Wines of the year

Red Wine of the Year: Smashberry Red Wine

Grapes: Merlot (40 percent), cabernet sauvignon (30 percent), petite sirah (30 percent)

Region: Paso Robles, Calif.

Vintage: 2012

Price: $9.99

Availability: Lee’s Discount Liquors

White Wine of the Year: Kono Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

Grape: Sauvignon blanc

Region: Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand

Vintage: 2012

Price: $9.99

Availability: Trader Joe’s

As we look back on the 2013 year in wine, it is immediately apparent that great value wines, especially those for less than $10, rule the roost. Consumers have figured out this abundance and adopted a “why pay more?” attitude.

Competition from Australian, Spanish, Chilean and Argentinean wines caused California producers to pay more attention to domestic wine drinkers by offering a significant volume of selections at the right price. In 2013, American wines, led by California, saw their best year since before the recession in terms of sales and market penetration. And it hasn’t hurt that the dollar remains competitive against foreign currencies (read: low!).

In the past year, I tasted about 1,550 wines to find the 53 for this weekly column. There were 41 red wines and nine white wines, as well as a single rose and the two bubblies from last week’s column. With a ratio of roughly 5-to-1 red-to-whites, this is a bit lower than the market in general where it is about 6-to-1 for reds. Nine countries, and within them, 25 distinct viticultural regions were represented in my reviews. This is a nicely diverse group, offering consumers choice and value.

America came out on top again in 2013, with 15 wines reviewed just like the year before. France and Italy followed with 13 and five wines respectively, reflecting excellent prices on good value Old World wines. It also shows that domestic wines continue to be a big part of the wine drinking culture of America.

As for the Wines of the Year, I look at quality, value, breed and overall experience, as well as availability.

The Red Wine of the Year is the all-around awesome Smashberry Red Wine 2012, which is a wine that I was introduced to by the owner of the fabled Bien Nacido Vineyard in California and had to agree it was delish. It was reviewed on Aug. 28 and this is part of the commentary: “This is both a successful blending job on the winemaker’s part and a testament to how creative one can get when there is so much base material to work with.”

Here are the tasting notes: “Smashberry wine is a deeply opaque purplish-fuchsia color with a dense blackish core going out into a fine violet-red rim definition with high painted viscosity. This wine is a fruit bomb with a plethora of mashed red fruits including raspberries, cranberries, currants and strawberry sorbet melded with black fruits such as blueberries, mulberries and boysenberries with hints of violets, vanilla, spice melange and underlying oak notes. This wine hits your olfactory senses through the mouth with an incredible red and black fruit mix, showing all sorts of crushed blackberries, jammy black currants, deep spice-laden black cherry and boysenberry sorbet, with a full-bodied underlayment, showing through the nicely balanced midpalate replete with chewy big black fruit and oak undertones. The finish is medium in this deliciously palate-pleasing wine.”

Runners-up for the red wines are Castello di Gabbiano DOCG, which is a tremendous Italian buy for less than $8, available everywhere (review, June 19), and Row Eleven Vinas Pinot Noir 2009 from California, a very easy drinking wine for less than $10 (review, Sept. 18).

The White Wine of the Year is Kono Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012 from New Zealand, a stellar representative of this category.

It was reviewed on April 3 and this is part of what I wrote: “There’s no denying that when you have the opportunity to get in at this price, there’s nothing more delicious to drink. …”

Here are the tasting notes: “Kono Sauvignon Blanc wine shows a faint lemon-yellow color with bright greenish streaks, a fine, clean, clear translucent appearance at the core with glass-clear rim definition and medium viscosity. This fragrant wine has concentrated notes of northern gooseberries, crushed white peaches, pomelo flesh, chalky minerals, fresh lime rind, Key lime pie, Granny Smith apples and some gardenia floral character. The wine is crisp with crushed gooseberry, white currants, fresh citrus zest, soft balanced white fruit that perfectly balances the fresh acidity, making this a highly drinkable and approachable sauvignon blanc. The midpalate goes into the finish seamlessly, and the wine appears to have really soft, balanced harmony between the fruit and the acidity.”

Runners-up among the white wines are two superb values for less than $10: A to Z Pinot Gris 2011 from Oregon (review, July 17) and the suave Sandholdt Chardonnay from California (review, Feb. 27), which again shows why you shouldn’t pay $50 for chardonnay.

This is an exciting time to be a wine consumer in the U.S. market. I will strive to continue to help you navigate the enormous selection. I wish you a prosperous and happy new year.

Gil Lempert-Schwarz’s wine column appears Wednesdays. Write him at P.O. Box 50749, Henderson, NV 89106-0749, or email him at