The other day, I bumped into a friend-of-some-years (thereby avoiding referring to her as an “old friend”) who asked if I’d made my list yet. Even though I look more-than-a-bit like Santa Claus, I generally wait until after all the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone to start thinking about Christmas stuff. And I said as much.
She replied “No. Not that list. Your value wine list.”
I told her that it had been a few years since I’d done that. She said I should do it again as she needed a new one … and then she pulled a much-taped-and-folded, very-beat-up piece-of-paper from her purse and showed me one of my old value wine picks lists she’d been carrying around for several years. The vintages were all way out-of-date but a good chunk of the wines that are still available are wines I’d still recommend. After I looked at it (with some wonderment on my part), she carefully refolded it and put it safely back in her purse saying “See. I need a new one … but I’ll hold on to this one until you get around to it.”
Well, OK. Good idea. And since she’s what I refer to as a “church lady” (although not all church ladies go to my church), her “request” is really more of a command anyway.
You may well ask “What makes a ‘Value Wine?’” (You also may ask “What makes a Church Lady?” but that‘s a topic for another time and place.) In the general parlance, “value wine” is a good or recommended wine below a certain price point. That well-worn list my friend had saved was all under $15.00 per bottle. And that’s fair as far as it goes but to make my list, the wines have to consistently over-deliver. That being the case, not many heavily-marketed, national brands make my list as, while many of them offer a fair value, seldom do they over-deliver (and almost never do they over deliver over a series of vintages).
What you’ll find on this list are my picks (wines I actually buy and drink at home) with First-of-December-2016 prices under $20 (Spec’s cash bottle price – if you’re buying six-mixed at a time or by-the-case, the prices will be lower). The prices listed will likely change (some up, some down) over time. The vintages on the list are those that are current as I compile it but don’t worry too much if you bump into a vintage that’s younger. These wines tend to be pretty consistent from vintage-to-vintage. These are wines with enough production that they are available most of the time; I’m not including anything where we don’t get at least a couple of pallets a year. Finally, these are wines that I recommend. Which means they are wines I like to drink. Which means they offer plenty of fruit but are not over-ripe or over-manipulated. Which is to say that they taste of the grapes from which they were made and (generally) of the specific place they were grown.
What’s not on this list? There are a lot of small production wines under $20 that are too sporadically available to include. And there are lots of things that are too idiosyncratic to have a broad appeal. For stuff like that, you need to talk with me or someone else who tastes and knows a lot of wine. That stuff can be a lot of fun but in reality appeals mainly to only the geekiest of wine geeks (he says proudly).
A final thing to remember: All other things being equal, you get what you pay for. The higher priced picks on this list are frankly better wines. That’s just how it works.
For a ready-to-print, save-able, two-page .pdf of the list below,
please CLICK HERE.
Dry Sparkling for Drinking
These are the wines for an everyday glass of bubbles or to serve at a big party or reception where the budget is important. They all are made using method champenoise and so have that distinct toasty-yeasty note to go with their fruit and whatever terroir notes. See “Dry Sparkling for Blending” below for wines to use in Mimosas or other sparkling wine cocktails.
Perelada Brut Reserva, Cava, NV ($8.99)
Perelada Brut Reserva Especial, Cava, NV ($9.99)
Codorniu Anna Blanc de Blancs, Cava, NV ($12.89)
Varichon & Clerc Privilege Blanc de Blancs, France, NV ($12.99)
Mercat Brut Cava, NV ($13.89)
Mercat Brut Rosé Cava, NV ($14.89)
Labet Brut Cremant de Bourgogne, NV ($15.99)
Labet Rosé, Cremant de Bourgogne, NV ($15.99)
Abel Charlot Brut, Champagne, NV ($19.94)
Dry Sparkling for Blending
These are charmat process bubblies that offer cleaner fresher fruit flavors with no yeastiness which therefore work much better as the base for a Mimosa or Bellini or Kir Royal, etc.
Perelada Muscanti Brut, NV ($6.99)
Zonin Prosecco, NV ($9.99)
White wines with enough sweetness to handle spicier foods. Generally lower in alcohol and very refreshing.
