The On-Going List of My Top 10 Favorite Easy-to-Find Value Wines

A great sparklng wine for Kir Royals: Cristalino Brut (see #10)

A great sparklng wine for Kir Royals: Cristalino Brut (see #10). If you want to make a great, any-night Kir, go for choice #1.

I have been writing about wine for 10 years, and have tasted thousands of labels. What strikes me again and again is how many truly great wines there are out there in the value-to-moderate category. 

For the first time on this blog, I’ve decided to compile a list of my top-10 favorite wines in the under-$15 category. I’ll update this list periodically, bumping off a few now and then to make way for new finds. Feel free to share your own favorite value wines in the comment section, below.

PS: Rather than just listing the wines with prices and tasting notes, I’ve decided to also offer a bit of context for each. After all, there are plenty of good value wines out there–each of these is good for a very specific reason. Also note that I’ve limited my selection to easy-to-find bottles. Sure, we all have plenty of great finds in super-small US distribution, but what good is it if you can’t find them? These are all in US distribution of at least 5,000 cases (60K bottles).

1. The Best Wine for Making Kirs: Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc (California; $7)

A kir—that quintessential French white wine/crème de cassis concoction—is how I kick off just about every night I dine at home, so let’s start with it here. Although the authentic kir from Burgundy is made with Aligoté wine, there’s no reason to seek out this rarity; in fact, outside of Burgundy, most French people will use an inexpensive local white wine to make this nationally adored apéritif.

Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc is perfect–it’s a bright, fresh style of Sauvignon Blanc that has very little oak influence, allowing the fruity astringency of the Crème de Cassis to really come through. And you can generally find it for around $7 a bottle; for a while this season, my local supermarket was selling it for $5 a bottle. I wish I had bought a couple cases.

PS: I make my kir with a couple teaspoons of Crème de Cassis and about 4 ounces dry white wine. It’s meant to be a small drink; I find it the quintessential French way of shrugging off the cares of the workday, reconnecting with Mr. Sportcoat, and easing into the evening.

2. A Fabulous European Red Table Wine: Centine Rosso (Toscana; $11)

I wrote about Centine Rosso a few years ago in Ultimate Italian magazine.  It remains a great any-night red if you love Italian wine.

I wrote about Centine Rosso a few years ago in Ultimate Italian magazine. It remains a great any-night red if you love Italian wine.

Historically, Toscana (Tuscany) is the land of Chianti—red wines anchored by the Sangiovese grape and produced within the Chianti wine-growing region. However, in recent decades, Tuscan winemakers have turned heads by prominently featuring other grape varieties in their wines.

Some of these newfangled Tuscan wines can soar in price, but this little gem, crafted from Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, is a phenomenally good value. I love the way it hovers between old/new world appeal, combining Sangiovese’s hallmark food-friendly brightness with the approachably fruity appeal of Merlot and Cab.

Tormaresca3. Another great European Red Table Wine: Tormaresca Primitivo 2012 (Puglia, Italy; $14):

This Primitivo just launched in the U.S., and the PR materials made much of its fruit-forward “modern” style and Primtivo’s shared heritage with Zinfandel. And yet, I would never mistake this for rich, ripe California red. And that’s just fine with me. Certainly, there’s some cherry-berry fruit going on here, but it’s the unmistakably crisp, brightly acidic finish that makes me want to keep this on the dinner table and serve it with roast meats and pasta.

4. A Shockingly Good Any-Night Merlot: Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot 2012 (Columbia Valley, Washington; $12)

This fabulously priced red is approachable without being ridiculously fruity (a peril with some inexpensive US Merlots). Yes, in addition to dark fruits you seek in a Merlot, you’ll find zip and structure in this bottle. It’s a great go-to weeknight wine.

Need a further nudge? Both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast magazines have given this inexpensive bottle their hearty thumbs up, listing it in their Best Buy/Best Value categories this season.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling5. The World’s Best $10 Riesling: Chateau Ste. Michelle (Columbia Valley, Washington; $10) 

Nothing tires me more than people who roll their eyes at Riesling and deem it “sweet.” But I have no time for Rieslings that are made into super-dry styles, either—in some cases, you might as well be drinking Sauvignon Blanc.

I’m biased: If it’s Riesling, I want some fruit—and this one’s got fruit in that classy Riesling way: It’s not exactly sweet, but phantomly sweet, with aromas of peach and pear. It’s not exactly dry, but has those refreshing tangy/acidic qualities that are more about fragrant limes than puckery lemons.

