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Don't overlook these tasty $10 bargain wines

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We buried the lead in our column two weeks ago on South African wines. Sure, we mentioned the crowd favorite—the only non-South African wine in our blind tasting—but not until the 4th paragraph, and we didn’t give tasting notes until the bottom half of the piece.

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Yet the HandCraft Cabernet Sauvignon California 2011—supplied as a winery sample—merits its own column. In part because its average score of 3.31 stars on the Wine for the Rest of Us five-star scale was among the highest earned in our blind tasting to date. But more importantly, it’s part of an entire line of good, inexpensive, “artisan” wines that are gaining wider distribution in the Washington area; and they are on sale in Montgomery County for the rest of the year.

The HandCraft Artisan Collection is a relatively new brand from DFV (Delicato Family Vineyards), a giant California wine company that specializes in inexpensive wines like Gnarly Head Zinfandel, the Twisted label and the 3-liter Bota box wines. In addition to the Cabernet that our Tasting Panel enjoyed, HandCraft makes a Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah and a Chardonnay—all available at Montgomery County Liquor stores as well as Total Wine in Virginia and Maryland—plus both red and white blends that are harder to find. (The HandCraft Inspiration Red is available at Rodman’s DC for $9.99 a bottle.)

The HandCraft wines are made in a fruit-forward style that typically appeals to casual wine drinkers (i.e., most of us). They’re promoted as blending “a playful dash of Italian heritage varietals” to the juice of signature California grapes; in the case of the Cabernet, it’s a 2 percent splash of Sangiovese, the Italian grape made famous in Tuscany in the wines of Chianti and Brunello. Probably a more important addition that helps soften the tannins and round out the Cabernet’s juicy flavors is the substantial measure (21 percent) of petite sirah.

Like the HandCraft Cabernet that both our Tasting Panel and Wine Enthusiast magazine’s Steve Heimoff liked so much, each of the other HandCraft Artisan wines have earned a “Best Buy” designation from the Beverage Tasting Institute (BTI). Possibly the best value is the juicy HandCraft Petite Sirah California 2011 that BTI liked at $14.99 a bottle, but is on sale for $9.99 in Montgomery County and costs just $10.99 every day at Total Wine.

“A spot on sippable petite sirah,” is how BTI describes it based on its January 7, 2013 tasting. “Rich aromas of roasted coffee bean, cocoa, and spicy berry pie with a supple, fruity-yet-dry medium-to-full body and a chewy chocolate craisin and leafy earth finish.”

“A really nice evocation of this variety, this is made in a soft style, with a Merlot-like velvety texture,” wrote Heimoff in the December 31, 2012 issue of Wine Enthusiast. “But there’s nothing shy about the flavors: It bursts with ripe, jammy cherry, grilled pancetta, crushed pepper and sandalwood, and has a long, spicy finish.”

The full-flavored character of the Petite Sirah could be enhanced by the added syrah and zinfandel (in unspecified proportions). While the equally well-regarded HandCraft Pinot Noir California 2012 has the same splash of sangiovese that rounds out the Cabernet.

“Vibrant aromas of coffee candy and chocolate cherries with a silky, fruity medium body and a rich, mocha, spice, and citrus accented finish,” is BTI’s description of the Pinot Noir, which earned a Gold Medal and a spot on its “Top 10 Red Wine $15 and Under” list in the 2013 World Value Wine Challenge. “Very pure and fruity flavors with a great smooth texture.”

The 2012 HandCraft Chardonnay California hasn’t been reviewed to date, but if recent vintages are any indication, it should be well worth a try, especially at $10 to $11 a bottle. The 2011 earned the same Gold Medal and “Top 10 White Wine $15 and Under” honors at BTI’s 2013 World Value Wine Challenge.

“If you like your Chardonnay on the fruity side, this one’s for you,” wrote Heimoff about the 2011 HandCraft Chard in the November 1, 2012 issue of Wine Enthusiast. “It’s rich in pineapple, orange and apricot jam flavors, with notes of buttered toast and cream.”

Sounds like a chardonnay that many white wine drinkers would like. And it won’t cost more than $10 or $11 to find out if you are one of them.


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