Great wines for less than $25

Local wine experts share their steal bottles

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Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio ($9.99); J. Lohr 2005 Riverstone Chardonnay ($14.99); 2006 Columbia River Valley Riesling ($10.99)

Wines to try: Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio ($9.99); J. Lohr 2005 Riverstone Chardonnay ($14.99); 2006 Columbia River Valley Riesling ($10.99)

Recommendations by: Steve Welsh, Wine rep who supplies wine to Arctic Liquors

You don't have to wait for a wine sale to acquire some worthy labels in Steamboat stores for $10 and change - the Penfolds Koonunga Hill shiraz with its notes of blueberry and pepper quickly comes to mind.

And, if you're planning to make an impression at a casual summer dinner party, you can do even better by stretching your budget into the teens. Are you grateful to your host and hostess?

Hearty summer salads call for a crisp wine, and a pinot grigio is often the choice. Steve Welsh recommends an Italian wine that he thinks has more stature than the typical pinot grigio with its floral scents. The Mezzacorona pinot is grown in the foothills of the Dolomites at a higher elevation than most. The colder climate produces a bright wine with distinct green apple flavors.

"It always gets best-buy awards year in and year out," he said.

Welsh is a wine rep with Beverage Distributors - The Charmer Sunbelt Group - and supplies wines of good value to Arctic Liquors on Steamboat's west side.

The Mezzacorona sells there for $9.99. Welsh is a fan of the winemaker. He says that with four scientists on staff they have unusual commitment to quality.

Most people have settled into their favorite chardonnays already and are loathe to experiment. Welsh pleads for some consideration for the J. Lohr 2005 Riverstone ($14.99) grown in the North Central California region of Arroyo Seco.

"This is a beautiful wine with a buttery mouth feel," he said. The flavors include an easily recognizable pear taste with green apple on the finish. The wine is aged in French oak barrels that produce a bit of spice - but not the distinct oaky flavor of some California chards.

Finally, Welsh completes his trio of summer whites with a varietal you may have turned your back on.

The 2006 Columbia River Valley Riesling produced by Chateau St. Michelle ($10.99) is great for spicy food served on a hot summer day, he said. If prawns with chipotle sauce are on the menu, this would be his choice.

The wine is middle-of-the-road sweet for a riesling and even offers a touch of frizzante, or effervescence.

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Joel Gott's 2005 St. Helena Blend No. 815 (use your locals discount); Arlie's 2005 Williamette Valley Pinot Noir ($15.99) Oberon's 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon ($20.49, check for sales)

Wines to try: Joel Gott's 2005 St. Helena Blend No. 815 (use your locals discount); Arlie's 2005 Williamette Valley Pinot Noir ($15.99) Oberon's 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon ($20.49, check for sales)

Recommendations by: Greg Nealy, manager of Central Park Liquor

Greg Nealy, general manager of Central Park Liquor, is a big fan of the 2003 cabernet sauvignon produced by Napa Valley's Oberon Winery.

"The fruit that year was exposed to a lot of heat just before harvest, and it really shows in the wine with a lot of blueberry, which is very unusual," Nealy said. "It's a really rich style of wine."

The Oberon typically sells for $20.49 at full retail, but his store was featuring it at $12.99 in June.

If you're planning a barbecue around elk sausage, this would be an ideal wine selection, he suggested.

From the heart of Napa, Nealy steers customers a few miles south and closer to the San Francisco Bay, where they will discover Joel Gott's 2005 St. Helena Blend No. 815.

"This cab is spectacular for that 2005 vintage, especially if you're serving a big, rich steak," he said. The wine doesn't have up-front fruit, but the tannins are very noticeable followed by a rich note of raspberry. Nealy expects this wine to have a nice cellaring life and to soften with age.

It will break your $15 budget, but you can purchase the Joel Gott for under $25 with your locals discount. It's Nealy's recommendation for the power of a traditionally big cabernet at a modest price.

The vaunted pinot noirs from Oregon's Willamette Valley are not only pricey due to high demand this summer, but also are hard to get. A good bet is the 2004 vintage bottled by the Airlie winery. Nealy says it's a strong value at $15.99. The bright strawberry flavors make it a good choice with an assortment of summer fruit and soft cheeses.

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Mouvedre from Luzon Winery ($10); Vina Borgia grenache ($8); Bieler Pere et Fils rose from Provence ($12)

Wines to try: Mouvedre from Luzon Winery ($10); Vina Borgia grenache ($8); Bieler Pere et Fils rose from Provence ($12)

Recommendations by: Lisa Lesyshen, Vino owner

If you want to break out of the domestic comfort zone this summer and try some Old World wines at a reasonable price, it's hard to beat Spanish varietals, Lisa Lesyshen says. She steers customers toward the Piemonte region at Vino, her store in Sundance at Fish Creek.

"The cool thing about Spain is they've invested a lot of money in vineyards and into the winemaking," but even with exchange rates, produce fine wines at modest prices. Spain is unusual in that its vines have been resistant to pests that have caused major setbacks elsewhere in Europe. That fact represents an opportunity to harvest fruit from vines that are from 75 to 100 years old.

She is a fan of the dark Tempranillo grapes that grow all over Spain, but in particular those that grow in the heat of the Rioja Region. A good example is the Gumilla Bobal Tempranillo.

"It's like a souped-up merlot," Lesyshen said. "It has mocha chocolate flavors, but it's softer than a cabernet."

Spain also is a good place to find bargains on wine made from organically grown grapes. She recommends the mouvedre from Luzon Winery ($10) and the Vina Borgia grenache ($8). The latter doesn't have a lot of tannin, but ample structure combined with jammy flavors.

Finally, Lesyshen urges customers to give rose wines another chance. She likes the Bieler Pere et Fils rose from Provence ($12) with its lighter alcohol content and complete lack of residual sugar. The wine is dry on the palate with cherry flavors and a hint of strawberries. It makes an ideal companion to sea scallops cooked on the grill or even chicken with barbecue sauce, she said.

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