Ch. Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling Washington State 2015 ($6.79)
Messina Hof Riesling Father & Son Cuvee, Texas, 2015 ($8.49)
Noble House Riesling QbA, Mosel, 2015 ($9.99)
Villa Wolf Riesling QbA, Pfalz, 2014 ($11.99)
Losen Bockstanz Wittlicher Portnersberg Riesling Kabinett 2015 ($11.99)
Schloss Vollrads Riesling QbA, Rheingau, 2014 ($13.89)
Dr. Frank Semi Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes New York, 2014 ($14.39)
The Doctor’s Riesling, New Zealand, 2014 ($14.99)
Ch. Ste. Michelle Dr. Loosen Eroica Riesling, Washington State, 2015 ($16.89)
Fritz Haag Estate Riesling QbA 2014 ($19.94)
Dry White, No Oak
Dry white wines aged with little or no exposure to oak barrels (or chips) and with blocked (or mostly blocked) malo-lactic fermentation. Expect fresh fruit flavors and some minerality. These are wines for fresh seafood or to use as a dry aperitif.
Sonalto Vinho Verde, NV ($5.99)
Arrumaco Verdelho, Spain, 2014 ($6.99)
Ch. Martinon, Entre Deux Mers (Bordeaux), 2014 ($9.99)
Villa Wolf Pinot Gris, Pfalz, 2014 ($11.99)
Ch. d’Archambeau Graves Blanc 2014 ($12.99)
Les Tuiles Chardonnay, Macon-Villages, 2015 ($13.99)
Healdsburg Ranches Unoaked Chardonnay Sonoma County, 2014 ($16.59)
Thomas George “Sons & Daughters” Chardonnay, Sonoma County, 2015 ($18.99)
Pinot Gris, Alsace, 2014 ($19.94)
Domaine Thibert Macon Prisse en Chailloux, 2015 ($19.94)Frey Soler “Rittersberg” Seguinot Bordet Chablis, 2015 ($19.94)
La Chablisienne la Pierrelee, Chablis, 2014 2015 ($19.94)
Guilbaud Les Chenes Vieux Sancerre 2015 ($19.94)
Dry White, with Oak
Oak fermented and aged whites are richer and rounder due to the barrels (or chips), the flavor of new oak (if used), the lees aging, and (generally) because they underwent Malolactic Fermentation. Oak is most closely associated with Chardonnay and these picks are all Chardonnay. These are Chardonnays for drinking or for pork, crab, veal, or chicken dishes.
Versant Chardonnay, IGP d’Oc (France), 2014 ($9.99)
La Noble Chardonnay, IGP d’Oc (France), 2014 ($9.99)
Ca’Momi Chardonnay, California, 2015 ($12.99)
Highway 12 Chardonnay, Sonoma, 2015 ($14.99)
Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2015 ($16.39)
Expression 38° Russian Camp Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2015 ($19.94)
These Dry Rosés are available year-after-year offering fine fruit and a bit more. Wines followed by a “B are lighter Rosé smore suitable for the beach or pool. Wines followed by an “F” are “food” Rosés that work better at the table. “FB” indicates utility in both millieus.
Arrumaco Rosato, Spain, 2014 ($6.99) F
Villa des Anges, IGP d’Oc, 2015 ($8.99) B
Ch. du Donjon Rosé, Minervois, 2015 ($9.99) FB
Pins des Dunes Rosé, Bordeaux, 2015 ($9.99) B
Cuvee des Trois Messes Basses Rosé, Ventoux, 2015 ($9.99) FB
Villa Wolf Pinot Noir Rose, Pfalz, 2015 ($11.99) B
Mourgues du Gres Les Galets Rosé, Costieres de Nimes, 2015 ($12.49) FB
Chateau Lancyre Rosé, Pic St. Loup, 2015 ($12.99) F
Domaine de Cabasse Cotes du Rhone Villages Rosé, 2015 ($13.99) F
Domaine de Chevalier Rose de Chevalier, Bordeaux, 2015 ($14.99) FB
Ch. d’Esclans Whispering Angel Provence Rose, Provence, 2015 ($16.67) B
Pegau Pink, France, 2015 ($16.99) FB
Domaine de Mourchon Cotes du Rhone Villages Rose 2015 ($17.89) F
My red wine picks break down into families by variety so the categories are Pinot Noir, Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre-based, Cabernet Sauvignon-based, Zinfandel-based, and Other Reds
These are all 100% Pinot Noir and look and taste like it – which is to say that they are red rather than purple and taste of fresh red fruit and (often) cola with some earthiness. Think roasts and pork dishes, duck and goose, turkey, Think spicier foods and Pan-Asian foods that need a red.
