Category Archives: 90 under $20

Seeking value wine for the wine lover

14_07_03 1630 The Crusher, Sterling Anniversary_4000_BlogGrocery stores often have the strategic marketing technique of placing their alcohol selection near the check-out registers.  On, say, a Monday morning, this would make little difference to me.  But I don’t grocery shop on Monday mornings.  I grocery shop when I’m out of food and I’m hungry, and for whatever cruel reason that tends to be at the end of a long day, usually a workday—the sort of day when dinner is much better complimented with wine or beer, rather than water.

This was exactly the case last week, and it’s probably why my mouth started watering due to a pavlovian response while pushing my shopping cart down the alcohol aisle, which I could not avoid on the way to the checkout counter.  Now, this was a Trader Joe’s, and these guys are deceivingly clever as to how they present their alcoholic beverage options—the wine aisle’s selection is laid out by price, starting with the more expensive finer wines, and descending in cost to the cheaper table wines.

Thankfully, passing down the majority of that aisle I was undeterred and kept moving forward (granted, I found myself browsing with more and more interest, and my salivary glands kicked into overdrive).  You see, I’m trying to eat healthier (aka avoid the frozen pre-made dinner options), and there tends to be a positive correlation between healthy eating and higher spending at the grocery store, so I have less budgeted for purchasing alcohol at Trader Joe’s.  And anyway, if I’m going to buy a nice wine, it’s going to be from Wine.com, where I can find a much larger selection, and still at competitive prices (shameless plug).

But, Trader Joe’s has of course come up with a solution for buying wine on a small budget, and if you’ve been a college student in the last decade, you likely know what I’m talking about: Two Buck Chuck.  It’s Charles Shaw, a brand of bargain-priced wine that was given its own scale of classification: “extreme value.”  So here I am at 7:30 PM on a Wednesday night, hungry and annoyed by all-too skinny aisles, with a cart full of foods I don’t even know exactly how to turn into a meal (kale, organic yogurt, free-range chicken), and I want a drink.

Ultimately, it’s curiosity that gets the best of me.  I used to drink Two Buck Chuck all the time, when it actually only cost $2 a bottle.  It’s more or less how I was introduced to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay – can’t forget white Zinfandel – and I wanted to know if I would still find these to be enjoyable wines.  So I bought one of each, took them home, and in the meantime I’ve tasted them all.

Suffice it to say that my taste has changed since the days of using Charles Shaw in red SOLO cups to play “wine pong.”  While I’m working on my goal to develop my wine knowledge and have an even deeper appreciation for what makes a quality wine, I honestly never intended to actively dislike cheaply made wine.  There’s just no turning back after you expose your palate to some of the better wine out there.  Once accustomed to the good stuff, the mouth wants nothing to do with a cheap wine that has little going for it with the possible exception that it has alcohol.

However, it’s flawed thinking to suggest the senses always have to be pitted against the wallet—great wine does not need to also be expensive wine.  I’m currently on a mission to find some of the greatest wines out there for under $15.  I’ve come across dozens already, and the list is growing.  If you’re buying wine on a budget, I suggest you undertake a similar challenge.  It’s fun, it’s not terribly expensive, and you get to educate your palate while also learning about the world of wine.  You can start by narrowing in on the almost 200 wines we offer at Wine.com that have 90+ ratings and are sold for under $15.   If you’re clueless, you can try our Live Chat service and feel free to ask for our favorites at your price point – we have plenty.  While it can be hard to pass up the allure of the price of mass-produced super cheap wine, I think you’ll find the few extra dollars spent on a nicer wine make for a much more enjoyable wine drinking experience.14_04_16 1130 Rioja at The Wine Bar_1600_Blog

My top picks include:

The Seeker Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Hahn Estates GSM 2013

Castello di Meleto Borgaio Toscana 2011

Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages 2013

Cune Crianza 2010

Domingo Molina Hermanos Torrontes 2012

Poema Brut Cava

Las Rocas Rose 2013

Evodia Old Vine Grenache 2013

Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Zinfandel 2012

Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Parducci Small Lot Blend Pinot Noir 2012

Louis Martini Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

The Crusher Petite Sirah 2012

Robert Oatley Signature Chardonnay 2013

A delicious no-nonsense Rioja

14_04_16 1130 Rioja at The Wine Bar_1600_BlogLife does not have to be over-complicated, instead of fretting over every little thing that we are planning to do, we should just enjoy. The 2010 CVNE Crianza affords this possibility. So full of fruit and vitalilty, this one simply goes down easily. Made from 80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha tinta and Mazuelo (now say that three times or more), this wine is so Spanish. Yet it maintains an almost New World spin. This is Rioja of great pleasure. Tell the chef in the house to grill some lamb and get ready to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. #cvne #cune #rioja #crianza #spanishwines #tinto #grilled lamb

Riesling love

Each country has a different way of indicating sweetness levels in wines. Because everything is strictly codified and regulated there, German wines are very easy to learn. On the label, they must have the region where the grapes are grown, the variety, the quality level, and in most cases the sweetness level.  All you need now is a Rosetta stone to crack the code. The most famous German varietal is Riesling, so here is a guide to sweetness levels with that variety in mind.

