Most American consumers purchase wines that cost less than $20/bottle. In this article, we review inexpensive wines that we have recently tasted. Many of them offer very good value. They include wines as varied as Carménère and País from Chile, Malbec from Argentina, Garnacha from Spain, and Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel from California. If you wish to spend a little more and drink the very best, watch out for our forthcoming report on California Chardonnay.
Amici 2019 Olema Chardonnay Sonoma County ($15) 90+ Subtly aromatic of very fresh citrus and orchard fruit. A nicely balanced wine with lemony acidity and notes of pear and and quince and hints of baking spice. The mouth feel is unusually sensual and creamy for a wine of this price. Finishes clean with light spicy notes. 13.8% alc.
Calcu 2020 Escarlata Chardonnay Maule Valley ($12) 90 Showing fresh, light aromas of orchard and citrus fruit, this unoaked Chardonnay offers good depth of flavor with bright, firm acidity and a clean finish. This is an honest, straightforward wine that would pair well with seafood and vegetable dishes. One of the better unoaked Chardonnays we’ve had this year. 13% alc. Rodrigo Romero is the winemaker.
Funckenhausen 2020 Chardonnay Mendoza ($15) 89 Light yellow straw color. This one liter bottle of Chardonnay offers scents of the Chardonnay grape with a honeyed apple accent. The palate is correct with clean orchard fruit flavors and sweet fruit balanced by firm acidity. A good New World Chardonnay at a very reasonable price. A blend of 85% Chardonnay and 15% Sauvignon Blanc. 13.3% alc.
Pavette 2019 Chardonnay California North Coast ($12) 88 Lightly flavored and unobtrusive this is an easy drinking aperitif style Chardonnay. There are hints of orchard fruit and good volume on the softly textured, light weight palate. Partial barrel fermented in neutral oak with lees contact and malo; aged in neutral barrel and stainless steel. 13.9% alc
Valravn 2019 Chardonnay Sonoma County ($20) 90+ Excellent Chardonnay for the price! Appealing bouquet of citrus, orchard fruit and a hint of creme brûlée. The palate is soft and creamy with subtle fruit flavors complemented by lemony acidity. Nicely focused with good mouth feel and very good length on the finish. A blend of Robert Young, Old Wente and 76 clones handpicked at night from vineyards in the Sonoma Coast, Russian River and Petaluma Gap AVAs fermented in barrel with spontaneous malo and then aged in 25% new French oak barrels (mostly Damy with some Cavin and Tremeaux) for 10 months. 13.6% alc.
Girasole Vineyards 2019 Pinot Blanc Mendocino County ($14) 89 Made from organically cultivated grapes, the Girasole Pinot Blanc is an attractive, quaffing wine. It offers honeydew melon, pear and white peach scents and flavors and is full and round in the mouth. There’s good freshness and a nice, lingering finish. But above all else it’s an easy drinking crowd pleaser made for summer picnics and winter days when we wished we were at a summer picnic. The winery suggests pairing with crabcakes, and we couldn’t agree more. RS 2.5 g/L, 13.5% alc.
Hacienda El Espino 2019 La Joven Vino Blanco Almansa ($13) 90 Medium yellow gold. Revealing scents of waxy yellow fruit, chamomile, and almond, this white wine has an especially appealing lanolin like, creamy texture. There’s good, uplifting acidity and a distinctive saline edge. A well made, easy drinking Garnacha Blanc de Noir. Made from the free run juice of Garnacha grapes. The winemaker is Thomas Feenstra. Alc 13.5%
Pavette 2020 Sauvignon Blanc California ($12) 89 Fresh, crisp nose of green apples, kiwi and a hint of pink grapefruit that carry over to a light bodied palate. Finishes clean with good length. A pleasant, easy drinking Sauvignon Blanc that’s well worth the price. Picked at 21 Brix then cold fermented in stainless steel tank with no malo. 12.3% alc.
