Looking for wine value? Check out this racy albariño from Spain that packs a lot of fruit flavors into a vibrant white wine.
We also have two delicious South African reds that display the fruity and savory sides of the pinotage grape. And just for fun, here are two sparkling wines — a top-notch Champagne with just a touch of sweetness and a moscato d'Asti that will brighten any dessert.
Nessa Albariño 2018
Three stars. Rias Baixas, Spain, $17
Racy with aromas and flavors of kumquat and lime, this lovely, crisp white wine from Galicia, in northwestern Spain, is ideal for lighter seafood dishes. Alcohol by volume: 13.5%.
Kaapzicht Pinotage 2016
Three stars. Stellenbosch, South Africa, $27
Pinotage is South Africa's equivalent of California's zinfandel — a grape so identified with a particular region that it is almost an exclusive. I've seen a few pinotage wines from Virginia and at least one from California, but South Africa has the most by far. Kaapzicht makes a lovely, bright version with berry fruit and a good frame of tannin to sustain the long finish. ABV: 14%.
Lievland Vineyards Bushvine Pinotage 2017
Three stars. Paarl, South Africa, $23
Here's a more savory expression of pinotage, from old vines. There is dark fruit here, but the lasting impression is a comforting earthiness, with hints of wild mushrooms and forest air. Some wines display liveliness and energy. This wine's stillness suggests power waiting to be unleashed. ABV: 13.5%.
Heidsieck & Co. Monopole "Gout Americain" Extra Dry
Two-and-a-half stars. Champagne, France, $40
There are, at least, three distinct Heidsiecks in Champagne: Piper-Heidsieck, Charles Heidsieck and Heidsieck & Co. Monopole. More than a century ago, Heidsieck Monopole, as the company is commonly called, developed an off-dry cuvee of Champagne called "Gout Americain," even then reflecting the American sweet tooth. Confusingly, the label says it was developed for the Russian czar and his court. (I suspect there's a good story there, but the company website lacks an explanation.)
The blend became popular with passenger liners as a festive tipple during Atlantic crossings. Well, we all know what happened to the Russian czar and luxury liners; so too with Gout Americain. Recently, the company resurrected the blend, complete with a lovely throwback label. Don't be put off by the "Extra Dry" designation. The wine lacks the razor's edge of a bone-dry Brut Nature, but it is not noticeably sweet. It is juicy, with berry flavors and a soft embrace for your palate. Enjoy it by itself, or as an end-of-meal toast with soft, creamy cheeses or a fruit-based dessert. ABV: 12.5%.
Ca' d'Gal Moscato d'Asti "Sant'Ilario" 2017
Two-and-a-half stars. Italy, $30.
Moscato d'Asti is not the cheap, sweet, fizzy moscato that was all the rage a few years ago. This style of wine has been around for a long time. While it is sweet and fizzy, the low alcohol helps make it versatile with food, especially brunch and desserts. Christmas cookies, anyone?
The Sant'Ilario from Ca' d'Gal takes moscato toward the serious end of the scale, adding depth and complexity. Its bright berry flavors will still bring a smile to your face. The same producer makes a moscato called "Lumine" that costs $20 and is a bit more expressively fruity. ABV: 5%.
Three stars: Exceptional. Two stars: Excellent. One star: Very good. Prices are approximate. Check Winesearcher.com to verify availability, or ask a favorite wine store to order through a distributor.