A QbA wine or Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (isn’t that a mouthful to say!) is the most basic of the 2 major categories of German wines. QbA wines can be grown in one of 13 different regions and the region must be stated clearly on the label. They must use grape varieties that are on an approved list. They must have a minimum alcohol content that is achieved, and they are what most people would call an “off dry” sugar level. For example, Ernst Loosen is considered to be one of the best winemakers in Germany, so his QbA wine is a lot higher quality than the average wine of that category. While the Dr. Loosen Dr. L Estate QbA 2012 is fruity, there is plenty of acidity in the wine to balance it out and make it more appropriate to serve with savory items and not dessert. I love this wine with cheese or roast chicken.

The next level up in German wines is called QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat). These wines have many of the same laws about regions and varieties. In addition, the sweetness levels of the wines are also regulated and must fall within a range that is specified for each level. From driest to sweetest they are Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Berenauslese, and Trockenberenauslese. In special years, grapes that achieve the Bereneauslese or sweeter level and are left to freeze on the vine create a very unique wine called an Eiswein. For the last several years, many German wineries are creating dry or “Trocken” wines. Many of these wines started life with an Auslese level of sugar, but are then fermented to dryness. A great example of a Kabinett level wine is Dr. Loosen Blue Slate Estate Kabinett 2012. It is a blend of grapes from the most famous villages in the Mosel: Graach, Bernkastel, and Wehlen. The bright apple fruit is balanced by flinty, minerally notes and a long crisp finish. I love this wine with grilled fish such as trout or salmon.

Unfortunately, in the United States, there is no special system to rate the sweetness levels in wines, so we have to rely on the winemaker’s description, a recommendation, or tasting the Riesling. Ernst Loosen also makes a high quality Riesling in Washington called Eroica. The Eroica Riesling 2012 is a very high quality wine that has more sweetness than his QbA or Kabinett wines. I love this wine with cheeses or, for an entrée, grilled pork chops with an apple and cornbread stuffing. The Eroica Gold Riesling 2012 is definitely a dessert level wine, which would be perfect with an apple or peach cobbler.

I hope you give Riesling a try. It is a noble grape variety that is very versatile where the wines can be crisp and refreshing to rich and sweet. Trying the wines from a great winemaker like Ernst Loosen is an easy way to learn about Riesling and the sweetness levels in wine. Go ahead and have an adventure tonight with a new wine!

 

Shop Like a Pro!

It’s time to up your game and shop like a pro.  So here they are – a few tips to help you pick out the best of the best and, bottle by bottle, transform yourself into the oenophile your parents always suspected you’d become.    

Tip #1 Old to New

This first tip has very little application outside the wine world.  In fact, I discourage it for most other life scenarios, especially when shopping for milk or meat.  Find the oldest one on the shelf!  I always sort the 90 under $20 wine list by “Vintage:  Old to New.”  These lonely bottles are forgotten once newer, shinier bottles make their way onto the site.  That’s a shame because these wines are exactly what makes wine unique, they improve with age!  A little mellower, a little more complex, a little more integrated – a lot more interesting. 

Tip #2  What the heck is that!?

Txakolina? Try it, you’ll like it.  Lesser known varietals like Torrontes, Graciano, Godello, Txakolina, Falanghina and Mencia, may not be as popular as Chardonnay but, ounce for ounce, these wines are some of this category’s top performers.  Complex, affordable and, best of all, unlike anything you’ve tried before.  They are a great way to expand your palate and the breadth of descriptors you use to describe wine.  Do you want to see why people describe Torrontes as smelling like Juicy Fruit gum or experience what a truly high acid wine feels like?  Then try a bottle of Torrontes and Txakolina.  Best of all these wines will blow your world of wine pairings wide open.  So experiment.   After trying some of these you’ll be loath to plunk down twice as much money for a more popular varietal.

Tip #3  Swoop in for Savings

Sort by savings!  You can sort our 90 under $20 list by savings and order a few killer $30-$40 wines for under 20 bucks.  Not only will these wines give you the most for your money, but they typically also offer the most in terms of cellaring potential.  The higher price can be an indicator that, unlike a $10 bottle, it’s a keeper and the winemaker put an extra level of care into ensuring it will develop over the years. That $30 bottle of Pinot Noir with 93 points from PinotReport is good now, but will also be good in another 5 years and you got it for just $19.99!

I’ve shared some of my top picks and my best tips on finding wines, now I’m curious to know about your favorite 90 under $20 wines.