Almost all of these wines have already been reviewed, so instead of repeating the reviews (the wines' names are links back to the original reviews), the following explains why they made this short list.
2007 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino 'Tenuta Nuova' $96
We may as well get the most expensive wine out of the way early. This magnificent, captivating wine, while very expensive, provides an experience that's worth the cost. Elegant, regal, expressive, and true to great Brunello form. Inescapably attention-commanding and emotion-evoking.
2009 Columbia Crest Red 'Amitage' $8
Down to the last few bottles and helpless to restrain myself, I bought more of this wine in 2014 than any other by a long shot. Versatile and still with plenty of age runway, this was hands-down the bargain of the year and a wine I'd gladly pay double the price for. This is also an important marker of hope that terrific wine can still be had at this price.
2010 Lenotti Le Crosare Ripasso $28
This is a remarkable wine and, as beautiful as it is, it's on this list to serve as a placeholder for all Ripassos - and other wines made in the appasimento method, like the 2009 Montresor Valpolicella Ripasso 'Capitel della Crosara' ($16). The Lenotti is far and away the most expensive Ripasso I've had the pleasure of drinking, so don't let this price deter you from exploring these comforting wines.
2012 m2 Wines Zinfandel Soucie Vineyard Mokelumne River Lodi $30
One of the six wines packaged in the honest, informative Lodi Native shipment, it proves just what heights can be achieved in this area better known for Bogle and Michael David wines. If, like me, you long for that feeling of zinfatuation, this wine will restore your faith.Also look for 2012 Jeremy Wine Co Zinfandel Lodi ($28)
2010 Villadoria Nebiolo Langhe 'Bricco Magno' $15
Haven't decided whether this wine is on this list because it's so good or so unusual, as I suspect purist decry it as a freak. Either way, it's memorable and a value, and will probably be much, much better in a few years.
2012 Chateau D'Aigueville Cotes du Rhone Villages $10
Yes, Dorothy, it's only $10. I've scoured the markets and can't find another bottle of this particular wine. Another placeholder that is just so mind-bendingly good, but which is on this list for all the mind-bendingly good Cotes du Rhones out there. Like the 2012 Les Ameriniers Cotes du Rhone Villages 'Signargues' ($10).
All the press the 2010 vintage got last year was enough propaganda to send me back into the arms of Bordeaux. Affordable Bordeuax, no less. While there, I discovered that 2009 was a pretty good year, too. And, though I stocked up on this wine for its age-worthiness, I couldn't help myself from helping myself to too much too early. I wish I had more of it along with the 2009 Chateau La Grange Clinet Bordeaux ($16) and 2009 Chateau Jouanin Cotes de Bordeaux ($15)
2013 Soalheiro Albariño Vinho Verde $18
Portuguese whites can be dazzling and brilliant, and rarely get above $15. This, along with 2012 Vale Da Puopa Duoro Old Vines (and a whole truckload of white blends enjoyed in Porto this summer) and proof that Portugal is the next frontier for extremely high quality and value. The best Portuguese whites combine layers of minerality, salinity, and composed fruit in seamless, friendly package.
2012 Roccafiore Grechetto Superiore Todi Umbria "Fiorefiore" $17
The most exciting white wine I had all year and possibly the most exciting wine of any color. Never heard of Todi? Don't worry, most people haven't. It's a quiet corner of Umbria in Italy. Why is it on this list? To remind myself (and encourage you) to keep an open mind when it comes to winegrowing regions you're unfamiliar with. Can't find this particular white? No worries, look for young Orvieto Classicos and Grechetto-based whites from Umbria.
NV Quinta Do Vallado 10 Year Tawny Port $19
A huge lesson from our trip to Portugal was that, despite the fame Vintage Port enjoys, there is immense and immediate enjoyment to be had in the refined pleasures of 10 Year Tawny - and it's a fraction of the price. I will kick myself for a long, long time for not bringing more of the Vallado home.
2010 Garofoli Piancarda $18
Labeled as "Rosso Conero", you wouldn't know without looking at the back label that it's 100% Montepulciano. And, since it's not from Abruzzo (the most famous provenance of Montepulciano), it's going to market with a proprietary name. Like many of the other wines on this list, this seductive red is more proof that excellent wines do come from unheralded places. As an added bonus, this wine helped fuel a rediscovery of Montepulciano, which, thanks to much improved winemaking in recent years, is no longer the crappy table wine it was of my drinking youth. To wit, the 2011 Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo ($15). Damn!
2011 Emeritus Pinot Noir Hallberg Ranch $42
What is expensive Pinot from a challenging year doing on this list? Being awesome, that's what. Dry farmed and harvested before the rains came to dilute flavors, there are few US examples of wine that so transparently express the place from whence they came as this one does. The root stock's struggle for sustenance comes across as tension and vigor in the glass. Though the 2012 vintage of this wine is more broadly appealing, the 2011 holds a place in my heart for the way it debunked preconceptions with style.
NV Rene Barbier Mediterranean Red $6
Drinkable red - nah, enjoyable red for $6. Need I say more?
2012 Wente Chardonnay Livermore Valley "Morning Fog" $11
As consistent as sunrises and sunsets. If you like the full-bodied, oaked Chardonnay profile, you just can't miss with Wente's wines. Also deserving of honorable mention is 2012 Chateau Ste Michelle Chardonnay Columbia Valley ($10) for the same reasons.