The Winning Whites:
Developed by famed winemaker Robert Mondavi, Solaire Chardonnay from Santa Lucia Highlands is crisp, with bright, clean flavors of citrus and pineapple; the eight months it spends aging in 100-percent French Oak is represented by a soft, smoky note.About $15; to find a retailer, visit Solaire.com.
Valentin Bianchi Elsa Torrontes
Food & Wine magazine calls the Torrontés “Argentina’s most interesting white grape”; this wine by Valentin Bianchi has soft melon flavors and citrus notes; it’s bottled without any oak, so the finish is bright and clean. It costs about $12.
McManis Family Vineyards Viognier
This California wine offers sweet honey, tropical fruit, and apricot scents, rich enough to take on sweet-and-spicy barbecue flavors. McManis Family Vineyards Viognier costs about $11.
Kung Fu Girl Riesling
Washington-state winemaker Charles Smith is known for his insanely delicious (and pricey) Syrahs, but this floral, pear-scented semi-dry Riesling is wonderful -- and, at about $12, much less expensive.
Voga Italia Pinot Grigio
This Pinot Grigio by Voga Italia is lush with ripe apple and pear aromas and a light, crisp finish. Plus, the bottle is really cool. About $13.
The Winning Reds:
McWilliam’s Hanwood Estate Merlot
This lush Austrialian merlot has a hint of vanilla to balance out the mocha-cherry finish. It’s perfect for grilled beef and burgers, of course, but will also shine on pizza night (or just on its own). The McWilliam's Wine Estate has a winner on its hands, at about $9 a bottle.
Trapiche Broquel Malbec
Malbec is an Argentinian grape that recently came into it’s own. Often used in a blend with other grapes, the Malbec has an intense fruity flavor, a full body, and a smoky finish. Trapiche Broquel’s 2006 vintage is a bargain at about $14.
Ravenswood Vinter’s Blend Red Zinfandel
Full bodied, with deep berry flavors and a tart bite, this all-purpose Red Zinfandel by California powerhouse Ravenswood should be a staple in a frugal wine-lover’s cellar. It costs about $10, but taste like a more expensive wine.
Solaire Cabernet Sauvingnon
Robert Mondavi and his vinters offer yet another fabulous wine that’s both sophisticated and affordable. The Solaire Cabernet Sauvingnon is rich with dark, fruity notes – currant, blackberries, ripe plums – and promises to more-fully develop in flavor over six to eight years of cellaring. About $15; to find a retailer, visit Solaire.com.
Oxford Landing Shiraz
Chocolately, floral, and unexpectedly, wonderfully spicy, this South Australian Shiraz by Oxford Landing retails for about $11.