If you stroll into Paul Marcus Wines with $100 to spend on a bottle, you will walk out with a stunning, perhaps even unforgettable wine. Most customers, of course, don’t have that kind of loot, but fear not. For less than $50, you can certainly find a memorable, first-class wine to savor and appreciate. Next time you need to put an exclamation point on a special occasion or simply satisfy a connoisseur’s high standards, consider these standout wines.
2007 López de Heredia Rioja ‘Viña Tondonia’ Reserva ($49)
The standard-bearer in Rioja, Don Rafael López de Heredia first planted his famed, limestone-rich Tondonia vineyard on the River Ebro more than 100 years ago. This reserva spends about six years in large barrels, plus another handful in bottle before release. The 2007 version–75 percent tempranillo, 15 percent garnacha, and filled out by graciano and mazuelo–is a wine of both depth and subtlety, with finely honed tannins and pleasant notes of tobacco and spice. Aging potential of Tondonia wines is often measured in decades, not years.
2019 Domaine Huet Vouvray Sec ‘Le Mont’ ($47)
There’s a certain charm you find in a Vouvray sec that is difficult to replicate–a balanced richness that seems unique to the chenin blanc of that appellation. Those in the know say that 2019 might be one of the best vintages this venerable producer has ever seen. This bottle is already capable of delivering immense pleasure–steely, stony, and energetic, with only hints of the opulence it will deliver over time. When that lush, waxy fruit comes to life over the next 10 years, watch out!
2019 Girolamo Russo Etna Bianco ‘Nerina’ ($42)
Considered in some circles to be the “Chablis of Sicily,” the Etna Bianco DOC, featuring the carricante grape, produces wines that are dry, racy, and mineral-driven. Russo’s Bianco uses only 70 percent carricante, rounded out by an assortment of Sicilian varieties. Aged on the lees in a combination of steel and wood, the result is textured and intense, yet bright, with a volcanic edge and luxuriously long finish.
2016 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva ($39)
There is something immediately gratifying about this sangiovese (mostly sangiovese, anyway, as this house, which dates back to 1846, still makes a point of adding a little dash of indigenous Tuscan grapes to the blend). This pretty riserva, which sees two years of oak, doesn’t try to do too much–the oak influence is understated, producing an appealingly red-fruited, medium-bodied wine that displays remarkable freshness and finesse.
Hidalgo Wellington Palo Cortado VOS ($38)
Without a doubt, this is one of the best values we’ve found in the world of fine sherry. Although the VOS label indicates a 20-year sherry, its average age is probably closer to 30. What I love about this refined palo cortado is that, despite its long oxidative aging, it manages to retain more than just remnants of its former life as a manzanilla. There’s still a sharp, saline tanginess that perfectly complements the nutty, butterscotch elements. Get yourself some jamón Ibérico and Manchego cheese, and you’ll be in business. Or, after dinner, sip it as a “wine of contemplation.”