Saint Hilaire 2006 Blanquette de Limoux Brut, France $14
What’s the oldest sparkling wine of France? Surprise! It’s not Champagne! Monks of the abbey of Saint Hilaire began producing sparkling wine in 1531, nearly 200 years before Dom Perignon & Cie. In fact, Blanquette de Limoux lays claim to being the world’s first sparkler. Limoux lies in the western Languedoc region, close by the divide between Atlantic and Mediterranean France. Its principal white grape variety is blanquette. This 2006 shows an impressive degree of lush, nutty bottle bouquet to complement its bright, zesty apple and lemon fruit. The mousse is fine, the acidity lively. Will serve well on its own, or with heavy hors d’oeuvres such as sea scallops sautéed in olive oil.

La Capra 2009 Coastal Region Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa $11
When the subject of Southern Hemisphere Sauvignon Blanc is broached, New Zealand comes first to mind, then Chile. South Africa deserves mention in the same breath. Its top Sauvignon Blancs are among the world’s best. Fuller bodied than its Antipodean rivals, they are more akin to the dry white wines of Graves. La Capra is a new, upscale brand by Charles Back, maker of Goats do Roam. He’s fashioned a fruit revelation here, full of sauvignon grass, gooseberry, and citrus; replete with both plumpness and crispness. We’ve enjoyed this with vegetable samosas.

La Vieille Ferme 2009 Luberon Blanc, France $9
The Perrin family of famous Chateauneuf du Pape estate, Chateau Beaucastel, created its La Vieille Ferme (The Old Farm) brand ten years ago, allowing the brothers to expand their winemaking talents to other southern Rhone Valley regions. Its white wine typically comes from the Luberon range of northern Provence. Its appellation, long known as Cotes de Luberon, was recently abbreviated, perhaps to give it more “local” distinction. Of traditional varieties Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Ugni Blanc, and Roussanne, this 2009 displays size, richness, and penetration. I suggest slow-roasted turkey drumsticks and a stock reduction laced with sage.

Fontana Candida 2009 Frascati Superiore, Italy $10
One of Italy’s most-beloved dry white wines, Frascati comes from a village in the hills surrounding Rome--from the region of Latium (Lazio). Typically a delicate wine, it is very sensitive to both temperature and time, and is best consumed within 18 months of production. In view of this, Fontana Candida, the leading producer, once shipped it to the States solely by air. The brilliant 2009 belies such delicacy. This is a remarkable Frascati. Larger than life, fabulously expressive and giving, determined to please. It boasts aromas and flavors of apple, pear, melon, and citrus. The finish remains true to type: long, crisp, and refreshing. Pasta primavera beckons.

Marques de Riscal 2009 Rueda Blanco, Spain $10
Marques de Riscal is one of the oldest Rioja bodegas, dating from 1858. It’s hardly stuck in the past though, the progressive mind set here best illustrated by its daring new “City of Wine” designed by Frank Gehry. Marques de Riscal was the first Rioja house to exploit the Rueda region and its Verdejo vineyards along the Duero (Douro) river southwest of Rioja, expressly for  white-wine production. The latest vintage is cool and crisp-edged, with a plump fruit core and an aura of the Verdejo grape’s exotica. Soft on the approach, it finishes tensile and bright, with refreshing citrus-peel tang. Roast Chicken sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning fills the bill here.

Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler 2009 Noble House Mosel Riesling, Germany $12
One of the grand old patrician estates of the Mittel Mosel, Pauly-Bergweiler lists distinguished parcels in several of the region’s top vineyards, including Bernkasteler Badstube and Wehlener Sonnenuhr. While Spatleses and Ausleses from these sites fetch high prices, Dr. Pauly offers an entry-level Mosel Riesling from lesser sites that won’t break the bank. And what a wonderfully complex wine this 2009 is! Its aroma range includes apple, peach, lime, loquat, nutmeg, and flowers. The palate is piquant, balanced, and long. A delicious combo of ripeness and raciness. Broiled trout garnished with butter, herbs, and lemon would make the cats meow.

Zolo 2009 Mendoza Torrontes, Argentina $12
Torrontes is Argentina’s signature white grape variety. It’s a native of Spain but seldom seen in those parts today. It’s highly aromatic, sometimes reminding me of Muscat, sometimes of Gewurztraminer, and sometimes simply...Torrontes! Unlike many highly-scented wines, it is typically finished dry. Zolo’s 2009 shows aspects of both Muscat and Gewurztraminer, the aromas speaking of rose, orange, and peach. There’s an innate astringency akin to Muscat and Gewurz that renders it eminently food-worthy. Especially with Thai-inspired fusion cuisine.

