Many of us are looking for the best wine we can buy without blowing the budget. And some folks make a hobby—or a career—of that search, tasting their way through mountains of bottles to find the wines that really deliver. We asked 12 writers who are the voices of some of the web's most popular wine blogs for their budget wine advice.
What regions offer the best values in wine? What tips can help us find good deals for weeknight bottles? Here's what they had to say.
Tyler Colman, Dr. Vino
Wines under $12 have become more miss than hit in recent years: sadly, the economics of making a wine that's expressive of a single, smallish vineyard don't always work out that way. One place where it does happen is in the Finger Lakes of upstate New York. There are some excellent producers of Riesling in the $12 to $20 range. I poured the 2012 Wiemer Dry Riesling in my NYU wine class the other week and it got a round of thumbs up. The Ravines 2012 is also an excellent value.
Imported wines, somewhat paradoxically, often provide better value in the glass in this price range. Protip: if you're not sure of a producer, check the back label to see the importer. Kermit Lynch, Louis/Dressner, Neal Rosenthal all have great portfolios; Jose Pastor, Selection Massale, and Jenny & Francois have good wines of a "natural" bent.
A couple of reds that are perennial better values are the Terres Dorées "l'Ancien", a bright, light, gulpable (highly complimentary in the local vernacular) Beaujolais, and the De Forville Barbera, another red with higher acidity that has an alluring bitter note on the finish. If you turn those bottles of the 2012 around, you'll see that they are imported by Louis/Dressner and Rosenthal, respectively.
Jameson Fink, Grape Collective
Since the 2003 vintage, my go-to red under $20 has been the Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone. It's 100% Syrah, which is unusual (in a delightful way) for the region. I also think the label is charming and idyllic. Perfect for burgers and pizza.
If you're looking for a red grape that delivers the goods for a modicum of cash, check out Spanish wines made from Monastrell. Juicy enough for Zinfandel fans, yet give the Euro-centric wine palate something to brood over.
When it comes to a region for bargain-hunting white wine lovers, I turn to Gascony in Southwest France. Cheap and cheerful, seek out blends made from grapes like Colombard, Ugni Blanc, and Gros Manseng.
When looking for value at a wine shop, ask anyone working there what they take home on a regular basis. (It's not Grand Cru Burgundy. If it is, ask if they are hiring.) It's going to be something under $20, interesting, unique, tasty, and ever-rotating. You'll increase the depth and breadth of your wine knowledge just by cycling through staff picks every time you stop by.
Elaine Chukan Brown, Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews
Friends call me up or text asking how to find a yummy wine they can afford. Because I'm not there shopping with them I have to give them more general advice. My first response is always check out the Southern France section of your wine shop. It's a huge area that stretches from the Southwest alongside Spain through the Languedoc over into Provence but because these are lesser known wine regions they often get lumped together into just "Southern France" in a wine shop. The upside is all of Southern France offers a lot of value for your money. It's easy to find a yummy wine for under $20, even excellent bubbles. The sparkling wine, Cremant de Limoux, is regularly $15 or less. Going for oysters? Picpoul de Pinet is a great choice! Both of those come from the Languedoc. Need a crowd pleasing red? Grab some Cahors from Southwest France. Want a crisp and refreshing rosé with complexity? Hit up Provence.
Tim Lemke, Cheap Wine Ratings
I'm all over the map with the wines I enjoy, but my weeknight wines tend to be lighter and pair well with the lighter foods I eat during the week. Chenin Blanc from South Africa and Vinho Verde from Portugal are a couple of my favorite choices lately.
South African wines in general offer exceptional value and their Chenin Blanc is amazing. It can take on a number of personalities, from dry and mineral to tropical and vibrant. While there are several good producers, Ken Forrester is at the top of my list for the right balance of quality and value.
Vinho Verde, my other weeknight choice, often has a slight effervescence, a lower alcohol level and dirt cheap prices. It's lively and perfect with a shrimp salad or just for sipping on the deck.
