For those of us who dismissed South Africa’s Pinotage (Pee-no-taj) as metal-hard and inaccessible, rediscovering Pinotage was like rediscovering Bob Marley in the Wailer days. The next honorable mention goes to the unsung Aglianico (A-lee-an-ee-koe), our hood grape hailing from Basilicata, (one of the poorest regions in Italy), its depth of complexity recalling Jay (before Tom Ford) and Nas when he was Illmatic.

But let’s talk practicality. These wines offer awesome value for your dollar. For those of us who don’t have fancy bottle gadgets to keep the wines fresh after they’re opened, these wines held up even when refrigerated overnight. Some tasted better. It’s like the second time you heard that beat that transcended your circumstance, making you bob and move like a note in the score, a grape on the vine.


1) 2009 Paraiso Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands ($20)

You might think I’m crazy but I’m serious: This Pinot Noir is Janet Jackson’s "Pleasure Principle" in a bottle. An addictive 'morning after' musk meets bing cherry, raspberry, cinnamon and cloves on the palate. Lush and round like Janet (Ms. Jackson, if you’re nasty).

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2) 2009 Tenuta Del Portale Le Vigne A Capanno Aglianico Del Vulture ($20)

Aglianico aint no joke. The beautiful brick red color cradles a medium body that boasts raspberry cobbler, candied ginger and Provincial herb aromas like lavender and fennel. After a night in the fridge, Maraschino cherry, ginger and clove flavors sailed through a long, Rakim-like finish.

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3) 2010 Spier 21 Gables Private Collection Pinotage ($25)

There’s a natural mystic blowing through the air. This is a roots and kulcha (culture) wine with its aromas of Caribbean red soil, jerk pork smoking on a pit, burning charcoal, and roasted peanuts. There are decadent, dark fruits on the palate and when paired with oxtail stew and curry goat, it’s magic.

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4) 2009 House of Mandela Chardonnay Reserve ($30)

It’s not just the papaya, passion fruit, vanilla and roasted peanut aromas and flavors that make this Chardonnay so beguilingly charismatic. It’s that African funk that recalls Fela Kuti and Sly and The Family Stone. And for you, Chardonnay-haters, this wine boasts elegant acidity and sumptuous minerality.

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5) 2010 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Zinfandel ($35)

Everyday Zins can often jam like heavy metal. But this wine is smooth and soulful like Lenny Kravitz’s 5 album. That touch of Petite Sirah gives it a velvety, smooth body. On the nose, there’s mint and eucalyptus and by the next day, I was in Provence sniffing lavender, fennel and Lenny’s old locs.  

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6) 2004 Bernard Brémont Millésimé Grand Cru Brut Champagne ($55)

She doesn’t need "The Glamorous Life." But she does need the tangerine, nectarine, almond butter and warm apple crisp aromas and flavors that drum through a pearl-smooth body. 

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7) 2009 Paul Cluver Elgin Pinot Noir ($19)

This wine offers the "Sweetest Taboo" with its enigmatic aromas of South African game. It unravels slowly, but after an hour, its elegant, light body reveals black pepper and clove spice. 

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8) 2010 Girard Petite Sirah Napa Valley ($30)

This wine may be your next "Bad Habit" with its smooth, velvety texture combined with black cherry, black currants, hibiscus, lilac, and a touch of sage on the nose and on the palate. The next day, it’s even more Maxwell-sexy.

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Note: Free wine club membership offers 20% discount


9) Rondel Brut Cava ($9)

We found bubbles in a hopeless place. If you love sparkling wine but you don’t have Champagne dollars, this is a delicious value with its crème fraîche, Gala apple and honey roasted almond aromas and flavors.  

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10) Medici Ermete Quercioli Lambrusco Reggiano D.O.C. Secco ($9)

If you feel "Some Type of Way" because you don’t have Barolo-dollars, this sparkling dry red’s dreamy violet color boasts floral aromas that ride through vibrant, mouthwatering red fruit flavors.

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Note: Wine shipment is not available to all states, but do not despair, some of these wines may be available at your local wine store. If not, the wine steward or manager may be able to get the wine through the distributor.


Dinkinish O’Connor is an award-winning writer. Her food sojourns have taken her everywhere from the shanty town bistros of Kingston to the gnarly vineyards of Bordeaux. She has written for Wine Spectator, Condé Nast Traveler, The Miami Herald and other publications. Dinkinish received her sommelier certification and hosts innovative wine tastings. To see what’s happening in Dinkinish’s sumptuous, little world, check out, Gourmet Squatter, a blog that explores how to sip high on a low budget.