My brother recently made a request that I recommend a few wines for his anniversary dinner. His criteria was deceptively simple. Rhone blend or pinot noir with mineral-y and/or barnyard-y flavors around $40. Here's my the gist of my suggestions.
(Note: Sadly, most of my tasting notes have gone MIA having moved 4 times last year, but here are a few I remember fondly!)
First off, at your price point, most good wine shops in a half-decent city will be able to point you toward a fantastic bottle if you talk with them for a bit. The +/- $40 range is by far the best value to price area of wine. But if you're looking to go off the beaten path, I'll toss a few out.
Monterey is making some of the best, most firmly acidic and minerally Pinots in the world at the moment, I might suggest one of these three that I've tried:
But as long as you express a preference for a more refined, tannic French profile, you'll be able to find great Pinots all over that region.
On the funkier side, Doug Margerum is making the most fantastic syrahs out of various small batches of grapes from vineyards in the Santa Barbara area. Any of them are great but he's know for his "Uber" blend. Personally, I find a couple of his single vineyard offerings more charming (usually the best, and the one that provides the structure for "Uber", is http://tastesofthevalleys.3dcartstores.com/Margerum-Syrah-Purisima-Mountain-2006_p_146.html)
On the deeply powerful, funky and structured end from Napa, you can still catch the last vintage of Joseph Phelp's Rhone-style syrah blend Le Mistral, the first Napa-style Rhone-Blend. This vineyard and name were just sold, so who knows how the new one will fair, but I opened three bottles of this at a dinner party one time and it blew people away. This one will age for a while and pairs fantastic with rich pork and game dishes.
One of the most interesting wines from a classic Santa Rita AVA pinot producer is a *clone specific* pinot from Alama Rosa. All of their wines are fantastically structured. But this one is great for it's dark forest floor and mushroom characteristics. It's called 2008 Pinot Noir - Clone 667, La Encantada Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills
And just to offer up a very strange, but mind-blowing alternative white wine that may be well past your price-point, but worth looking for is the classic biodynamic Nicolas Joly Chenin Blanc. It is a white wine that decimates even good red wine in terms of flavor, body. length and food-friendliness.
Happy anniversary to David and Kate, and best wishes for the summer to all of you!