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20 High-Low Late Summer Wines

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We have about three weeks until Labor Day weekend, the end of summer. This is my favorite time of year for food and for wine. When the temperature rises I instinctively reach for an aromatic white or rosé. Of all the wines I've been drinking this summer, my favorites fall into two distinct price categories: $15 or less, or over $15. Many of my go to wines come from Trader Joe's and are less than $10.

That got me thinking about fashion, and how the most stylish dressers put together outfits that are high-low combinations. For example, you pair a H&M top at $14.99 with Tory Burch pants that cost $295 and a pair of Michael Michael Kors shoes (his 2nd label, also called a diffusion line) for $120. And you probably get more compliments on the H&M top than you do the pants or shoes.

With high-low wine you can find some fabulous bottles for less than $15 that I bet you'll get compliments on. But every now and then you want to splurge on a great pair of $300 boots just because. Same with wine, there are just some times when a splurge on a bottle with a price tag of $20 or higher is justified. I've made list of 20 wines, with pairs grouped according to the high-low principle.

Veuve Cliqout Brut yellow label Champagne may not have a Dom Perignon price tag, but it's a good splurge at $45 (sometimes you can find it for a little less at Costco). Prosecco is sparkling wine from Italy made in the traditional method of Champagne, but you can pick up a bottle for a lot less. Zonin makes a nice, crisp brut Prosecco that you can usually find at Trader Joe's for $6.99.

Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favorite warm weather wines, and Honig in Napa Valley consistantly makes a terrific one for $16. A nice lower priced alternative is the Parducci Mendocino County Sauvginon Blanc. For $11 you get an award winning wine (gold medal in San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition) made following sustainable practices.

One of my wine discoveries is the 2008 L'Avion from Stolpman Vineyards in Santa Ynez Valley. This 100% Roussanne is an aromatic white wine, with floral, tropical and honey notes. Its a splurge at $38. My other discovery is from Trader Joe's. I've been buying up the Hillgate 2010 Roussanne from Lake County, CA. At $6.99 it's an amazing deal.

I do love the Rhone white varietals - they're rich and aromatic. Ma(i)sonry in Napa Valley produces a beautiful Marsanne that's melony and floral for $38. But when I'm looking for an everyday wine, I go for the M. Chapoutier "Belleruche" Blanc Cotes du Rhone from France. You can't beat the $8-$9 price tag for this white blend of Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Bourboulenc. (I received "Belleruche" as a sample.)

Sticking with Rhone-inspired white blends, Sarah's Vineyard in Gilroy, CA makes Cote de Madone Blanc, with the classic stone fruit and floral aromas. This proprietary blend, from the Santa Clara Valley, is $25. For the low choice, Big House White is also a very aromatic blend, but costs just $6.99 at Trader Joe's and various supermarkets.

Pinot Gris is a rich, medium bodied and fragrant white. Breggo makes an Anderson Valley Pinot Gris for $25 that's just beautiful to sip. (I received the Breggo Pinot Gris as a sample - and loved it.) For a deal here, turn to Sokol Blosser's Evolution, a blend of 9 varietals, including Pinot Gris. This wine hails from Oregon and sells for $15.

You've probably guessed I'm a Chard no way kind of girl. But recently one Chardonnay blew me away. I tasted it at a press tour at Oakville Ranch in Napa Valley. Even though it is barrel aged in 70% new French oak, the oak influence is so subtle and the fruit just shines. Could sip this all day. We tasted the 2009 Chardonnay which will be released soon. At $45 it's a real splurge. For a deal, I'll grab a bottle of Big House "Unchained" Naked Chardonnay, a delicious unoaked wine for $9.99. (I received the Big House Chard as a sample.)

Another aromatic white I like is Gruner Veltliner from Austria. The Karl Steininger "Loisium" is full of green apple and citrus, so it has really good acidity. You'll find this for around $22-$24. A fun alternative is a white wine blend made of Semillon and other obscure white varietals that create Sherman& Hooker's Shebang. This $13 wine is made from old vines in Sonoma Valley by Morgan Peterson who just happens to be the son of Joel Peterson, who is well-known for his Zinfandels (his Vintner's Blend Zinfandel is also a great deal at less than $10).

To me it's not summer without Rosé wines. If you follow my blogging, you'll know how much I like Azur Wine's Rosé, made from Syrah, which sells for $26. I can't drink like that every night, so my go to inexpensive wine is the Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé for $10-$12. This is a Rosé of Malbec from Mendoza in Argentina.

I discovered Comartin Cellars wines about a year ago and really like their Rosé. They call it Adelaide's Rosé and it's made from Grenache grapes in the Central Coast of California. It's named after the daughter of the couple who own the winery. Adelaide reminds me of being in the south of France. Even though it's $20 I want a less expensive option. That would be Robert Hall Rosé de Robles, from Paso Robles, a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Cinsaut and Counoise for $11. I've bought it for less at Trader Joe's.

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