15 Wines Under $15 Bucks!

Let’s be honest, it’s pretty easy to go out and spend $40 -$50 on a bottle of wine and  feel confident that you are getting something that should be pretty damn tasty. I say ‘should be’ because believe it or not, there are plenty of disappointing wines at that price point. But more often than not, a wine of that price should possess some sort of quality in terms of region, grape selection, production and aging. But what is much harder is to find those $10-15 bottles that taste like something 2-3X the price… but they are out there my friends. Sometimes you have to stomach through a bunch of swill to find those great values, but like anything in life it takes a bit of determination and hard work to discover those hidden gems.

graphic courtesy of foodandwineblog.com

Check out this list of 15 wines, in no particular order, which have a tremendous QPR (Quality Price Ratio) and will run under $15. I am not including vintages as these wines are consistently solid just about every year and possess similar flavor profiles regardless of vintage (for the most part)… Cheers!

White/Rosé

Belle Ambiance Pinot Grigio, CA – This is like the house white wine for my block. A PG with some body to match up to the acidity, with pretty floral notes surrounding the citrus fruit center.

Fox Run Dry Riesling, FLX – Keep it local with one of my favorite Finger Lakes value wines.  A little like Sprite on the palate (lemon/lime with just a quick hit of pettilance) with fresh grapefruit and searing acidity, a home run pairing for any kind of chilled shellfish.

 

Image result for Louis Jadot Chardonnay Bourgogne Blanc

Louis Jadot Chardonnay Bourgogne Blanc – Classic Burgundy entry level Chardonnay with a concise balance of crisp apple and pear fruit, bright acidity and just a hint of that  buttery character.

 

NV House Wine Rosé Can – Good wine is coming in all shapes and sizes these days, so don’t let the can scare you! This is a great summer sipper, porch pounder…whatever you want to call it. Fresh and bright strawberry fruit with an appealing rose petal note.  

NV House Wine Rosé Can, 6Pk, 6 x 375 mL

RedImage result for vidal Fleury Cotes du Rhone

Vidal Fleury Cotes du RhoneOne of the biggest and most expressive CDRs at this price point. Concentrated red and black cherry fruit, peppery spice and mineral notes are all in balance as is the bright acidity and firm tannins. Easily could pass as a Gigondas for twice the price.

vini_salice

Cantele Salice Salentino Riserva – Made from 100% Negroamaro, the dominant grape in this area of Puglia, this has a fairly intense nose featuring dried fruit such as raisin, prune and fig. But the candied blackberry and cherry notes come through on the palate and flow through the dry, pleasing finish. Big yet balanced…

 

Purple Malbec Cahors Chateau Lagrezette’s entry level red, this is simply a wonderful expression of Malbec from the motherland (France) with bright acidity, vibrant black fruits and just a dollop of black pepper.

 

Seaglass Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara – This is a perennial ‘best value’ Pinot for me as it stays light and lively on the palate but exudes true Pinot character, which most Pinots at this price point fail to do.

Underwood Pinot Noir, OR (Can) – Am I having this with a roasted duck? No… But for a light everyday wine this has enough fruit and depth to make it fully enjoyable. And do you know what doesn’t break and shatter all over the floor for your kids to step on and get little pieces of glass stuck in their feet?? Cans… that’s what.

broken bottle

 

Slow Press Cabernet, CA – This has to be the best CA Cab for the Price on the market. All that Paso Robles fruit gives this full bodied wine an opulent core of black cherry, cassis and plum with just a kiss of sweetness. Plush and supple, but with enough depth to enjoy with a grilled steak.

 

Rosso di Ca’Momi, CA –  A fun blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot and Petite Sirah. Medium to full bodied with a fairly intense nose of toasted vanilla, blackberry and clove.  Super value at around $10.

 

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Chateau Souverain Merlot, CASorry Miles, but I am drinking THIS f&%king Merlot! It has some real umph to it with big dark fruit flavors, toasty oak laced with clove and spice aromas. Probably the best wine of the bunch here…

 

Lines of Wine

Columbia Crest Grand Estates, WAWhile the Syrah is my favorite in the line, this value brand under Ste. Michelle Estates is continually awarded “Best Buy” accolades from top publications, and for good reason. Tough to find a bad one in the lineup.