Versant Pinot Noir, IGP d’Oc, 2014 ($9.99)
Long Barn Pinot Noir, California, 2015 ($9.99)
Hahn Pinot Noir, California, 2014 ($11.69)
Les Tuiles Pinot Noir, Bourgogne Rouge, 2014 ($15.99)
Lompoc Wine Co Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2014 ($17.19)
Carneros Highway 12 Pinot Noir, Carneros, 2014 ($18.99)
Ca’Momi Pinot Noir, California, 2014 ($18.99)
Routestock Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2014 ($19.89)
Banshee Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 2014 ($19.94)
Averaen Pinot Noir. Willamette Valley, 2015 ($19.94)
Albert Bichot Pinot Noir Vigne Vielles Bourgogne Rouge, 2012 ($19.94)
Domaine Jessiaume Pinot Noir Bourgogne Rouge, 2013 ($19.94)
Laetitia Pinot Noir, Arroyo Grande Valley, 2014 ($19.94)
In the winter, think braised meats (short ribs, pot roast, coq au vin, etc.) and stews (Boeuf Bourguignon). In the summer, think mixed gills and slow smoked-barbecue.
Cuvee des Trois Messes Basses Rouge Ventoux, 2014 ($9.99)
d’Arenberg Stump Jump Red Mclaren Vale 2014 ($9.99)
d’Arenberg Stump Jump Shiraz Mclaren Vale 2014 ($9.99)
Domaine de Cabasse Deux Anges Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2015 ($11.99)
St. Cosme Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2014 ($13.99)
Casa Gran Siurana GR-174, Priorat, 2015 ($14.99)
Domaine de Cabasse Garnacho Cotes Du Rhone Villages 2012 ($14.99)
Ch. Pegau Maclura Cotes du Rhone 2013 ($14.99)
Montmirail Jeune Vigne Cotes du Rhone 2014 ($14.99)
d’Arenberg d’Arry’s Original, Mclaren Vale, 2014 ($16.99)
Yalumba Patchwork Shiraz Barossa VT ($17.99)
Yalumba Gsm “the Strapper” 2014 ($17.99)
Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache 2014 ($17.99)
Ch. Pegau Setier Cotes du Rhone Villages Rouge 2013 ($18.99)
Ch. de Lancyre Vielles Vignes, Pic St. Loup, 2009 ($19.94)
Wine for steaks, lamb, and birds, especially grilled birds.
Becker Claret Texas 2014 ($11.19)
Ch Tour Salvet Haut Medoc 2012 ($12.99)
Shannon Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Lake County 2014 ($12.99)
Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley 2015 ($13.97)
Cousino Macul Cabernet Sauv. Antiguas Reserva, 2014 ($13.99)
Highway 12 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley 2015 ($14.99)
Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($15.99)
Hedges HIP Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington State 2014 ($16.99)
Yalumba Scribbler Cabernet Shiraz, Barossa, 2014 ($17.99)
Les Hauts Lynch Moussas Haut Medoc 2011 ($18.99)
Ch Pontoise Cabarrus Haut Medoc 2010 ($18.99)
Ca’Momi Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2014 ($18.99)
Ch Pontac Phenix Haut Medoc 2010 ($19.94)
Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Organic, 2012 ($19.94)
Marietta “Arme” Lot 2 Cabernet Blend NV ($19.94)
Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon, Apalta – Chile, 2013 ($19.87)
Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, 2014 ($19.87)
Casa Silva Los Lingues Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile, 2014 ($19.89)
Zinfandel-based and Other Reds
These are my go-tos for American-Italian cooking (Lasagne, Spaghetti Bolognaise), Pizza, and the odd mixed grill.
Shannon Ridge Zinfandel, Lake County, 2013 ($12.99)
Healdsburg Ranches Zinfandel North Coast, 2014 ($13.49)
Ca’Momi Zinfandel Napa Valley, 2013 ($13.99)
Dry Creek Vineyards Heritage Vines Zinfandel, 2014 ($16.39)
Trig Point Zinfandel, Alexander Valley, 2014 ($17.99)
AVV Redemption Zinfandel, Alexander Valley, ($17.99)
Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma, 2015 ($18.99)
Ca’Momi Rosso, California, 2015 ($8.99)
Marietta Old Vine Red, Sonoma County, LOT #62 ($10.99)
Hedges CMS Red Columbia Valley 2014 ($12.99)
Castello d’Albola Chianti Classico 2013 ($15.99)
Twisted Paso Main Squeeze 2014 ($15.99)
San Felice Chianti Classico, 2012 ($16.59)