In this month’s Five Wines Under $15 – with one wine stepping a toe over the line, we focus on value wines that deliver the goods.

A high tide lifts all boats as the saying goes – and an ebbing tide can drag them out to sea. It’s never more true than with value priced wines. In good vintages, value wines can often shine with across the board quality and value. In challenging vintages, these wines can sometimes suffer from any one of a number of maladies.

The last several vintages have been remarkably variable in Washington, with 2011 the coolest vintage on record followed by a vintage that tracked to historical averages in 2012 and now, in 2013, the second warmest vintage behind 2003. Who said we don’t have vintage variations?

Despite these challenges, the Pacific Northwest’s value producers have found different ways to succeed. While 2012 was somewhat of a challenging year for high end white wines – with the long, dry summer leading to alcohol levels frequently above 14% that sometimes left the wines out of balance – these same factors sometimes led to high quality value whites where growers were hanging higher crop loads. The result is some truly impressive whites on the shelf from the 2012 vintage, as indicated below. This is assuming, of course, that growers and wineries didn’t hang too large a crop!

Meanwhile, in 2011, the cool vintage – speaking generally – produced much more elegantly styled red wines. At their worst, in terms of the value priced wines, these offerings can be thin, green, and/or excessively tart. But at their best they can show a remarkable sense of elegance and restraint. And while 2011 wasn’t quite the vintage for whites that 2010 was, which was exceptional, an abundance of good white wines were produced.

Below are five wines from 2011 and 2012 that maximized the potential of their respective vintages. With the holidays coming up, consider these high quality wines to offer up to you thirsty masses.

Columbia Crest Grand Estates Unoaked Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2012 $12
(Excellent) A direct and aromatically appealing wine with pear, melon, freshly cut pineapple, and tropical fruit. The palate is medium-plus bodied with concentrated, rounded fruit flavors that lead to a tart finish with a pleasing all-around balance. About as good of an unoaked Chardonnay as I’ve seen from Washington at a price that’s outrageous for the quality that’s in the bottle. 100% Chardonnay. Fermented and aged in stainless steel. 13.5% alcohol.

Erath Pinot Blanc Oregon 2012 $14
(Excellent) A lightly aromatic wine initially that opens to reveal with an assortment of tropical fruit, including kiwi and pineapple, along with honeysuckle and citrus spritz. The palate is medium bodied and drinks almost bone dry with citrus and melon flavors. Neiderberger, Quail Run, and Winkler vineyards. 13.5% alcohol. 0.08g/100ml Residual Sugar. 2,000 cases produced.

Columbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2011 $12
 (Good/Excellent) Moderately aromatic with buttery notes, vanilla, mango, caramel, toast, and spice. The palate is creamy in feel with abundant vanilla and other oak flavors. The barrel notes are featured here but for those looking for this style the price is right. 100% Chardonnay. Aged 8 months in one to three year old American and French oak barrels with 24% aged in stainless steel. 13.5% alcohol.

Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot Columbia Valley 2011 $12
 (Good/Excellent) An aromatically appealing wine with carob,  chocolate, cherries, toast, and raspberries. The palate is lighter in style but still with very good concentration of the chocolate and cherry flavors, soft tannins, and an extended, butterscotch filled finish. 96% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged 14 months in oak (33% new). 13.5% alcohol.

Goose Ridge g3 Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2012 $16
 (Good/Excellent) Winemaker Kendall Mix has shown a knack for making Chardonnay over the years and it’s displayed nicely here. This is an aromatically appealing wine with toasty barrel spices, pineapple, mango, pear, and cream. The palate is fuller bodied and rich in style with a creamy feel and abundant tropical fruit and spice flavors, displaying a beautiful sense of balance throughout. 100% Chardonnay. Goose Ridge Estate Vineyard. Partially barrel fermented as well as stainless steel. 13.8% alcohol. 2,069 cases produced.