Image result for columbia crest grand estatesHomeGroup

Handcraft Wines, CA – The Delicato family produces this line of wines which offer tremendous value and drinkability across the board. Taste the Dark Red Blend and the Petite Sirah and you will understand exactly what I mean.

 

Bota Box – Boxed wine is not how you may remember it. This is no Franzia or Almaden, so get over the stigma already. Bota is producing really solid juice from all over the world (although mostly CA). And at $20 a 3L box (or $5 a bottle) there is no better value on the market, particular for the whites like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.

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What To Drink With Your Bird This Thanksgiving

You may want to sit down for this: Thanksgiving is less than a week away! How nuts is that?!? But ready or not, here it comes. Which means not only does your menu need to start rapidly coming together, but so does the wine lineup for the evening. Even if you are not hosting  (which makes life that much easier) you can still have a huge impact on the meal and overall holiday enjoyment by bringing the right wines for your family and friends to enjoy. I mean, who doesn’t love the guy who rolls in with a few bottles of really good juice?! Which then begs the question… what are the right wines to pair with a traditional Thanksgiving meal?

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The great thing about oven roasted turkey and all the trimmins is that there are a ton of wines that will pair well with that type of meal. It just depends on what style of wine you and your crew prefer. The one trick is to avoid any overpowering wines with high tannins. Turkey doesn’t have the fat content of red meat, which typically will bind with those tannins. Instead, the tannins can take center stage rendering the turkey and stuffing as bland as opposed to full of flavor.  So while just about any wine will work, here are some that may complement your meal better than others.

The classic white wine pairing with turkey is Riesling. The low alcohol and high acid can be a refreshing complement to the inherent richness of the meal. I prefer to stick with the drier style (Kabinett) as opposed to those that have a sweeter profile (Spatlese). The 2011 Fox Run Reserve Riesling is a stunning option for under $25, and allows you to drink local! For a real value the Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling is consistently solid and goes for under $10 at most retailers.

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If you like your whites a little bigger and bolder then a buttery, oaky Chardonnay or Burgundy may be the way to go. Although be careful of the super oaked options, as even those woody tannins can stifle the richness of the bird. My favorites right now are from Davis Bynum and Byron, but on the value side you can grab the Seaglass Chard from Santa Barbara. It is unoaked, clean and vibrant… a delightfully refreshing option for around $10.

If you Google red wine pairings for Thanksgiving Turkey, the most commonly recommended wines are Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Rhone Blends. Pinot is arguably the best option as the higher acid levels, vibrant fruit and peppery spice really bring out the best in just about any poultry dish. The problem in my family is that no one drinks Pinot. They prefer their wines big and opulent and tend to reach more towards a bomby Napa Cab than an elegant red Burgundy. Although I guarantee that bottle of the 2013 Papapietro  RRV Pinot will be in attendance this year for my Turkey Day meal.

2013 Papapietro Perry "Peter's Vineyard" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

So the pairing that usually works best for my crew is a hearty Zinfandel from California… and no, not the pink stuff. It tends to have loads of big, dark and spicy fruit but a little lighter body and softer tannins than Cab. Seghesio is always my dad’s go to, but personally I prefer the Terra d’Oro Zin from Amador for a few bucks less. Forward, rich and ripe with a nice balance of medium to high acid and tannins, this one is always a crowd pleaser.  And if I’m feeling a little frisky, I will break out one of the Zichichi Zins from my stash. Steve Zichichi is a Zin genius and making some of the best Zin to come out of Dry Creek and all of California really. It ain’t cheap and pretty hard to find, but if you can get your hands on any of his juice I highly recommend it.

Image result for zichichi zinfandel

The classic Rhone blend consists of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre with Grenache usually taking center stage. Somewhat like Zin, Grenache leans on the lighter side in terms of body with good acid, spicy berry fruit and plush tannins. Blend in some meaty Syrah and a dollup of dark Mouvedre and you have an ideal blend for your Thanksgiving table. Cotes du Rhone Villages wines offer a step up in quality (usually) over the standard CDRs, and still can be found for less than $20.  However they have a hard time standing up to those bigger and more complex Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas wines, which is why those are just about impossible to find for under $40. Some value producers include Barville, Santa Duc and Louis Bernard. But if you are from the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ mentality then you can’t go wrong with any of the big dogs such as Domaine de Pegau, Vieux Telegraphe, Chateau de Beaucastel or Chapoutier. Just be sure to give those bigger wines some oxygen before you get start digging into them, or they may come off a little tight and inexpressive.

