By Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
Even with gas prices going down, inflation continues to challenge our pocketbooks. We’ve noticed price increases everywhere – grocery stores, restaurants, even the dry cleaners. Not surprisingly, wine is not immune to price increases as the cost of glass, corks and shipping have gone up. Fires in California make recent vintages hard to come by and with lower production comes higher prices.
When we launched this wine column in the mid-1980s we often wrote about the best bargains under $10. We couldn’t do that today. It’s hard to find bargains under $20. Those who have retreated to wine as a special occasion beverage may be able to spend more money, but those who drink wine regularly are looking for bargains more than ever.
With that thought in mind, we visited a couple of wine stores in search of the low-priced wines that we have followed for decades. None of our choices come from Napa Valley where prices are driven by demand, reputation and the cost of real estate. Instead, the best deals come from Spain, Portugal, Italy and less known regions on the West Coast.
Retasting these favorites gave us confidence that a consumer doesn’t have to spend $50 for a decent bottle of wine to drink with a plate of pasta, burgers or fish. Do we like those expensive wines? You bet. There’s nothing better than a full-bodied, rich and complex cabernet sauvignon to go with a juicy steak. But we can’t do that with any regularity in this economy.
So, here’s a dozen inflation-busting wines that we think you would enjoy:
Evodia Garnacha 2019 ($11). We love this garnacha for the elegant label alone, but behind the label is a wonderfully delicious quaff. From steep slope vineyards in the Calatayud region of Spain, it has simple but lasting red fruit character. It would do well with pizza, pasta, burgers and other simple fare.
Brecca Garnacha 2016 ($18). From the same region of Spain, this is full bodied and lush with violet aromas, ripe red berry and kirsch flavors with hints of spice. It’s big enough to pair with grilled meats.
Torres Gran Coronas Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($18). We’ve been tasting this wine since the early 1980s. Torres Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon was one of the first cases we bought then, but this simple version continues to be a great buy. Concentrated and ripe with blackberry flavors, spice and a hint of vanilla.
Marques de Caceres Rioja Reserva 2018 ($19). Another good deal from Rioja, this tempranillo offers blackberry and cherry flavors with a soft mouthfeel and earthy finish.
Tribute Monterey County Chardonnay 2020 ($20). The inspiration of Chris Benziger, this robust chardonnay has ripe pear and Meyer lemon notes with hints of vanilla and crisp acidity.
Adega de Redondo Porta da Ravessa Special Edition White 2020 ($15). Made in stainless-steel tanks and relatively low in alcohol, this crisp white wine is perfect for summer sipping. It has citrus and stone-fruit flavors. Made from verdehlo, arinto and antao vaz grapes.
Veramonte Organic Carmenere 2020 ($12). Bright red fruit characterize this simple but tasty treat from Chile. It’s a great barbecue wine.
Orfila Estate Selection Mendoza Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 ($15). Argentina has some of the best bargains on the market, especially for malbec. But we were stunned by this full-body cabernet sauvignon. Lots of dark fruit flavors, a hint of tobacco and gritty tannins.
Banfi La Pettegola Vermentino 2019 ($17). Vermentino is an underrated grape variety that consumers need to try. Like this version of Italy’s well-respected house of Banfi, it is simple yet elegant with crisp acidity to make it a versatile wine to go with food.
McManis Family Vineyards Lodi Pinot Noir 2020 ($11). You will be hard pressed to find a better pinot noir at this price. Medium body with forward cherry and raspberry notes with a hint of vanilla.
Avalon California Red Blenc 2020 ($11). All of Avalon’s wines are inexpensive. This red blend includes cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and petite sirah. Jammy blackberry and cherry flavors and smooth mouthfeel.
Corvezzo Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2020 ($13). Generous tropical fruit aromas with flavors of stone fruit and pears. It’s a delicious accompaniment to fish.
Abbot’s Passage Points+Unknown 2018 ($60). This is an incredible, dense blend of 61 percent grenache, 25 percent mourvedre and 14 percent syrah. Using grapes from the Steel Plow Vineyard at the foot of Sugarloaf Mountain in the Sonoma Valley, the producer delivers a little Old World and a lot of New World in this wine. Raspberry, lavender and dried herb aromas give way to a broad palate of blueberry and black cherry flavors.
DuMOL Highland Divide Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2019 ($69). Winemaker and viticulturalist Andy Smith has two dozen small vineyards from which to draw fruit for his superb, small-production wines. This pinot noir leans on three estate vineyards which show off bright fruit character with richness and longevity. Aromas include raspberries and cranberries while the plate has vibrant black cherry flavors.
Cuvaison Coeurtina Chardonnay 2020 ($60). From Los Carneros, this supple and rich chardonnay has a luxurious mouthfeel with stone-fruit flavors, a hint of spice and a lingering finish.
Valenti Enrico IV Contrada Santo Spirito Etna Bianco 2018 ($25). A fantastic, golden white wine made from the Sicilian indigenous carricante grape. The wine features a ripe rich floral nose with intriguing melon, peach and mineral notes. Very complex and enjoyable.
Ancient Peaks Sauvignon Blanc Paso Robles 2021 ($19). Well priced, this sauvignon blanc sports melon and citrus notes with balanced acidity. A nice quaffer.