Greetings and salutations!  Happy Valentine’s Day (a/k/a National Hallmark Card Day) to you and your significant other!  Hopefully my fellow wine sleuths were savvy enough to deliver that special bottle of Champagne or Bordeaux blend or favorite Napa Chardonnay to the love of your lives rather than splurging for seasonally-overpriced roses or chocolates!  Unless of course, your significant other LIKES roses or chocolates, in which case, never mind.


I frequently am asked by my friends to recommend everyday wines to enjoy and share with guests.   We’re not talking about fancy, expensive wines here, mind you.   No, we’re talking about quality, good values, go-to wines.  Or as I like to call them, House Wines!


So what are your favorite House Wines?   Do you have one?  If not, you should!


This month’s Chapter of “The Wine Bargain Sleuth” will focus upon our recommendations for some great currently-available House Wines that you will be proud to call your own.  We have chosen the arbitrary retail price ceiling of $18, although you clever wine sleuths know that careful shopping can yield a much better deal on a per bottle basis.  Experience has taught us that some very good, if not amazing, wines exist at this price point—wines that will always give you and your fortunate friends lots of pleasure to imbibe!


As a starting point, a wine bargain sleuth should have at least one white and one red for your House Wines.  Since the House Wines should be affordable and plentiful, it pays to buy them by the case—you will save at least 10% at most wine retailers by purchase cases rather than individual bottles.  The White House Wine might be a Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc, a Riesling or a Pinot Grigio.   The Red House Wine might be Cabernet Sauvignon or a Merlot, a Bordeaux blend, a Zinfandel, a Syrah or a Pinot Noir.  You should choose your House Wine based upon the premise that it will be enjoyable on a quiet Wednesday night but will still be appropriate on a Saturday night pizza night with good (and often thirsty) friends.  You might be a fan of white wines, but your guests may prefer reds, so having a choice is a sign of a considerate host.   In order to allow a bit of flexibility, your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth will suggest three white wines and three reds for your consideration.


Without further ado, this Chapter’s recommended Value Wine House Wines – and one remarkable Splurge Wine — for your viewing pleasure:




A True Value from Edna Valley:  The True Myth Chardonnay 2012 hails from the Edna Valley on the Central Coast of California.  Although Napa Valley is better known, the Central Coast is actually California’s largest wine growing region in terms of production.  Stretching from San Francisco on the north to Santa Barbara to the south, the cool breezes from the Pacific Ocean provide an ideal backdrop for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes in the Central Coast region.  The Edna Valley has produced some remarkable Pinot Noirs, but in this case the True Myth Chardonnay 2012 truly shines.  The grapes of this True Myth beauty are sourced from the Paragon Vineyard, considered one of the top vineyards in Edna Valley.  The flavor profile on the True Myth Chard hints of pears, pineapples and citrus, with a finish of vanilla and light oak.   This is a balanced Chard, managing to simultaneously have both crisp acidity and a hint of butter that so many Chardonnay fans enjoy.   If you enjoy a baked fish or a lightly grilled chicken, look no further that the True Myth 2012 as an ideal pairingThe editors of Wine Enthusiast were impressed enough with this white beauty to award it a healthy 91 rating and an Editor’s Choice, while summarizing the wine thusly:  “This great value wine will dazzle you.”   That is strong praise indeed for the $18 retail price, and as noted above a clever sleuth can get bottles for $2-3 cheaper with some investigation.   What’s keeping you from nabbing a case for your House White?


A Consistent Sav Blanc from Dry Creek:  When one talks about a consistently terrific domestic white wine at a value price point, it is simply hard to beat the Sauvignon Blanc from Dry Creek Vineyard.  The current vintage, the 2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, keeps the string of ratings of 90 points and above alive for the fifth straight year, a model of consistent high quality releases.  Retailing for a modest $14.99, Wine Enthusiast awarded this white from Sonoma Valley (the expansive valley between Napa Valley and the Pacific Ocean) a solid 90 rating (again!), opining that: “This is a great success, showing brisk acidity and savory lemon, lime, grapefruit and mango flavors. There’s a delicious richness to the palate, even though the wine was fermented and aged in stainless steel.”  For those white wine lovers who are not fans of oak, the crisp 2012 Dry Creek Sav Blanc provides a great alternative.  The winemaker prefers to focus on the melon, kiwi and mango flavors of this wine rather than the more typical grapefruit qualities of so many Sav. Blancs.  Clever wine sleuths should simply lock and load this one for your House White if you prefer Sauvignon Blancs to Chardonnays!