 

Red, White and Blue Wines for the 4th!

Yeah, that’s right… blue wine. I know, I know…. I had the same reaction. But why? How? And, why? It seems some entrepreneurial producers in Spain thought it would be a clever idea to craft a blue colored wine targeted at the all encompassing market of the millennials. Apparently it is a blend of Spanish red and white grapes which gains its color from anthocyanin, a pigment found in grape skins, and iodine that is extracted from the Isatis tinctoria plant. It is reportedly a sweet, young refreshing style of wine meant to pair with sushi and nachos with guac. Having never tried this blue wine before I cannot offer any opinion on the quality or value… but I can say that my expectations are fairly low.

Now for the REAL 4th of July recommendations! Is it me, or did it get super hot super quick to start the summer? I feel like the Chardonnay season came and went and I am
already reaching for more refreshing white options. While Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are always popular, as an overly broad generalization, they tend to seem a little too simplistic (sorry Santa Margherita and Brancott fans). As of late I find myself reaching for that dry style of Riesling from a multitude of regions as well as Chenin Blancs from the Loire and South Africa. The nice part about all of these wines is that they typically offer a solid value.

The Fox Run Rie2015 Den Chenin Blancsling (Finger Lakes) is a staple in my house over the summer months, and the bone dry Willm Reserve Riesling (Alsace) is a tremendously food friendly wine to pair with all kinds of shellfish and chilled seafood starters. The Painted Wolf ‘The Den’ Chenin Blanc is crisp, tropical with just a hint of oaky notes, and their Pinotage from the same line is pretty stellar as well. The Sauvon Vouvray (Chenin Blanc grape) is a value superstar every vintage with its floral character and subtle honey notes, and can actually gain complexity with a few years of age. The best part… all of these wines are under $20.

 

Red wines that are suitable for the 4th, and the summer in general, need to be grill friendly that can pair up with anything from burgers and dogs to filet and lobster surf & turf. That means they have to be versatile, hearty and food friendly (which typically means they need a good dose of acidity). Let’s not forget that it’s hot out there… so some lighter, thirst quenching reds (which can even be served slightly chilled) are integral to any successful July 4th BBQ. I get made fun of all the time for my infatuation with the Seaglass Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, but it remains the best Pinot under $15 for my money. This is one of those lighter style wines that can benefit from a few minutes in the fridge before opening,  accentuating the lively acidity and bright cherry and berry fruit.

I find myself leaning towards the Northern Rhone wines during the grilling season. The smoky and meaty style of Crozes Hermitage and Saint Joseph wines (Syrah based) complement just about any sort of beef you decide to toss on the grill. The Jean Luc Colombo Crozes ‘Les Fees Brunes’ is a stellar under $25 option while the J.L. Chave Saint Joseph ‘Offerus’  is solid just about every vintage and can be found for just a few bucks more. Of course if you are feeling saucy and looking to splurge on something, how about a Cote Rotie for the 4th this year? E. Guigal, Vidal Fleury and St. Cosme are all quality producers and their wines come at a somewhat ‘value’ price under $80. Top tier Cote Rotie wines are easily $100 and up so yes, $50-75 is considered a value for this particular region.

But if you want to keep it simple and patriotic for the 4th, grab some California Zin and Petite Sirah. Both are as American as you can get when it comes to grape varieties, and are big enough to stand up to just about any of your standard BBQ fare. They can offer various spices and boast a firm tannic character to offset those fatty and saucy pork and beef dishes. Zichichi (Dry Creek Valley) is one of my perennial favorites for both varieties, but they are not the easiest to come by. On the Zin side, I always find the Terra d’Oro wines exude great complexity and character without breaking the bank both at their entry level as well as their old vine single vineyard higher end offerings.  Of course if you are from the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ camp, then seek out one of the many Zins from Turley. They range from the entry Juvenille level up to several single vineyard options, all opulent and killer! As far as Petite Sirah goes, Handcraft has a nice one out for under $15 that will certainly please the palate. But for about $40 you can find the Stag’s Leap Winery P.S. which slams you with dark berry, peppery spice and is flat out tasty juice. Talk about a wine that screams out for BBQ ribs and wings! But this is a big boy for sure, so give it a little time to show it’s true colors…none of which are blue 😉

 

 

 

Easy Easter Ham & Lamb Wine Pairings

Let’s keep this short and sweet, as Easter is just a couple of days away. The classic Easter meal usually features one of two meats, Lamb or Ham. Luckily each of these options has one wine that pairs perfectly with it practically regardless of how it is prepared.