Meg Houston Maker, Maker's Table
On weeknights I want wines that are uncomplicated but still offer plenty of structure and refreshment. My weeknight menus lean heavily on tomato sauces, salads, soups, and lighter meats, and during the summer they're all about whatever's freshest in the garden. The wine needs to have plenty of acidity and savoriness to feel complementary—not be fruit-dominant, in other words—so I pour a lot Old World wines.
For red, I open plenty of Barbera, Valpolicella, and Côte du Rhône, plus other Italian and Spanish red blends. Lately I've been finding great deals from the Languedoc-Roussillon, too. For whites I head to Alsace, the Loire, and Austria (Grüner Veltliner!). When I find something I love, I buy six bottles or a case, since retailers often offer a 10% to 15% discount at quantity. One more thing: I'd open a Cava or Trentino sparkling wine every night if I could. Why wait for the weekend?
David White, Terroirist
With spring just around the corner, I'm craving rosé, bright whites, and bubbles. Rosés are just hitting the market, and this year, I plan on sticking mostly to domestic offerings. For around $20, Red Car's 2013 rosé of Pinot Noir and Turley's 2013 White Zinfandel are both delicious.
Staying in California, I recently tasted the 2012 Albariño from Abrente Wine Cellars, a project from Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock and Michael Havens. If more Albariños from Rías Baixas were this tasty, perhaps I'd drink more of them!
Moving outside our borders, the 2012 German Rieslings are finally stateside, and wow, what a great year. The basic offerings from Dönnhoff and J. J. Prüm can easily be found for less than $20 per bottle and they're fantastic.
Moving to bubbles, François Chidaine offers delicious sparklers from both Montlouis and Vouvray. Albert Mann's Crémant d'Alsace is always a solid choice, and if you can find it, the Crémant de Bourgogne from Domaine des Moirots is delightful.
When I'm shopping for wine, I never hesitate to ask for advice - especially at geeky shops. While at MacArthur Beverages in DC a few nights ago, I asked if any decent Beaujolais could still be found for under $20. I was directed to Pierre-Marie Chermette's 2011 Coeur du Vendange, and it was absolutely stunning.
Lenn Thompson, New York Cork Report
During the week, my wife and I live largely vegetarian lives—so I feel less guilty about all the pork products I eat on the weekends. We cook a lot of well-spiced, sometimes-spicy, higher-acid foods. That diet, combined with intrepid interest in local wines—I'm lucky to live a barrel toss from Long Island wine country—and you end up with my current weeknight obsession: Macari Vineyards 2013 "Early Wine" Chardonnay ($17).
This is probably unlike any chardonnay you've had. The grapes were harvested weeks earlier than normal for the region—on September 7—and after a short fermentation, it was bottled right after Halloween and released on winemaker Kelly Urbanik Koch's birthday. You can think of it as chardonnay nouveau, I guess, but it's not just a marketing ploy.
Citrusy—think lemon and grapefruit—with crunchy green apple acidity and flavors that are accented by notes of apple blossom, it's a juicy, crowd-pleasing wine. Though off-dry, it crackles with acidity—both taming spicy foods and standing up to all of the lemon, lime and vinegar we cook with.
Like so many of the foods we enjoy, this wine is somewhat seasonal. It shines brightest as close to its release date as possible—in all of its vivacious, refreshing glory. And, in a region that often struggles to deliver at the under-$20 price point, this one over-delivers.
Alder Yarrow, Vinography
Finding great wines under twenty bucks can be one of a wine lover's most rewarding quests. The first step must always be building a good relationship with a great independent wine retailer, if that is at all possible. Shopping regularly at such a store can help the staff learn your tastes, and then they can do all the work for you! Having said that, there are definitely places to look for great wines in that price range.
For those who enjoy Sauvignon Blanc and fruity Bordeaux-style blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Chile provides a well-known source of phenomenal values. As examples try the Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc or their red blend called Primus. For those looking to drink a little more off the beaten path, my recommendations lean towards some of the lesser known wine regions in the world: Assyrtiko from the Greek island of Santorini for a fish-friendly, mineral-driven white wine made by Domaine Sigalas; or the Cinsault-based red blend called "Jeune" made by Chateau Musar in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. These days if you're willing to spend at least $15 on a bottle, the world is your oyster.