Note that while Chateau Ste Michelle makes a “Sweet Riesling” and a “Dry Riesling,” the one I’m recommending here is simply labeled  “Riesling”—at the perfect midpoint between the two and exactly they way I love my Riesling.

6. An Inexpensive Cab You Can Be Proud to Pour: Columbia Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (Columbia Valley Washington, $14)

Cab lovers who enjoy the quintessential Cab characteristics of firm tannins, cassis flavors, and vague cedar notes will enjoy this casual, weeknight pick. As a bonus (for me, anyway), the alcohol content is listed at 13.5%–that’s just a titch lower than many New World Cabs, but in my experience, it can make all the difference between a gentle lift and a hit-you-over-the-head thud.

I’m looking forward to serving this one all winter long with my favorite braising recipes.

7. The Infinitely Drinkable Red Party Wine: Casillero del Diablo Carmenere Casillero del Diablo Carmenere2012 (Central Valley, Chile; $10) 

I’m almost embarrassed to put this on the list, because it seems kind of passé. After all, 10 years ago everyone discovered Chilean Carmenere, and this particular label became as inevitable on the party table as a bowl of hummus. But after a few years, it fell out of favor and pretty much went away (at least from parties I frequented).

However, I recently tasted the 2012 vintage, and I thought: Yes—I remember why everyone always liked this: It’s fruity and approachable without being boring, thanks to plenty of spice and a little bit of structural oomph. While its head-turning days may be over, it remains a great value.

8. A White with Personality: Snoqualmie Gewürztraminer Columbia Valley, Screen shot 2014-12-12 at 11.42.35 AMWashington, 2012 ($12)

Sometimes, you want a wine with personality. This one has that, without being a ham about it. I love its lightly fragrant spices, the lychee and the sweet citrus notes, and the plush texture. I’ll admit this wine is not for everyone, but for $12, give it a try. Pour it with a spicy Indian curry or Pad Thai. And then thank me.

9. Simply a Great, All-Purpose, Never-Let-You-Down White: McManis Family Vineyards Pinot Grigio California ($9)

On the other hand, when you seek a wine with a get-along/go-along spirit, here’s a great pick. That’s not to say that this wine is a wallflower, but with its crisp, tangy appeal and long fruit finish (I got pear in the mix), this one’s going to go with a lot of foods. It’s a great party wine that should delight many and offend no one.

PS: It’s also favorite with wine critics—the 2013 vintage took home a gold medal in Los Angeles Wine & Spirits Competition.

Cristalino Brut10. The “You Can Feel Good About Serving This Inexpensive Bubbly” Pick: Cristalino Brut Cava (Spain; $10)

This crisp, dry, and incredibly drinkable cava costs a mere ten-spot. Frankly, it’s not the type of wine you’re going to furrow your brows over while detecting subtle brioche notes, but for the price, its surprisingly chic.  Another thing I used to love about this: The classy label belies its inexpensive origins. Sadly, most of my friends are by now hip to this.

PS: I love making Kir Royals out of this wine.

I showed you mine–now will you show me yours? I’d love to hear about your favorite inexpensive, easy-to-find wines. Comment below, or on my facebook page.

Please note that I often receive samples from wineries free of charge for tasting/review purposes. However, all opinions are my own. See this page for further disclosures.


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4 comments to The On-Going List of My Top 10 Favorite Easy-to-Find Value Wines

  • This is a great post. I know nothing about wine so it is nice to have a go-to list. I was at a party and was served Gewürztraminer. I loved it. Why do you say it is not for everyone?

    • Wini

      That’s a great question, Madonna, and I’m trying to put my finger on why I say that. I think that some people are put off by wines that have perceptible fruitiness (which sometimes registers as “sweet”). It’s simply not a middle-of-the-road wine, like the Pinot Grigio I mentioned.

      Thanks for making me think this through!

  • Thanks for this list. Hunting good value wines is a constantly changing process and I am happy to read of some wines I can try here in the US. In about a 5 year span here in Austin, TX, the wine choices have expanded and changed greatly. More and more good French roses, and good Italian and French reds are being offered. The best easy to find source for me including unbeatable prices is my new local Trader Joe’s.

  • […] I decided to compile a list of my top 10 all-time-favorite value wines in the $15-and-under category. It was fascinating to see where these wines came from. […]

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