DoublePlus Wines 2020 Rosé Oak Knoll, Napa Valley ($30) 91 Deep pink. In this age of pale pink, faintly flavorful rosés, this rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon is a bit of a throwback. It’s dark in color and red fruited and herbal in its aromas. It’s flavorful and complex on the palate, fermented dry with a melange of red berry and plum fruit complemented by savory elements. It’s a rosé meant for the dinner table, not for sipping by the pool. Serve with pork, fowl or other substantial dishes. Sourced from the Orchard 5 vineyard on the valley floor, this rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon (Clone 4) is cold soaked and then fermented in 75 gallon stainless steel barrels.
Albamar 2019 Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley ($12) 88 Medium ruby red. Showing a bouquet of red plum, dried cherry and a hint of garden herbs, this is pleasant, fruit forward, light red wine with modest flavors and bright acidity. It’s a perfectly good quaffer so long as you’re not expecting a lot of Pinot Noir character. 13% alc.
Calcu 2020 Escarlata Pinot Noir Maule Valley ($12) 88 Pinot Noir for $12? Well, Escarlata brings it to reality. It offers an herbal-stemmy nose with dark cherry lurking behind. The attack is soft, and the palate is lightly flavored of darker cherry and berry. An easy drinking wine that’s a little astringent on its own but just fine with food. 13% alc.
Contour 2020 Pinot Noir California 89 Restrained aromas of spicy dark red fruit. The Contour Pinot Noir offers a medium weight palate of dark cherry and berry flavors with well-integrated oak notes. A good buy at the right price. We recommend serving this wine at cellar temperature. Handpicked and fermented in stainless steel. Aged 10 months in 20% new French oak. 13.8% alc.
Girasole Vineyards 2019 Pinot Noir Mendocino County ($16) 90 It’s rare to find an inexpensive Pinot Noir that we would like to drink, but the Girasole Pinot Noir is delicious and an amazing value. The nose shows red berry, dark cherry and plum that are mirrored on a silky smooth entry and an easy drinking palate. This would make a great bistro wine. A blend of 98% Pinot Noir and 2% Petite Sirah from hand harvested estate fruit, given a cold soak, destemmed, and fermented in stainless steel. Matured in French oak for 8 months. 14.2% alc
Pavette 2020 Pinot Noir California (Central Coast) ($12) 88 Showing understated plum and berry fruit on the nose, this is a fresh tasting, softly textured wine with a nice earthy note on the palate. An amazingly low price for a Central Coast Pinot Noir! 13.8% alc. Fermented in open top tanks with 15% stem inclusion. Malo and aging in 75% stainless steel tank and 25% French oak barrels for 6 months.13.8% alc.
Valravn 2019 Pinot Noir Sonoma County ($24) 90 California Pinot Noir at an amazing price considering where the fruit comes from and how the wine is made. It begins with a nose of red fruit with light earth and toasted oak notes. It’s softly textured with cherry, plum, and light vanilla notes and has a medium long finish. Sourced from a variety of vineyards including Sunnyslope in the Bennett Valley AVA, Gap’s Crown and Grand Vent in the Petaluma Gap, Gravenstein in the Russian River Valley and Walala in the West Sonoma Coast (Annapolis). The grapes are cold soaked followed by fermentation in small open top stainless steel tanks for 12-14 days then racked to 25% new French oak barrels for 11 months malo and aging. 14.1% alc
Aniello 2019 Malbec Riverside Estate Patagonia Alto Valle del Rio Negro 90 Opaque red. Intricate aromas of blackberry, violets and rosemary are followed by a flavorful attack and a medium weight palate with dark fruit and licorice flavors. Finishes with lingering fruit notes and firm, chunky tannins.
