Top-notch wines

The Wine Guy shares his favorites

Everywhere I turn it seems I'm being asked for wine recommendations.

Being someone who could - and usually needed to - take a hint, I have come out with the 2008 San Diego Wine Guy "Favorites" Awards.

By favorites, I mean wines that are more than just of the highest quality, but are also generally available and affordable as well. Distinctive stories can make a wine more delightful and were therefore given extra consideration. But mostly, these are the currently available wines I like to drink most.

I hope this list proves helpful in the perpetual quest for great wines, and that you enjoy them as much as I do.

Salut!

2006 Bernardus Chardonnay, Monterey County:

I've been drinking this wine for years and the 2006 is the best yet. Pure yellow apple wrapped in caramel up front, with tropical undertones adding to its complexity. Smooth enough to have on its own, but has enough acidity to enjoy with food. The fruit is complimented by the prudent use of only 33 percent new French barrels. 14.1% alcohol, 92 Points. $20 at BevMo and Vintage Wines.

2007 Nobilo Regional Collection Pinot Gris:

The most affordable of the winners was introduced to me after it won "Best of Show - Whites" in the 2008 San Diego International Wine Competition. Stone fruits permeate throughout this fresh and juicy wine. Medium acidity and body. It was made in an off-dry style which accentuates the fruit and softens the texture. The 2008 vintage will be released as Pinot Grigio, the same grape as Pinot Gris. 14% alcohol, 90 points. $10 at major grocery stores.

2006 Bonterra Viognier, Mendocino County:

This wine has won too many gold medals to mention them all, plus it is certified organic. Yellow-gold in color, medium-plus weight and a smooth, rounded texture. Orange blossom and peach on the nose with just enough oak for depth. Aromatic wines such as this pair wonderfully with traditional Thanksgiving fare. 13.9% alcohol, 90 points. $17 at Costco, Ralphs and Vons.

2007 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand:

The 2007 version followed in the footsteps of the remarkable 2006. This light to medium bodied wine exhibits grapefruit and lime peel beautifully in concert with the unmistakable grassiness that is the hallmark of the Marlborough region. Its acidity forms the backbone for a fresh, crisp experience with a hint of sweetness on the finish. 13% alcohol, 91 points. $16 at BevMo and major grocery stores.

2005 Blackstone Sonoma Reserve Pinot Noir:

Awarded "Double Gold" at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition. Rich and opulent. Aromas of black cherry, vanilla, wild mushroom and pine forest. Decant for an hour to reveal the best this modern era pinot noir has to offer. The winery has now released the 2006 vintage, so check the label. 14.3% alcohol, 91 points. $18 at major grocery stores.

2006 J. Lohr Los Osos Merlot:

Awarded "Double Gold" at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition. Deep ruby in color, medium plus weight. Drinking this wine is like biting into the actual ripe blackberry and cherries themselves. Superbly balanced cedar and fruit blend harmoniously on the finish, all wrapped in a soft blanket of tannin. Merlot offers some of the best value in the current wine market. 13.5% alcohol, 92 points. $15 at BevMo and major grocery stores.

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