Bodegas Muga 2009 Rioja Rose, Spain $12
The majority of the world’s top dry rosés come from countries bordering the Mediterranean, particularly from Spain, France, and Italy. They are typically made from red grape varieties, fermented in the presence of their pigment-yielding peels for a period of hours rather than days, thereby acquiring just a blush of color. Muga is one of only a few producers that incorporates white grapes in its cuvee, here 30% Viura, Rioja’s leading white variety. Hardly an “airline” rosé, this 2009 is fresh, crisp, dry, and penetrating, conveying an aromatic complex of juicy red plum, cherry, berries, and white peach. It has the body and power to stand it well through the cold months, with food appropriate to the fall/winter seasons. How about starting with a pork roast, fat layer left intact.

J. Lohr 2009 Wildflower Monterey Valdiguie, California $10
The varietal Valdiguie was once sold in California as “Napa Gamay,” until that name was banished by authorities. Lohr remains its sole booster. It’s rightly associated with Beaujolais Gamay grape variety because its wine is lithe, fresh, and immediate, and so effusively perfumed and low in tannin that a good, thirst-quenching chill fails to diminish its aromatics. Lohr’s is always marked by boysenberry aromas, to which 2009 adds cherry and cranberry. Its juicy palate boasts vigorous acidity and plentiful sweet fruit to balance. I’m thinking a spicy andouillette.

Melini 2009 Chianti Borghi d’Elsa, Italy $8

Founded in 1705, the Melini estate has grown to encompass over 1300 acres of Chianti vineyards, most in Chianti Classico. This bottling comes from villages bordering the Elsa river just west of Classico. The 2009 is a decidedly “Happy Face” Tuscan vintage, this fruity, upbeat, vivacious representative certainly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  Its juicy fruit acidity directs you to take it right to the table. Chicken Cacciatore will fill the bill.

Aveleda 2007 Douro Charamba, Portugal $8

A weak worldwide market for fortified wines has induced Port producers to channel more and more of the Douro Valley’s grapes into table wine production. This one is made from traditional Port varieties Roriz, Barroca, Franca, and Nacional. The vintage is exceptional (declared for Vintage Port), yielding a dry red wine exuding raspberry, cassis, cherry, and spice aromas and flavors. Marked by largesse, warmth, and amplitude, as well as fine tannins, it is an unusual find: a wine under $10 that is ageworthy. Not to say you can’t serve it now with braised beef liver.

Casa Lapostolle 2009 Rapel Valley Carmenere, Chile $12
Discovered in Chile’s Merlot vineyards barely 20 years ago, Carmenere, a Bordeaux native largely abandoned in France, has come into its own and might be reckoned today Chile’s signature red grape variety. I call it “Merlot on Steroids,” because its wines are so super soft, lush, and abundant. You won’t find a better example of Carmenere’s irresistible allure than this paragon of ripe 2009. Just how plush can a dry red wine get?! Duck breast with cherry sauce will meet its match.

Henry’s Drive 2008 Morse Code Padthaway Shiraz, Australia $10

Padthaway lies well south of Australia’s famous Shiraz regions Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. It’s not far north of Coonawarra. Henry’s Drive takes its name from an old mail coach route through the area. Joining the winery’s popular Pillar Box label is its new Morse Code conception, which stands out clearly on retailers’ shelves. The wine portrays cool-climate, upscale Shiraz at a very reasonable price. Boysenberry and peppercorn are key notes. Equilibrium is its strong suit, not to mention the generosity of a warm vintage. Kobe beef sliders recommended.

Hess 2008 Artezin Amador-Mendocino-Sonoma Zinfandel, California $15

Swiss baron of bottled water, Donald Hess has turned water into wine...well at least the profits from water sales. He converted the Christian Brothers’ Mont St. LaSalle winery on Mount Veeder into a grand display of his modern art collection and the center of a burgeoning wine empire. Hess’s cross-appellation Artezin Zinfandel is a perennial winner that is an especially noteworthy achievement in the cool 2008 vintage. Black raspberry, red raspberry, and black pepper show harmonious contributions from all three winegrowing regions, and a kiss of toasty oak completes the package. A winemaking tour de force at a bargain price. Don’t put away that grill yet. This wine wants country spare ribs with a sweet, tangy BBQ sauce.

Offley Baron de Forrester Ruby Porto, Portugal $15

Founded in 1737, Offley Forrester is a port producer of long standing indeed. Colorful Baron Forrester was the industry’s driving force in its early days. Sadly, his career was shortened when his barca sank in the Douro river’s rapids and he went under weighed down by a money-belt filled with funds to pay his employees. His lady friend aboard, buoyed by her crinolines, floated to safety. Ruby is the youngest of red Ports, averaging 2-3 years only in cask. Here’s a classic: fruity, black, pitchy, spiritous, roasted, and sweet. Oh what a winter warmer for sipping beside the fireplace, accompanied by a bowlful of dried Michigan cherries.