Great Value from Germany:  Are you looking for something unique, spectacular and modestly priced for your House White?  Take a chance on the outstanding Loosen Bros. Riesling QbA Mosel Dr. L 2012 from the very heart of Germany’s Mosel River Valley, arguably German’s finest wine region.  Although we have admittedly given short shrift to the delicate and elegant white wines of Germany in “The Wine Bargain Sleuth,” it is high time we ended that glaring omission.   German wines have the reputation of being overly sweet, but that is a gross oversimplification of some of the finest whites in the world.  The reality is that there are many categories of German Riesling, some dry as a bone, others intentionally sweet and designed to be dessert wines.  Retailing at only an astounding $12, the Loosen Bros Riesling was picked by Wine Spectator as a Best Value and awarded a solid 91 rating.  While this Riesling has fruit, and particularly peach and cherry overtones, on its nose, the finish is long, dry, smooth and creamy.   Trying is believing, and this complex German has plenty of unexpected spice to the fruit to make your mouth explode with complexity.   Wine Spectator calls this Loosen Bros. 2012 effort “impressive for the category”.   This Riesling is widely available, with 100,000 cases made.  If you haven’t sampled a great German Riesling, you’ll rarely get a better opportunity for your hard earned buck!




The Greatness of Italian Chianti Superiore:  Two of the qualities I look for in a House Wine (in addition to great flavor!) are widespread availability and a great price point.  The Castello Banfi Chianti Superiore 2011 achieves all three requirements with aplomb.  Widely available (25,000 cases imported from Italy) at with an incredible retail price of just $11, the Castello Banfi Chianti Superiore makes a perfect pairing with pizza and red sauce-based pastas, as well as with barbeque chicken and burgers.  Like many Old World wines, Italian wines typically identify the region of origin on their labels rather than the grape varietals.   For a more detailed discussion of the wonders of Italian wines, you can review Chapter 14 of “The Wine Bargain Sleuth.”  As with all Chianti’s, the Castello Banfi is primarily Sangiovese, and this particular vintage provides a glimpse at just how delicious that varietal can be when placed in expert hands.   To my palate, the Banfi Chianti Superiore is a complex, elegant wine, with a nose of cherry and currant flavors followed by well-integrated spice and packing a moderately long, earthy yet smooth finish.   Named a Best Value by Wine Spectator, the Castello Banfi Chianti Superiore 2011 was awarded a hearty 88 rating, rather remarkable for this price point.   If you want your House Red Wine to be something unique, I highly recommend the Castello Banfi offering!


Washington Heavenly Bordeaux Blend:  Another quality in a House Wine I seek is flexibility and the option for appealing to multiple palates.   After much debate over including either a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Merlot in the recommended Red House Wines this month, I settled on a quality compromise in the Columbia Crest Les Chevaux 2010.  Like many of the high quality offerings from Columbia Crest, the 2010 Les Chevaux (French for “the Horses”, for the wild horses who formerly inhabited the area) is sourced from the high quality Horse Heaven Hills AVA in Washington state.  This complex yet affordable wine is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with a touch of Syrah for structure.   It features dark berry fruits, along with a touch of cocoa and mocha and polished tannins on the finish.   I am confident you and your guests will peg this red for a much more expensive wine.   Wine Spectator continues to toss acclaim to this winery, awarding the 2010 Les Chevaux an impressive 90 rating.  Retailing for about $16, a bargain in and of itself, your friendly Wine Bargain Sleuth has seen this wine for close to $10 at a warehouse retailer, and my personal cellar contains several bottles of this beauty as I type.   Whether your guests enjoy Cabs or Merlot, the Columbia Crest Les Chaveaux 2010 will satisfy!


