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American Wines at Best Values Under $15
The Chicago Value Challenge picks the Top 11 Wines of 2003.

by Marc Dornan

Pulling up the best wines we tasted of the 3000 sipped and sniffed throughout the year is a fairly meritocratic process--there is not much editorial hand wringing involved. I simply ask our database for the top-scoring wines of 2003 and out comes a list of wines scoring 90 points and upwards.

This year we are heavily indebted to domestic efforts in our top wines and such heavyweight names like Woodward Canyon and Cayuse of Washington State produced the benchmark Merlot and Syrah for the year.

Napa Valley and its subzones contributed Bordeaux grape variety gems from Jarvis, Grgich and the astonishingly consistent boutique winery, Rudd Cellars in Oakville.

While the blue chip are to be expected in such a gathering, there are plenty of less obvious wines that are equally suited to the upcoming cold winter months, such as delicious efforts as the great vintage ports from Ficklin of Madeira County, California.

Best Values of 2003: The Chicago Value Challenge
Each year we seek the best values for under $15 and of the 400 wines submitted this year we are delighted to propose the Top 10 Value Challenge Winners (actually there are 11, as we could not break a tie) as worthy of consideration for any shopping basket.

Quady 2002 Red Electra, Muscat, California $9.00 (91points)
Brilliant garnet-ruby red hue. Blueberry, blackberry and carnation aromas. Medium-bodied, this has yummy berry fruit and is lightly sweet with lively acidity. Flavorful and light as a feather.

Elk Cove 2002 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley $15.00 (90 points)
Brilliant straw-pear hue. Apple peel, pear and lime aromas. A medium-bodied palate leads to a clean finish with apple fruit and tart acidity. A bit shy on fruit, but otherwise nice.

Maryhill 2001 Fort Rock Red, Columbia Valley $13.00 (90 points)
Brilliant ruby red hue. Black cherry, thyme and subtle licorice aromas. Medium-full on the palate this has very good depth of ripe black fruit, youthful tannins and lovely balance. This could improve for another year or two.

Waterbrook 2002 Mélange Red, Columbia Valley $13.00 (90 points)
Brilliant ruby red hue. Black cherry, tobacco and menthol aromas. A rich entry leads to a moderately full-bodied palate and a finish that has very good depth of fruit, youthful tannins and precise acidity. Quite elegant with a lengthy finish.

Bogle 2001 Old Vine, Zinfandel, California $11.00 (90 points)
Brilliant ruby red hue. Oregano, sage, raspberry and oak aromas. Medium-full to full, this has very good depth of spicy, rustic fruit, balanced tannins and an herbal, lengthy finish.

Everett Ridge 2002 Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino County $14.00 (90 points)
Brilliant straw hue. Melon, hay and dried flower aromas. Medium-full, this is a well-balanced wine with god depth of fruit and bracing acidity.

Everett Ridge 2000 Syrah, Sonoma Valley $14.99 (90 points)
Brilliant ruby red-violet hue. Plum, blackberry and licorice aromas. Medium-full, this has very good depth of ripe blackberry fruit, subtle spice, nicely integrated oak and a well-balanced finish. Quite attractive.

Raymond Estates 2000 Merlot, California $13.00 (89 points)
Brilliant ruby red hue. Cherry, tobacco and oak aromas. A rich entry leads to a moderately full-bodied palate and a lengthy, well-balanced finish offering good depth of varietal fruit, nicely integrated oak and balanced tannins.

King Estate 2001 Pinot Gris, Oregon $15.00 (89 points)
Brilliant straw hue. Apple peel, cinnamon and pear aromas. Medium-full, this has ripe, juicy fruit, a hint of spice and snappy acidity.

Peachy Canyon 2001 Incredible Red Bin 113, Zinfandel, Paso Robles $12.00 (89 points)
Brilliant ruby red hue. Earth, dried cherry and oak aromas. A rich entry leads to a moderately full-bodied palate and a slightly short finish that has good depth of fruit and earthy, herbal tannins. (tasted on 2003-08-15)

Little Stone Vineyards 2002 Pinot Noir, Napa Valley $12.99 (89 points)
Brilliant garnet hue. Cherry, cardamom and bacon fat aromas. Medium-full with very good concentration, this is a stylish Pinot Noir with subtle oak and spice that support lovely bright cherry fruit. Precise acidity rounds out the package. (tasted on 2003-08-15)

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