Wine talk: The new face of California wine

Bargain Gold

It's not much of a surprise that a small-production Napa Valley merlot -- Kalaris, $52 -- came away with Wine of the Year honors at the seventh annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition, held Sept. 12-13 in San Diego. Such wines are made to impress.

Truly surprising are the many high-volume commercial wines that are rightly singled out for excellence at the value end of the wine world. These are pleasant surprises, for these gems make it easier to enjoy a nice wine with dinner on a regular basis without dipping into Susie's college fund.

The biggest winner in the Sommelier Challenge's value arena, which featured wines that retail for $15 or less, was the Dona Paula 2013 Estate Black Edition, a red Bordeaux-style blend from Argentina that was best of class in the Bordeaux-blend category. It retails for $15.

There were many other big (i.e., gold medal) winners among wines that sell for $15 or less.

The following is a partial rendering, with my emphasis on wines that are widely available.

Barefoot Riesling, California, $7. Winemaker Jennifer Wall and her team do an extraordinary job of maintaining consistency while producing millions of cases of Barefoot wines every year.

Carmen 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Quillayes Vineyard, Gran Reserva, Maipo Valley, Chile, $15. This Chilean producer has been a leader in value for more than a decade.

Concannon Vineyard 2013 Chardonnay, Monterey County, $15. Concannon sources wonderful grapes from California's Central Coast and usually makes the most of it. This winery is often underrated, but for tasty inexpensive wine it is tough to beat.

Cote Mas 2014 Rouge Intense, Pays d'Oc IGP, France, $9. This is a delicious red Rhone-style blend from the Languedoc region in the south of France.

Cupcake 2013 Chardonnay, Central Coast, $13.99. Don't be fooled by the playful name. Cupcake makes seriously delicious wines from the finest wine regions in the world.

Jacob's Creek 2013 Shiraz, Two Lands, Australia, $14. Jacob's Creek Shiraz is well balanced and inexpensive -- and consistent.

Lindemans 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Bin 45, Southeastern Australia, $6. Very impressed to see a $6 red wine take a gold medal anywhere, let alone from a panel of extremely demanding sommeliers.

Menage a Trois 2013 Merlot, California, $14. This wine is made by the talented winemakers at Trinchero, so don't be surprised that it's delicious.

Navarro Vineyards 2014 Chardonnay, Anderson Valley, $15. This small family-run winery in Mendocino County's Anderson Valley has been making superb white wine for decades.

Rex Goliath Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile, $7. If you want to make a good inexpensive wine, you go where the vineyards are excellent yet the grapes are cheap. That would be Chile! The Rex Goliath brand is reliable at delivering tremendous bang-for-the-buck with everyday, non-vintage table wines.

Stephen Vincent 2012 Merlot, Central Coast, $14. This is another brand that has focused on California's Central Coast, where land is far cheaper than in Napa or Sonoma, and so are the grapes. Stephen Vincent is one of California's leaders in the value category.

Sterling 2013 Pinot Noir, Vintner's Collection, Central Coast, $15. Sterling is a top-notch Napa Valley winery that makes plenty of expensive wine. But its inexpensive line of Vintner's Collection wines has been superb of late and can easily compete with wines nearly double in price.

Sutter Home had three gold medals with three different $6 wines, all non-vintage. It scored with its riesling/moscato blend, its chenin blanc and a zinfandel.

The Show 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, California, $14 is a solid crowd-pleaser that's been consistent since the brand's inception more than a decade ago.

Wyndham Estate 2013 Shiraz, Bin 555, Southeastern Australia, $10. Much like the Jacob's Creek Shiraz, Wyndham's Bin 555 is well balanced and easy to drink -- not to mention it's also delicious.

Complete results of the seventh annual Sommelier Challenge can be found at

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru.