You might not want to shell out a fortune on wine for a weeknight dinner or picnic in the park, but that doesn't mean you want to drink plonk. There are loads of delicious and affordable wines out there—if you know where to look. We asked our crew of sommeliers from around the country for their favorite bottles under $20.
Here are their picks.
"I make it a general rule to have a good supply of Muscadet around my house at all times. The wines are usually terrific values, fresh but mineral-endowed and wildly adaptable to all kinds of food. Some of my favorites are by Michel Delhommeau and Jo Landron. As a bonus, Jo Landron also sports one of the most impressive un-ironic mustaches of our century, so there's that, too."—Steven Grubbs (Empire State South and 5 & 10)
"Patrick Piuze Petit Chablis 2013 should be coming out soon. This is usually right around (or less than) $20. This racy, mineral-driven wine has everything I love in Chablis in a price range that I can drink on a regular occasion."—Caleb Ganzer (Eleven Madison Park)
"I got to Dolores Park in San Francisco a lot, so I am often at Bi-Rite looking for sub-$20 bottles. Birichino and Copain make incredible rosé just under $20, Bourgogne blancs and chardonnays from Macon Villages from great producers are always good bets, and the liter bottles of Etz Gruner Veltliner are a favorite to bring to the park. All of these are perfect for my picnic basket full of cheese, prosciutto, dolmas, and hummus on a hot day."—Cara Patricia (Saison / Bright Wine Fund)
"There are a lot of great syrah-based wines out there. Seek out the amazing producer Rene Rostaing, who makes wines from the Languedoc called Puech Noble that are incredible values. There are also a ton of amazing Austrian wines out there like Hirsch Veltliner: crisp and fresh and delicious. Develop a relationship with a local wine shop and get them to help. Start slow: ask for the least expensive amazing wine they have and go from there. If you like the wines they are giving you then go back and speak to the same person. We all have different palates so finding someone who gets what you are looking for is the place to start."—Paul Einbund (Frances and Seam Wines)
"One of my favorite wines that could be had at a retail store for less than $20 is our current rosé, a Chiaretto Valtenesi from Pasini San Giovanni, a family run producer on the shores of Lake Garda in Italy's Veneto. It is the perfect way to welcome spring, especially alongside a little charcuterie."—Chad Walsh (The Dutch)
"There are so many gems in the south west of France, at a crazy price, that I try to explore it as much as I can. Try 2012 Causses Marines, Les Greilles from Gaillac ($19). Causses is making fantastic wines, in a wide range, including this Len de l'El and Ondenc blend, 2 indigenous grapes of the region. Think crabapple, sage, and Indian spice. Another French bargain: 2011 Clos Siguier Cahors ($14). A balanced, earthy, layered organically farmed Malbec which will blow away your friends. How can you get such a quality for that price!! Domestically, the guys at Bedrock are doing a spectacular job at crafting highly drinkable Cali wine, including Shebang White ($14), a new release with Pinot Gris and Semillon. From South Africa: 2012 False Bay Pinotage. If you like light Beaujolais, you should definitely check out this biodynamic estate making a really good, light and fruit forward, smoked, version of pinotage that you want to have with your barbecue."—Pascaline Lepeltier (Rouge Tomate)
"On more than one occasion lately, I've had the 2012 Lauer 'Barrel X' Saar Riesling from Germany, and it's a stunner. Slate, citrus, and the most lovely stone fruit notes are tied together with punchy acidity. This is a serious value! Great for picnics, or cheese and snacks. Also loving the 2012 Iuli Barbera 'Umberta' from the Monferrato region of Piedmont, Italy. This is a fantastic, versatile Barbera loaded with ripe red forest fruits and a nice streak of acidity. It's the kind of wine I love with grilled spring vegetables or for taco night (I feel like everyone has taco night, right?).—Dana Frank (Ava Gene's and Bow & Arrow)
"Some of my favorite everyday wines right now are wines that are hinting at summer. Triennes Rose is my quintessential rose for heavy consumption on a rooftop. I love Chablis and oysters anytime of year, but especially right now: Domaine Savary Chablis is a super mineral, racy wine that's always thirst-quenching."—Grant Reynolds (Charlie Bird)
"Great value wines for me are coming from the Loire Valley and the Jura. They tend to be lower alcohol and earthier wines, which makes them great food wines."—Patrick Cappiello (Pearl & Ash)
"Der Pollerhof Grüner Veltliner comes in a one liter bottle for around $12. It's amazing. It has a screw cap, so it's ideal for a picnic and any food. Finca Sandoval 'Salia' 2010 is a Garnacha/Syrah blend, and it's lovely, and around $18. A bit stinky at first, it opens up to be an ample, well-structured wine very quickly. I'd have it at a barbecue. Ravines Wine Cellars 2013 Gewürztraminer is an amazing value at around $19 and a great bottle to accompany spicy Thai food."—Steven Rhea (Hospoda)
"Domaine Champalou Vouvray is one of my favorite white wines as summer is approaching. It has bright refreshing acidity, pear and orchard fruit notes with a touch of sweetness. Perfect for all the vegetables now available on the market. Chateau Thivin Cote de Brouilly is my go-to red. Planted on 50 year old vines and situated on one of the best spots in Cote de Brouilly, this wine shows a fair amount of complexity for its price point. Bright red cherry fruit with hints of earth. If you going to grill a chicken, this is a fun one to try."—Daniel Beedle (Juni)
"In the summertime, my go-to sipping/picnic/patio wines are those from Txakolina, the area surrounding San Sebastian in the northeast of Spain. Super dry, with crisp apples and a touch of sea spray (the vineyards run right down to the Atlantic), they have just a hint of spritz that wakes up your tongue. For white, I love Txomin Etxaniz, and for rosé, my all-time favorite is Ameztoi Rosé Rubentis. Past that, I will stand by my love of Riesling indefinitely—it's not only delicious, it goes with absolutely everything, especially if there's any sort of spice involved. I firmly believe that the Klaus Keller QbA Trocken (or Feinherb, if you come across some) is just about the best value in wine that money can buy. Finally, I do love me some Austrian Blaufränkisch and Sankt Laurent. They remind me of Pinot Noir's brambly, spicy, savory cousin (although Sankt Laurent can be quite elegant and floral, as well); look for the wines of Rosi Schuster or Anita & Hans Nittnaus."—Mia Van De Water (North End Grill)
"Avinyo Muscat 'Vi D'Agulla' Penedes, Spain 2013 ($13) This slightly sparkling 'Petillant' is a low-alcohol (10.5%) thirst quencher that is ideal for picnics and sun-drenched decks. It has hints of white peaches balanced with salty flavors and brisk acidity that make it a perfect match for spicier dishes. Joan d'Anguera Garnaxta 'Altaroses' Montsant, Spain 2012 ($17) Brothers Joan and Joseph d'Anguera are out to prove that Montsant is a region capable of producing elegant and balanced reds. Grown organically in clay and limestone, this shows the softer side of Grenache with wild strawberry and herb aromas and mouthfuls of warm fruit and brisk acidity. This is an ideal pairing with a burger or anything off the grill. Terres Dorees 'L'Ancien' Beaujolais, France 2012 ($17) Jean-Paul Brun, the King of Beaujolais, does it again with L'Ancien, a wine that is meant to be consumed early and often. Using old vine fruit and made with traditional Burgundy techniques, this wine has robust and savory dark berry fruits, mineral tones and spices all backed with refreshing acidity."—Ian Becker (Absinthe Group)
"I absolutely love the Fuoristrada wines, made by Michael Schmelzer of MonteBernardi. The wines are available in Tetra Pak. He makes a white wine, a Sicilian Grillo made from grapes grown organically in a single vineyard, as well as Sangiovese from Tuscany, made from grapes grown organically in two separate parcels. The Grillo is bright and fresh, with notes of meyer lemon, oregano, and crushed rocks. The Sangiovese tastes of fresh tart cherries, limestone, blood orange, and a hint of fresh oregano."—Jordan Salcito (Momofuku)
"Clotilde Davenne Irancy A stunning natural Pinot Noir from just outside of Chablis, for around $20. It has notes of spicy plums, bing cherries, and wet earth. This is something I would bring to a friend's dinner party, especially if I didn't know what was being served! For grilled pizza or burgers, I love Fuso Barbera ($15). It's super herbaceous. One more: Clos Alivu Patrimonio Rose (around $18). A super fun summer sipper from Corsica. I like this with raw fish or spring veggies."—Sarah Egeland (Smallwares)
"Pithon-Paille 2010 Chenin Blanc 'Mozaik' from Anjou. This wine personifies so much of what chenin blanc can be. Rose water, clover honey, generous texture, decidedly Loire minerality....delicious! From Austria: Spaetrot 'Klassic,' 2012 Zierfandler/Rotgipfler. I love this wine! I always like to find alternative, lesser-known grapes. Whoever has heard of Zierfandler or Rotgipfler? It is fresh and lively with notes of various citrus, fresh grain, and acid for days. And from Long Island, NY: Channing Daughters Rose, 2013 Franconia (Blaufrankisch) Sylvanus Vineyard. Bone dry, pronounced salinity, juicy and acid driven. It has some body to stand up to some grilled fare, fresh vegetables, and cheese. I embrace everything that the ever-so-creative Chris Tracy at Channing Daughters does!"—Jonathan Fenelon (Clio)
"A couple of wines that are drinking really nicely right now for that $20 price point. Philippe Alliet Chinon, Loire Valley, France 2012: This wine has some serious bright raspberry notes that jump from the glass and fold into a silky mouthfeel with moderate chalky tannins. This would be a great picnic wine. Selbach-Oster, Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany 2012: this wine has intense green apple and bright minerals on the nose with a light body and just a touch of sweetness, but with great acidity to make the wine very refreshing on the finish. This is the perfect wine for a day at the beach."—Mark Mendoza (Coi / Daniel Patterson Group)
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