Ham and Pinot – A typical glazed Easter ham has both sweet and savory flavors, along with a touch of salt. So the idea is to match it up with a wine that has high acidity, low tannins and lots of fruit. So a lighter Zin, Rhone or Chianti could work, but West Coast Pinots are really the way to go. Seaglass from Santa Barbara is a great value option and Nielson (by Byron) from the Santa Maria Valley is a little heartier and will cost a few bucks more, but it is full of expressive cherry, raspberry and peppery spice goodness. However if you can get your hands on some juice from the mad genius Rick Moshin from his extensive and ecletic line of Russian River Valley Moshin Pinots, then you are in for truly a heavenly Easter meal.

 

Don’t like Reds? Then Riesling will probably be the best pairing option. You know how apple, apricot, and pineapple are ideal partners for ham? Well, the same goes for the wine.  The apple and tropical flavors contrast perfectly to a salty ham while the bright acidity and light style keep the sweetness levels in check. Wilim Riesling from Alsace is bone dry and an ideal option, especially for around $15. But if you like a hint of sweetness and more body you may want to go with a Spatlese from Mosel. However my favorite white pairing is the Eroica Riesling from Columbia Valley, Washington. Chateau Ste. Michelle and Dr. Loosen partnered up to create this beauty and for around $20 I dare you to find a more luscious, balanced and yummy Riesling anywhere.

Lamb and Cab – Lamb is full of flavor, fat and if it is grilled will have some smoky character too. You need a big boned, tannic wine to stand up to a meat like that. If you are grilling it, the Bordeaux route is preferable as the terroir driven nature of those wines accentuate that grilled, smoky flavor. My favorite value Bordeaux right now is Chateau St. Barbe 2011 as it is a big wine with loads of minerality and a fruit filled, long, dry finish. Best under $20 Bordeaux out there, hands down. Chateau Talbot offers a lovely, classic Bordeaux experience, but will be at least double the Barbe price.

California Cabs will work just as well, particularly if you have a thicker cut and are roasting the lamb. McMannis offers a solid value Cab for under $15 and the new vintage of Twenty Rows 2012 Napa Cab is surprisingly stellar for around $20, as I have not been a fan of past vintages.  But the ’12 Peju Napa Cab is off the hook delicious with oodles of big, dark fruit, vanilla and spice. It ain’t cheap at around $50, but it is certainly guaranteed to please your entire Easter crew.

 

My Top 10 Grillin’ Wines

As my somewhat pessimistic colleague always says… no one reads copy. So let’s just get right to the juice that will immensely improve your 2014 BBQ season:

10. Belle Ambiance 2013 Pinot Grigio, California – I am usually not a Pinot Grigio fan, but this is like Summer in a bottle and my new “house white”. Floral and citrus aromas that lead to stone fruit and hints of honeysuckle on the palate, good weight for a PG too. ($10-12)

9. Matarromera 2009 Crianza Tempranillo, Ribera del Duero – All kinds of black fruits with roasted coffee, pepper and earthy notes. Big yet balanced wine. ($30-35)

8. Barrel 27 2011 “Right Hand Man” Syrah Central Coast – With 7% Viogner it’s made in the Cote Rotie style. Dark fruit, dark chocolate and peppery spice, excellent value. ($15-20)

7. Seaglass 2012 Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara – For my money this is the best Santa Barbara Pinot in town. Classic Pinot fruit with hints of earth and spice complemented by a good dose of acidity. Perfect with poultry off the grill. ($12-15)

6. Chalone 2010 Chardonnay, Limited Release, Chalone AVA – Lots of classic apple, melon and banana fruit on the nose and palate with a great balance of acidity and oak aging ($13-18)

5. Argiano Non Confunditur 2011 – Don’t miss this serious Super Tuscan! Powerful yet balanced with alluring dark fruit, mineral and licorice. Nice acidity too so it will work with anything from grilled veggies to a Ribeye steak. ($16-20)

4. Bodegas Goulart 2010 Malbec, The Marshall, Mendoza – Aside from the great name, this is a tremendously balanced, lush and sultry wine. Blackberry, peppery spice, floral notes and racy tannins make this a no-brainer pairing for those saucy St. Louis BBQ ribs. ($20-25).