Oregon House Pinot:  True Confession—this was a tough one.  I was sorely tempted to default in this category to the always-delicious Belle Glos Meomi praised in both the January 2013 and November 2013 Chapters.   However, since we imposed the $18 retail limit on our House Wines, that wine fell just over the cutoff.  Instead, the logical candidate for a Pinot Noir House Wine became the delicious King Estate Acrobat Pinot Noir 2011 from Oregon.   This Oregonian garnered a strong 91 rating from the prestigious Pinot Report yet manages to retail for a quite reasonable $16.99.   The cool climate of Oregon allows for yet another amazing Pinot from that region in the King Estate Acrobat.  This bright red colored wine has ample tastes of cherry and cranberry, with spice and that unique earthy, smooth finish that has reminded so many Pinot Noir fans of Burgundy rather than a domestic wine.  It is the complexity of this medium bodied Pinot that sets it apart at this price point and in turn makes the King Estate Acrobat 2011 such an outstanding Red House Wine for bargain sleuths.   The reality that there are simply very few Pinots priced in this range period, much less high quality wines that are so representative of the Oregon style of Pinot Noirs.  Run, don’t walk to get a case of this one!




Howell at the Moon:  With no less than six potential House Wines discussed above, your Wine Bargain Sleuth simply had to offer up an amazing Worth a Splurge Wine to balance the equation just a bit.   Sometimes a man (or woman) just has to say “What the Heck” and reach for an amazing, world class Big Red, the cost be damned, and that time is right now!  I briefly mentioned the 2008 Howell at the Moon The Knoll Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon in Chapter 17 as a standout after I sampled this amazing wine at the 2013 “Taste of Howell Mountain” festival in June.   After a recent advance tasting of the 2010 vintage Howell at the Moon The Knoll Cab, I have confirmed my initial impression that this vintner is onto something special.  Howell Mountain is considered by many to be one of if not THE most outstanding AVA’s within Napa Valley, and the tiny berries of mountain-grown fruit produce characteristically intense juice.   The 2008 Howell at the Moon The Knoll Vineyard Cab is a bold, powerful expression of the Cab Sav varietal, with fine, polished tannins finishing the nose of dark berry fruit, spice, smoke, mocha and a bold earthy quality.  This wine is an outstanding demonstration of just how remarkable a well-made Cabernet can be.   Still quite young, with its anticipated peak still a decade away, this wine should be decanted for an hour or so to be properly enjoyed now.   If I had to describe The Knoll Vineyard 2008 in one word (other than powerful), I would have to use the word “balanced.”  Howell at the Moon is still a relatively new winery, with its initial vintage produced in 2004.   However, word is getting out that this winery and its owner Marc Cohen mean business.   HATM has received 4 straight years of 93 ratings on The Knoll Cab from the likes of Robert Parker and Wine Advocate, a remarkable accomplishment for a newcomer, to say the very least.   This type of consistent quality costs, and the HATM The Knoll 2008 Cab retails for $125 from the winery ( or from Ronin Wines in the Southwest (   Is it worth that price?   I believe that this wine will compare favorably with any Cab in Napa, and I think it is quite possible this wine will become a cult wine with the likes of Screaming Eagle and the like.  Less than 500 cases were produced, so don’t tarry!


Thought for the Day:  More Delicious Wine Quotes for February

“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.”
~ Paulo Coelho

“his lips drink water but his heart drinks wine”

~E.E. Cummings

“Wine enters through the mouth,
Love, the eyes.
I raise the glass to my mouth,
I look at you,
I sigh.”
~W.B Yeats 

Until next month– Cheers!

© The Wine Bargain Sleuth 2014—All Rights Reserved         

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The Greatness of Italian Chianti Superiore


  1. We’re already fans of Columbia Crest – can’t wait to check out several of the others you’re recommending.

    PS – love the Paulo Coelho quote. 🙂

    • Len Musgrove

      Thank you, Julie! I am a big fan of Washington reds in terms of both quality and bang for your buck. Cheers and keep reading! Tell your wine buddies about our little blog.

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