosen Bros. Dr. L Sparkling Riesling2.5 stars
Sparkling Riesling may be Germany's best-kept secret. This delightful example shows riesling's bubbly personality at its best. ABV: 12.5 percent.
Cavalchina Bardolino Chiaretto 20163 stars
Veneto, Italy, $16
This zesty, juicy rosé made from the grapes that typically go into Valpolicella (corvina, rondinella and molinara) is super, year after year. It's great by itself, but it excels with salty or garlicky foods such as olives or hummus. This is a rosé to drink year round and not worry about having the freshest vintage. ABV: 12.5 percent.
Domaine de Chevalier La Petite Lune 20153 stars
Bordeaux, France, $16
The only thing getting the Bordelais more excited than their 2015 vintage is the 2016. When I saw this wine was from Domaine de Chevalier, one of my favorite producers, I immediately had high expectations. The wine didn't disappoint, and is phenomenal for the price. This blend of 70 percent merlot and 30 percent cabernet franc is rich and ripe with cherry, plum and blackberry fruit and a lush texture to carry all that fruit. Classy. ABV: 13.5 percent.
Marietta Cellars Old Vine Red Lot Number 663 stars
What a treat it was to reunite with this old friend and find it as good as ever. Based on zinfandel, this savory, stylish blend is so good it may distract you from your meal. ABV: 13.5 percent.
Hugl Weine Zweigelt Rosé 20162.5 stars
Austria is most famous for its outstanding white wines from gruner veltliner and Riesling. This delightful rosé from Zweigelt, Austria's main red grape, is vibrant and peppery, with loads of cherry and raspberry flavors. The distributor is now sold out. ABV: 12 percent.
Chateau de Marjolet Cotes-du-Rhone 20153 stars
Rhone Valley, France, $15
Rhone wines have crept up in price, but this beauty manages to overdeliver for the category. Deep and savory, with a sense of mountain air, sea breeze and wild herbs. ABV: 14 percent.
Confidencial Reserva 20132.5 stars
Lisboa, Portugal, $12
This wine reminded me why Portugal is one of my favorite regions to hunt for value. It's a stylish, juicy red with Bing cherry and sour plum flavors, a texture like the rough side of velvet and elegant tannins. It's a red-meat wine. ABV: 13.5 percent.
Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 20162 stars
This wine shined when I rated 29 of America's favorite cheap wines. It stood out from the crowd of mediocre plonk because it had clean, bright fruit flavors and "a good balance of acid and sweetness." Best of all, it's available everywhere, from convenience stores to wine megamarts. ABV: 13.5 percent.
Goru Verde 20152.5 stars
Jumilla, Spain, $10
When I started compiling this list, this was the first wine I thought of. Back in June, I said it "may be the best $10 red I've tasted in a long time." It still is. Made from organic monastrell (mourvedre) grapes, it features dark cherry and dried fig flavors with hints of black olive, tea and tobacco. Alcohol by volume: 14 percent.
* Prices are approximate. Check Winesearcher.com to verify availability, or ask a favorite wine store to order through a distributor.
My list would suggest that wine's best values come in the $12 to $20 range. In all, I put the tag on 27 wines that I also gave my highest rating of 3 stars. These ranged in price from $13 to $40. I gave 2½ stars (excellent to exceptional) and the Great Value label to 36 wines ranging from $10 to $24, and 2 stars (excellent) and Great Value to 38 wines ranging from $9 to $20. Eight wines, from $8 to $12, scored 1 1/2 stars (very good to excellent) and great value.
France led the way with 41 Great Values, followed by the United States with 15 (10 from California, four from Oregon and one from New York), Italy (13), Spain (nine) and Portugal (six). Other countries included Chile, Germany, Bulgaria, Turkey, Armenia and South Africa. As 2017 was the year of rosé, 26 pink wines made the list -- nearly a quarter of the total. That reflects the growing number of rosés in the market as well as my enthusiasm for them. Fifteen Great Values were sparkling.
So here is a case of wine for you: my 12 favorite Great Values from 2017, with the most expensive at $16 a bottle and the cheapest at $8. These are not just top scorers. Those I list here were memorable in a certain way, either their sheer quality for the price, or their uniqueness, or some other factor. I've ranked them in descending order, after applying a simple equation that takes into account my star rating -- my enthusiasm for the wine -- and the price. The better the wine and the lower the price, the higher the ranking. Consider these my Greatest Values of the year.
Note that some of these wines have moved on to the next vintage; don't let that stop you from trying them. Others may be sold out. It's always best to call and check, or to ask a favorite retailer to order for you. Wines this good, at this price, are worth the wait -- or the hunt.