East coast, West coast. The age old battle. I live in New York, but a growing number of my friends are moving to San Francisco. I live in the greatest city in the world, but they have the consistency of 60 and sunny (or in the oppressive "summer" months of September and October, 70 and sunny). And as holiday travel approaches, I hear that little hint of pity in people's voices when they tell me they're going home to California. It's like they're saying, "I'm sorry you have to stay over here, where the sun dies at 4 p.m. and it's so cold you can't feel your fingers. I'm going home to work on my tan and play with my pet unicorn."
Well, guess what. I don't need a tan!
I will admit I'm a little jealous of how much wine they have at their fingertips with just a leisurely drive. There's exciting stuff happening out there; lots of small producers making unusual, interesting wine. But since this column focuses on affordable and widely available wines, I decided to check out a few under-$10 California options from the comfort of my (well-heated) East coast home.
We chose five grape varieties and lined up the Bogle and Beringer bottles head to head—Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Both are budget friendly: the Beringer Founders' Estate line costs around $8 a bottle, whereas the Bogle wines tend to be a couple dollars more at around $10. But are there any winners in the bunch?
Best Sauvignon Blanc: Beringer
The Sauvignon Blanc from Beringer won this round—it was simply more interesting than the Bogle option. Tropical aromas, like ripe papaya, lifted out of the glass. The wine itself was relatively dry, with clean lemon flavors and a bit of salinity toward the end. Fatty cured meats are a good accompaniment here—think delicate prosciutto and mortadella, not spicy salamis that would overwhelm the wine's flavors.
Best Chardonnay: Bogle
Bogle's Chardonnay was easily our favorite of all of the white wines. While the vanilla and caramel scents on this one clearly gave away that you should expect some oak, the flavor wasn't too overwhelming—you just got a hit of buttery, almost burnt popcorn at the end. Before that, this California Chard gave you nice apple fruitiness cut by a pleasant mineral side. It's perfect before dinner, on its own or with goat cheese and crackers, or try it with a simple chicken salad.
Best Merlot: Bogle
We weren't overwhelmingly wowed by the reds, but this Merlot or the Beringer Cab would be decent options to get for a weekday dinner. The Bogle Merlot had a somewhat smoky scent and dark cherry flavors. The wine had bright acidity and stronger tannins than we found in the Pinot Noir, but the alcohol here was slightly hot. It's a good partner to grilled steak.
Best Cabernet Sauvignon: Beringer
Of the two Cabernets, preferred the Beringer—it was a bit more round and full than the Bogle. The prominent acidity made our mouths water, and the wine finished with toasty oak flavors and a little spice. Consider having steak or a meaty stew on the table with this wine.
Best Pinot Noir: Beringer
Both pinots were a bit disappointing. The Beringer Pinot smelled slightly sweeter than the Bogle, and the wine had an oaky vanilla layer we couldn't quite get past. Given all the sweet oaky flavor, the cherry zing was ever-so-slightly fake tasting, more on the maraschino side. But it beat out the Bogle, which felt a little astringent to us. Pair salty cheeses with either one.
Are you a regular buyer of either of these brands? Which bottles from Bogle and Beringer do you like best? Are there other affordable wines from California that you'd recommend? Let us know in the comments below!
About the author: Seema Gunda is an avid wine traveler, collector, and student with a background in chemistry and a day job in consulting.
All wines were provided as samples for review consideration.