Topping off a summer of tastings with a rundown of the tops

Updated 9/9/2016 11:27 AM

We're still Number One! In 2013, the U.S. became the world's leading wine buyer; in 2016, fine wine sales are still on the rise, with a potential 13 percent increase predicted by Silicon Valley Bank's (SBV) "15th State of the Wine Industry Report".

The operative word above, though, is "fine." With consumers shifting their attention from under-$8 per bottle to $20-&-above, we're drinking more-better, according to SBV's report.


But according to a report by this frequent wine buyer, well-made wine with hand-craft flavor isn't exclusively top-shelf.

For access to the finest quality/ value, a trusted wine merchant is your best ally, to vet quality, negotiate bargains and direct you to wines that match your palate and pocketbook.

For solo shopping, look for some of my favorites below, most available both in wine boutiques and major chains:

Chardonnay "Morning Fog", Wente Vineyards (Livermore Valley, California): The label reads "Est. 1883", but that only hints at this historic family's impact on world winegrowing. Lush and refreshing, this chardonnay is grown on family-owned vineyards, (planted to the world-famous Wente clone), for bright orchard fruit flavors. 50 percent fermentation in neutral American oak barrels adds vanilla and brown spice. The remaining 50 percent is fermented in stainless steel tanks, then rested on lees (spent yeast cells) for creamy texture. Serve as a rich cocktail and complement to cow's milk cheese, creamy salad dressings and entrees prepared with butter, from seafood to light meats. About $12

Pinot Grigio, Peter Zemmer (Alto Adige, Italy): Like biting into a perfectly ripe apple, with satisfying fruit flavor, juicy texture and soft acidity. Don't be surprised by the spritzig (delicate bubbles) in the freshest bottles; it's a winemaking technique that lets wine dance across the palate for ultimate refreshment. There are cheaper pinot grigio's, but none better for this price. About $18

Rose "Akakies", Kir Yianni (Amyndeon, Greece): Brilliant strawberry pink. (If there was lipstick this color, I'd wear it.) The wine is rich and spicy with a round middle palate and the dynamic energy of firm acidity, not for the faint of palate. Enjoyed with sausages and grilled seafood. About $16

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Sangiovese di Toscana, Il Bastardo (Tuscany, Italy): The funny label may draw you in, but you'll come back for the berry and spice flavor and pleasing tannin of this "Chianti, Junior." In summertime, serve cool to the palate with all al fresco meals, lighter pizza, pasta, poultry and meats. You don't have to be Italian to enjoy this great quality/ value red. Under-$10

Carmenere, "Serie Riberas Gran Reserva," Concha y Toro (Marchigue, Chile): Considered "the lost grape of Bordeaux," Carmenere cropped up in Chile, where it had been mistaken for merlot for centuries. A chewey red, dense with berry-fruit and exotic spice flavors, without sacrificing drinkability. For carnivores. About $16

Mosketto Bianco (Italy): When rap music brought Moscato to dance parties around the world, prices for the humble grape skyrocketed. To control costs, one international beverage firm went back to basics, adding a dose of Brachetto -- an Italian grape traditionally used for bubbly -- to the wine and to the wine's name. This peachy-sweet frizzante offers all the toothsome enjoyment of Moscato d'Asti at half the cost. Also available in a drier Rosso. Serve chilled for easy enjoyment and complement to all dolci. Under-$10

If the gain in wine sales has you concerned about America's wine consumption, don't be. Our strength is strictly in our numbers. Per capita, we drink a measly 14 bottles annually, at the rear of the pack with Azerbaijan and about one-quarter of the world's top wine consumers per person: Vatican City.


Ross' choice

Name: "Nebla" Verdejo

Region: Rueda, Spain

Producer: Vincente Gandia

Vintage: 2014

Availability: Wine & spirits chains, specialty grocers, about $12.

(Distributed by: Haus Wines & Spirits, Lombard IL)

"This Spanish bianca is liquid refreshment. Its dry, crystal-clean & herbal flavors are a natural fit with salads, veggies & herbed preparations. Don't fight the wine's affinity to Spanish & Spanish-inspired dishes, especially considering Chicagoland's wealth of Spanish, Mexican, Nuevo Latino & Filipino cuisines. Remember that Spain has the longest coastline of any European nation, so serve with confidence with sushi, Salade Nicoise, gambas ala placha & all lighter seafood. In the hottest heat, serve by the pool splashed with ice & soda. If you're looking for a great-value alternative to sauvignon blanc, this is it."

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