Funckenhausen 2019 Malbec Blend Mendoza ($16) 89 The Funckenhausen Malbec Blend is our pizza wine recommendation. It combines fresh dark red fruit aromas and flavors with some herbal/earthy notes that give the wine some complexity. It’s round and soft in the mouth, but firm tannins on the finish suggest pairing with rich food, and our choice would be a spicy cheese pizza. A blend of 65% Malbec, 15% Bonarda and 20% Syrah. 20% of the Malbec comes from the previous vintage Reserva that is aged 12 months in French and American oak. 13.9% alc
Ricardo Santos 2020 Tercos Malbec Mendoza ($14) 87 Medium garnet red. Revealing largely herbal scents, this is quite an earthy Malbec on the palate. It picks up on the herbs complemented by tart dark fruit with hints of tobacco and dried plums and dry tannins. 14% alc.
Apaltagua 2019 Carmenere Reserva Apalta Valley ($13) 91 Dark ruby purple. The plum and red berry nose is a bit reticent, but in the mouth, this wine is beautifully sculpted with a fresh, silky palate and very good phenolic ripeness. Fresh, fruity and delicious!
Calcu 2019 Escarlata Colchagua Valley ($12) 90 Dark ruby red. The Escarlata Red Blend is a good bistro style wine with a spicy dark fruited nose and a soft, layered palate of dark red berries with tobacco and earthy notes. There’s good acidity and firm tannins. A blend of 35% Cabernet Franc, 30% Malbec, 20% Petit Verdot, and 15% Syrah.
Gillmore 2019 Mariposa Carignan Maule Valley ($16) 89 Spicy, red-fruited nose of plum and berry with herbal notes. Soft on entry with good flavor intensity but quite herbaceous with very dry tannins. We would opt to pay a bit more for the VIGNO Carignan. Made from dry farmed, old estate vines and aged in French oak for 10 months. 13% alc. 1500 cs.
Gillmore 2019 Mariposa País Maule Valley ($16) 91 This is a beautiful rendition of Chile’s País grape (known in California as the Mission grape). Showing appealing, fresh cherry, pomegranate and cranberry fruit, it’s a refreshing, light wine that’s a little more weighty alternative to the País rosé. Made in small batches from dry farmed, old vines. 13% alc.
Maquis 2018 Carmenere Colchagua Valley ($20) 90 Lively expressive nose of plum, dark cherry and dried herbs. Fresh on the attack with flavors that mirror the nose. Attractive up front fruit with an appealing earth and leather note; finishes with good length. The wine gets better with time; we suggest opening a couple of hours before serving. Sourced from a vineyard located between the Chimbarongo Creek and the Tinguiririca River in the central Colchagua Valley. 88% Carmenere, 10% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot. 4200 cs.
Maquis 2016 Lien Red Blend Colchagua Valley ($35) 92 The 2016 vintage of Maquis Lien punches above its weight with its elegance and power. It begins with earth and spice on the nose that carry over to a seamless, expressive palate and complemented by notes of framboise and cassis. The mouth feel is nice and silky, finishing long and focused.
Valravn 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County ($24) 90 The 2019 Valravn Cabernet Sauvignon is a good wine for current drinking. It shows rich fruit with notes of cassis and plum and a good backbone that gives the wine a nice firmness without astringent tannins. 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% other varieties from several Sonoma county appellations. Handsorted and cold soaked followed by fermentation in stainless steel, after which the wine is racked to French oak barrels for 18 months. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. 14.5% alc.
Valravn 2018 Zinfandel Sonoma County ($20) 91 This is another excellent value (and a very good wine!) from Valravn. It has a multifaceted nose of dark red fruit, cola, and vanilla wood spice followed by a soft attack with a saline element. There’s fresh blackberry, black raspberry, and red fruit on a softly textured palate. Excellent Zinfandel, especially for the price! Hand harvested from old bush vines averaging 40 years of age, destemmed, cold soaked and fermented in small lots of open and closed top tanks; aged for 14 months in 10% new French oak. 14.8% alc.
Contributing Editor Mark Longsworth is co-author of this article.