Everyone, including me, loves a bargain, especially when it comes to wine. My definition of “bargain?” A wine that tastes at least twice as good as its price, preferably more.
I’m hardly alone. One of the most important findings in this year’s Silicon Valley Bank Wine Report, out last week, is that millennials (aged 22 to 37) are not embracing fine wines as much as they’d been predicted to do as they got older. Part of the problem is surely financial. They’re held back by an “indulgence gap,” a delay of peak earning, says Rob McMillan, SVB’s executive vice president and author of the annual report. Often mired in student debt, millennials want high-quality, interesting wines, but at a less-than-premium price. McMillan refers to them as “frugal hedonists.”
Meanwhile, self-indulgent, wealthier boomers are beginning to retire and—you guessed it—they want to spend less for top-quality wine, too.
But unless producers put their wine in tetra paks, cans, or bag-in-box formats, some fixed costs—such as glass bottles—can’t be reduced all that much.
So how low can you really go without sinking into a pool of complete plonk? From my tastings this year, I’d say it’s tough to find wines worth drinking at under US$10 a bottle. But the real sweet spot, where there are dozens and dozens of good buys, is US$15 to US$20. Here are my current hot picks from around the world.
2016 Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling (US$10) This crisp, refreshing, versatile white from Washington state is ubiquitous—and one of the best super-cheap wines I know. It regularly wins blind tastings, surprising all the judges.
2016 Bodega Colome Torrontes (US$12) Intensely aromatic, this light white has vibrant citrus flavors and a salty mouthwatering deliciousness. It comes from vines grown at an elevation of 5,500 feet in Argentina’s Salta region and pairs well with spicy food.
2017 Yalumba The Y Series Viognier Eden Valley (US$12) It’s not easy to find a really good, inexpensive viognier. This one from Australia has the right honey and floral aromas, hints of spicy ginger, and a lush, creamy texture.
2016 Famille Hugel Gentil (US$14) This is an amazingly food-friendly dry white from the underrated French region of Alsace. It’s an easygoing, complex blend of six grape varieties that brims with zingy acidity.
2016 Foxglove Chardonnay (US$15) The second label of the Varner winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains consistently offers one of California’s great values. The smooth, citrusy chardonnay from the Edna Valley isn’t aged in oak, but still has richness and texture.
2017 Jo Landron Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie Les Houx (US$15) The Loire Valley’s Muscadets remain sensational white wine values and Jo Landron is one of the region’s hottest winemakers. This cuvée is more full-bodied and almondy than most Muscadets, perfect for crab and lobster.
2016 Chateau du Champs des Treilles Vin Passion (US$15) Bordeaux white blends (sauvignon blanc, semillon, muscadelle) are coming back into vogue. This one, with herbal aromas and rich citrus tastes, is from the organic estate of Corinne and Jean-Michel Comme, the technical director at esteemed Château Pontet-Canet.
2017 Anselmo Mendes Alvarinho Contacto (US$18) You can’t go wrong with any of the inexpensive whites from Anselmo Mendes, one of Vinho Verde’s flagship winemakers. Alvarinho is the Portuguese name for Spanish albarino, and this one is intensely fruity but also has creamy texture and concentration.
2017 Masseria Li Veli Verdeca Askos (US$18) This stunning property is one of the top estates in Puglia, Italy, and the quality of wines at the value end is terrific. This one has noteworthy complexity for the price.
2017 Donnafugata Lighea (US$19) Intense and mineral, this crisp, dry Sicilian white is made from Zibibbo grapes (also known as muscat of Alexandria) by a winery noted for good values. It’s ideal with baked pasta or oily fish.
2014 Compania de Vinos del Atlantico Gordo (US$14) A bold, spicy, opulent blend of monastrell and cabernet sauvignon, this full-bodied red comes from a backwater appellation in southeastern Spain. It’s earthy and slightly rustic, a wine for hearty winter stews.
2015 CVNE Vina Real Crianza Rioja (US$15) Basic, entry-level Riojas, labeled crianza, are often good values. This one, from CVNE’s Vina Real winery, is generous, pure, fruit-driven and robust, with amazing quality, considering that 900,000 bottles were made.
2017 Filipa Pato Bairrada Tinto FP Baga (US$16) The daughter of a legendary Portuguese winemaker, Filipa Pato works with her restaurateur husband to create wines from indigenous Portuguese grapes. This is a light red, from the Baga grape, that tastes like a cross between gamay and pinot noir.
2017 G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d’Alba (US$17) This family estate in Barolo country adheres to old-style winemaking. All their wines are top values, especially the inexpensive, hearty, frequently overlooked Dolcetto, which is loaded with plummy fruit.
2015 Suertes del Marques 7 Fuentes (US$18) The Canary Islands are a hotbed of fascinating volcanic wines, and this fresh, spicy, entry-level red from listan negro grapes is a textbook example. The winery helped put the region on the world wine map.
2017 Guimaro Mencia (US$18) This lushly fruity, lightly spicy red from steep vineyards in Spain’s Ribeira Sacra is all about drink-me-now pleasure. Think of the mencia grape as the pinot noir of Spain.
2015 Tenuta Tascante Nerello Mascalese Ghiaia Nera (US$18) Most Mount Etna reds have bigger price tags than this value from Tascante, one of several estates in Sicily owned by the Tasca d’Almerita family. Elegant and cherryish, it’s bright and easy drinking and an alternative to Oregon pinot noir.
2014 Bebame Red (US$19) The name means drink me, and this Cabernet franc blend from El Dorado County in the Sierra Foothills is deliciously gulpable. It has Loire Valley style crossed with ripe California fruitiness.
2016 Momo Pinot Noir (US$20) This New Zealand red from a top organic estate in Marlborough has silky, stylish charm and real pinot noir character for a bargain price. Don’t expect complexity, but it is vegan friendly.
2015 Domaine le Couroulu Vacqueras Cuvee Classique (US$20) Spicy and robust, this stellar Rhône blend is a serious red meat wine, with the savory wild herbs and green olive character of reds from Vaqueyras, a village between Gigondas and Châteauneuf du Pape.