Weekend wines: Reds for hearty winter meals

Nov. 30, 2012 at 4:31 PM ET

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This is an exciting time for great values under $20. There are, perhaps, more of them to be found than ever before, and three very different red wines prove the point, each of them outstanding in its own way.

From Washington, Chateau Ste. Michelle’s 2010 Columbia Valley Merlot is striking for its bright, delicious fruit, which is accented by subtle oak treatment. This relatively large-production wine demonstrates how it is entirely possible for big companies to make interesting and elegant wines, even in the $12 to $15 range, although they are more the exception than the rule. It has lovely red berry aromas, red and dark berry tastes and toast and vanilla notes. Enjoy it with a range of foods, including roast chicken and turkey, pork and lamb. Alcohol is 13.5 percent.

For tomato sauces, it’s important to choose wines with good acidity, and with that in mind, the barbera grape from Piedmont in northern Italy is a top choice. For years, one of my favorite wineries from the region has been De Forville, and its 2010 Barbera d'Asti is an outstanding value at about $15. The grapes are grown organically and the wine is fresh and spicy with cherry and black cherry notes, fine tannins and a good deal of earth. This exciting wine from a relatively small producer will be a real crowd pleaser. Alcohol is 13.5 percent. Imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York.

As I've pointed out before, the south of France is full of under-appreciated wine values, and the latest I've tasted is from the southwest. Château de Mayragues’s 2010 Gaillac “Clos des Mages” has a wild and earthy quality, reflecting the region’s terroir, with a pronounced fennel note that accents the dominant tastes of plum, blackberry and cassis. There’s also a hint of cocoa. This $15 wine is a blend of 70 percent braucol, a local variety also known as fer servadou, and 30 percent cabernet sauvignon grown using organic and biodynamic methods. It would be superb with steak au poivre. Alcohol is 13 percent. Imported for Chambers Street Wines, New York.

As with most French wine names, Gaillac (pronounced guy-ACK), is the name of the town where the wine is made. For me, it offers far more interest than, say, a typical $15 bottle of Bordeaux and shows the value of veering off the well-known wine path.

Want more suggestions? On Vint-ed, I review an outstanding Spanish white, Marqués de Cáceres’s 2011 “Deusa Nai” Albariño.

Edward Deitch is a James Beard Award-winning wine critic. Find many more of his wine reviews and commentary on his blog, Vint-ed.com, and follow him on Twitter

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