Alice Feiring, The Feiring Line
Two from Domaine Deux Anes are my favs—Premier Pas—now carbonic which doesn't thrill me as much yet still really great. Their Fontanilles? Doesn't get better—rich, round, iron-edged, sunny.
My go-to beginner wine is from the south of France. Cote du Rhone. Kermit Lynch's signature Cote Du Rhone, is a classic, about $17 and yummy. The Loire used to jump with them, but these days, few exist under $20—except some really terrific Bourgueil from Dom de la Chevalerie.
Pamela Heiligenthal, EnoBytes
I haven't met a country yet that hasn't surprised me with some little gem hiding in some unknown region, or a variety that, although I can't pronounce, brings something special to the table at a sensible price. I would recommend heading to Greece to try a refreshing Assyrtiko, or go with Sémillon from Australia. As for reds, you will never go wrong with rich, ripe Malbec or Torrontés from Argentina. If you are looking for a lighter style, I recommend traveling to lesser-known Italian appellations like Valtellina and Gattinara, which make elegant, structured wines. Another country that knows a thing or two about value and quality is Spain, offering extremely versatile styles, from Garnacha to Tempranillo and Mencia to food friendly whites like Godello and Cava. From France, hit up the Loire, Cotes du Rhone, Minervois, Languedoc-Rousillon and Cahors. The bottom line is to be adventurous and try different wines to find your next favorite.
A few specific recommendations:
2010 Bodega DiamAndes "Perlita" Malbec Mendoza Argentina ($9) Juicy plum and spices balanced with black sweet fruit; a delicious bargain.
2010 Perrin et Fils, Cotes du Rhone Villages France ($12): Dense black fruits sit on a frame of licorice and spice; lively and inviting.
2011 Cave Des Vignerons De Saumur Les Pouches ($12): A pretty style with pure flavors of cedar, tobacco and olives; a great value.
2012 Cave Du Haut Poitou Sauvignon Haut Poitou Château La Fuye ($14): Flinty and racy with plenty of citrus and zest.
2012 Hatzidakis Assyrtiko Santorini Greece ($15): Zesty, full-bodied white wine with good citrus and acidity; it likes to play center stage.
2011 Brokenwood Sémillon Hunter Valley New South Wales Australia ($18): Focused and clean with flavors of honey, pear and lemon.
2010 Mamete Prevostini "Botonero" Nebbiolo Valtellina Italy ($16): Fruit forward and soft, with classic Nebbiolo "tar and roses" flavors and aromas
2010 Bodegas Valdemar "Inspiracion" Tempranillo Rioja Spain ($18): A modern Rioja style with red fruits and mineral; fresh, bright acidity.
Joe Roberts, 1 Wine Dude
For my money, the best value wines are those that aren't trying to be something that they're not, that aren't trying too hard to deliver aspects that more expensive wines deliver, that are just being authentic. And if you're taking Tuesday nights, you're talking higher acid wines, because you just want them to play nice at the dinner table.
I think that Italy is actually coming out very strong in that category right now, if you look for regions that don't get a ton of press such as Sicily. In terms of varieties, I'm loving Vermentino in that price range. For reds, Beaujolais-Villages is a great buy in that range, too.
John Thorsen, The Reverse Wine Snob
My favorite region for value wines right now has to be the Calatayud in Spain. Where else in the world can you get wine made from 50 to 100 year old vines for around $10? The Garnacha from this area is uniformly excellent and frankly, dirt cheap. (It also helps that Garnacha doesn't get its due as a stand-alone varietal wine.) Whether the wines spend time in oak like the Bodegas Filon or Bodegas Atteca or just stainless steel like the Evodia, these wines offer the complexity to easily compete with bottles more than two or three times their price.
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