3. Two Hands 2012 Shiraz Angels’ Share, McLaren Vale  – Two Hands makes some of the best Shiraz out there, like the much more expensive Barossa Valley Bella’s Garden. But for under $30 this is a dark, dense and opulent fruit driven wine that screams for any kind of meat you choose to BBQ.

2. Manzanita Creek 2009 Zinfandel, Cloud Buster, Russian River Valley – What a ridiculous value Zin this is for under $20! Brimming with brambly berry, blueberry pie, brown spice and black pepper this is a wine that pleases on all levels. Super long and fruit filled finish keeps you coming back for more. ($20-28)

And the number 1 wine for this grillin’ season is….

1. Chateauneuf du Pape 2012 Domaine Barville, Brotte – A simply stunning, complex and big CDP loaded with really pure and expressive black fruits laced with black pepper, leather and meaty notes. The balance of acid and tannins gives this a harmonious balance making it a sure fire winner for whatever you plan to grill. It isn’t cheap, but in the realm of Chateauneufs it is a tremendous value considering the quality. ($40-45)

But really the best wine to drink at your summer BBQ is whichever one gives you the most pleasure! So if you’re a Napa Cab fan, don’t be afraid to break out that Caymus, Silver Oak or Duckhorn the next time the mood strikes you…clearly they will all be fantastic with a properly cooked piece of beef too.

Cheers!

 

 

Top Thanksgiving Wines Under $15!

It’s completely ludicrous to think that Thanksgiving is just a little over a week away…but ready or not here it comes. Seems like there is always so much to do before this holiday: figuring out who is hosting, planning menus, ironing out the guest list and of course deciding which wines will make it to the table.

Wine lovers will often inquire about what wine makes the best paring for a Thanksgiving meal. The simplest answer is Riesling or Chardonnay for the whites and Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Rhones for the reds as the peppery spice in all of those reds match up well with the traditionally prepared Thanksgiving bird. I have tasted some value/inexpensive options over the past month that clearly distinguished themselves as wines that would only enhance this food driven holiday…so I thought I would share.

If you plan on serving white wine with the meal you want to check out the 2012 Wilim Alsace Riesling and the 2012 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Chardonnay. The Wilim Riesling is made in typical Alsace fashion with bright citrus and apple fruit, lovely balance (not a very sweet wine) and a dry, minerally finish. The CSM Chard is such a food friendly wine offering supple pear, apple and melon flavors with just the right amount of that oaky and buttery character rounding out the palate. Both are steals that can be found for under $15 retail.

When it comes to Pinot, there are two clear standouts in this value price range…the 2012 Santa Rita Pinot Noir 120 Central Valley and the Seaglass 2012 Santa Barbara Pinot. You will be SHOCKED when you taste that Santa Rita 120 and realize it is from Chile. No dirty, muddy undertones that most inexpensive Chilean reds carry. Just pure, clean and expressive Pinot character with loads of vibrant berry fruit, black pepper and spice…and at under $10 it is a no brainer! The Seaglass is a perennial favorite of mine as it is delicate in nature but well structured with a lingering finish. Easily mistaken for a sub appellation Santa Barbara Pinot twice the price.

For all the ZinHeads out there, my under $15 choice for Turkey Day this year has to be the 2011 Joel Gott California Zinfandel. My family has spent many Thanksgivings with Mr. Gott (well, his wines anyway) and he never disappoints. All that blueberry and blackberry fruit layered over baking and peppery spices make for a wonderful accompaniment to a well stuffed bird and all the trimmins. And at right around $15 it is a serious value as well.

Cotes du Rhones are usually not my favorite, as I tend to find them overly tart and on the light side (yes, I am completely overgeneralizing). However the 2011 Selection Laurence Feraud CDR brought about that WOW feeling which these wines rarely elicit. Considering the wine was produced by the famed CDP Domaine du Pegau winemaker I shouldn’t have been so surprised. It is super approachable with vibrant berry and red cherry fruit surrounded by hints of dark chocolate and spice. The tannins are mellow and the mouthfeel is soft and lush. You’d be hard pressed to find a better CDR at this price point as well as one that will enhance your Turkey like this beauty.

Here’s wishing all of you and yours a very healthy and Happy Thanksgiving filled with family, friends, good food and better juice 😉

Cheers!