Thank god for great inexpensive wines! They’re the bedrock — or should be — of wine production, consumption and enjoyment. The wines that get all the publicity and hype, the wines that collectors and connoisseurs swoon about, the Bordeaux Classified Growths, the Burgundy Grand Crus, the California cult wines and Australian icon wines — those account for about five percent of the world’s wine production. The rest is wine meant for everyday drinking.

Oh, sure, I’m delighted to sit down to lunch or dinner with some great cabernet or pinot noir, and I have been known to open, rather shamelessly, a bottle of a completely inappropriate, expensive but wonderful wine on pizza night. The thrill of this job, however, is finding that 12-dollar wine that’s so well-made, so characteristic of its grape or its style (perhaps even of its place) that it feels worth twice the price. That discovery brings real satisfaction, not only because I liked the wine, but because it’s usually widely available for the enjoyment of many people.

Of course I taste multitudes of bland, innocuous, generic cheap wines that make me wonder why they were made in the first place. Such wines compel me to question the sincerity of the producers that churn out these anonymous, characterless products, which are often accompanied by huge marketing campaigns. Gosh, does cynicism exist in the California wine industry?

Oh well, we won’t think about that possibility today.
But wait, before we get to the list, I want to name the Producer of the Year. This honor goes to Spellbound, a division of Folio Fine Wine Partners, founded by Rob and Lydia Mondavi and Patti Romano and Geoff Whitman after the Robert Mondavi Winery was sold to Constellation late in 2004. Folio has fingers in many projects, making, producing and importing wine, but the Spellbound label offers impeccably made wines, varietally true, rich in detail and dimension and downright tasty, and delivers those elements for $15. In recent months I reviewed the Petite Sirah 2005, the Riesling 2006 (a Wine of the Week) and the Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. Each rated very Good+ and received designations of “Great Value.” I tasted and rated previous vintages of Spellbound products with similar results. Because of this consistently high level of quality and quality-to-price ratio, Spellbound is my Producer of the Year.

Here’s a geographical outline of these “25 Great Bargains of 2008”: France 9; California 6; Italy 4; Spain and Argentina 2 each; Australia and New Zealand 1 each. Prices range from $7 to $19. The order is strictly alphabetical.

1. Blason de Bourgogne Cuvée Brut nv, Crémant de Bourgogne. Very Good+. About $11 at Trader Joe’s.

2. Bodegas Tikalo Alba Liza 2005, Tierra de Castilla, Spain. 65 percent tempranillo, 35 garnacha. Very Good+. About $11. (Eric Solomon European Cellars Selection)
3. Castelmaure Col des Vents 2006, Corbières, France. 50 percent carignan, 35 grenache, 15 syrah. Very Good+. About $12. (Kysela Pere et Fils)

4. Domaine des Vercheres Macon-Villages 2006, Maconnais, France. Excellent. About $13. (Martin Scott Wines)

5. Domaine du Tariquet Sauvignon 2007, Vin de Pays de Cotes de Gascogne, France. Very Good+. About $10. (Robert Kacher)

6. Domaine Sainte-Eugene Rose 2007, Corbières, France. 75 percent cinsault, 15 syrah, 10 grenache. Very Good+. About $11. (Robert Kacher)

7. Dominio de Taras Baltos 2005, Bierzo, Spain. 100 percent red mencia grapes. Very Good+. About $16. (Classical Wines)

8. El Ganador Malbec 2006, Mendoza, Argentina. Very Good+. About $11. (Kysela Pere et Fils)

9. Hess Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Lake County, California. Very Good+. About $11.

10. Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet 2007, Côteaux du Languedoc, France. Very Good+. About $11. (Kysela Pere et Fils)

11. Jean-Maurice Raffault Chinon Rose 2007, Loire Valley, France. Very Good+. About $14. (VOS Selections)

12. Lee Family Farms Silvaspoons Vineyard Verdelho 2007, Alta Mesa, Lodi County. Excellent. About $15.

13. Louis Latour Viré-Clessé 2006, Maconnais, France. Excellent. About $19. (Louis Latour USA)

14. Marchesi di Montecristo Nerello del Bastardo 2002, Vino da Tavolo Rosso, Italy. Very Good+. About $7 at Trader Joe’s.

15. Michele Chiarlo Barbara d’Asti Le Orme 2005, Piedmont, Italy. Very Good+. About $15. (Kobrand Corp)

16. Morgan Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Monterey County. Excellent. About $15.
17. Nobilo Pinot Gris 2007, East Coast, New Zealand. Very Good+. About $13. (Pacific Wine Partners, a division of Constellation)

18. Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2006, Rhone Valley, France. Very Good+. About $14. (Vineyard Brands)

19. Riff Pinot Grigio delle Venezia 2006, Italy. Excellent. About $9. (Dalla Terra Winery Direct)

20. Shannon Creek Syrah 2006, Lake County. Excellent. About $19.

21. Sonoma Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Sonoma County. Very Good+. About $15.

22. Tamari Reserva Torrontés 2008, La Rioja, Mendoza. Very Good+. About $14. (Terlato Wines International)

23. Thorne Clark Pinot Grigio 2007, Eden Valley, Australia. Excellent. About $15. (Kysela Pere et Fils)

24. Vino dei Fratelli Chianti 2006, Tuscany, Italy. Very Good+. About $10. (Quintessential)

25. X Winery Red Wine 2006, California. 60 percent cabernet sauvignon, 22 syrah, 12 zinfandel, 6 petite sirah. Very Good+. About $14.