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1/12/2017 2:36 pm  #1

20 Wines Under $20

20 Wines Under $20: Reds for Winter Moods and Foods
 Eric Asimov

I’m not one to adhere rigidly to the idea of drinking seasonally: reds when it’s cold, whites and rosés when the weather heats up. This is textbook nonsense that makes it seem as if temperature is the only consideration in choosing a wine.

But this is winter, a time to hunker down. For many, that means seeking pleasure in long, slow cooking.

In Manhattan, where I live, the idea of a hearth may be fanciful, but the warmth of the oven or stove, with a bubbling pot of beans or a simmering stew, serves the crucial figurative function.

The sorts of deep, soulful flavors that come from blends of herbs and spices, long braises, and meats and birds roasted on the bone require specific sorts of wines. Most often they are reds, but not just any sort of red. These foods demand staying power and the ability to stand up to robust flavors.

Yet they must also fulfill the fundamental roles of providing refreshment and enhancing meals without overpowering them. This means wines that are balanced and energetic, substantial rather than ethereal, yet not blusterous or domineering.

Here are 20 red wines that meet those requirements, all in that $15-to-$20 sweet spot where price intersects with quality and distinctiveness to yield great value. You can certainly find plenty of sound wines for less than $15, but chances are they will not be as interesting.

For more than $20, you can start to add in wines that may fit the bill from more highly regarded regions, like the northern Rhône, Priorat, even Burgundy, though pretty soon you could be spending a lot of money.

Staying in the $15-to-$20 range requires searching outside of the status areas, and trying wines that often come from little-known regions, are made from grapes that are not celebrated, and are frequently in limited production. If the wines are more familiar, like California cabernet sauvignon or Oregon pinot noir, they will often be made from young vines, or come from surplus grapes that were sold off.

What you won’t find here are fabricated, artificial products made with technological shortcuts or grapes that come from inappropriate areas, which permit production of cheap bottles in great quantities.

This means that most people will be able to find only some of these wines. As always, ask for other recommendations at the best wine shop nearby.

The Whole Shebang California Red Wine Tenth Cuvée $15.99

The Shebang series, moderately priced wines from Morgan Twain-Peterson’s excellent Bedrock Wine Company, offers modern versions of California field blends. This spicy, gutsy wine comes from multiple vineyards and appellations, includes many grapes (with probably a lot of zinfandel and carignan), and mixes several vintages. The result is a delicious, long-lasting red with flavors of licorice, herbs and red and black fruits.

Camp Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 $19.99

Camp’s group of moderately priced Sonoma wines comes from Kenny Likitprakong’s Hobo Wine Company, which makes very good wines from all over California under several labels. This young cabernet is bright and well balanced, with a touch of earth and tannins that simply let you know they are there. It’s easy to enjoy right now, especially with juicy braised meats.

Matías i Torres La Palma Negramoll 2014 $19.99

On the island of Madeira, negramoll is known as tinta negra and is a major grape in cheap fortified wines along with a few good-quality varietal Madeiras. But on La Palma, the westernmost of the Canary Islands, negramoll makes good still wines, like this fruity, herbal bottle from Victoria Torres, a fifth-generation grower. It’s great now, light on the palate yet earthy and minerally. (David Bowler Wine, New York)

Niepoort Douro Twisted 2015 $17.99

The Douro region of Portugal has its own tradition of the field blend, better known as the fortified wine port, predominantly made from four major grapes and a host of others. As the market for port has diminished somewhat, Douro producers began turning to still wines, and have successfully raised their level of quality over the years. Niepoort is one of the top producers. Twisted, the entry-level wine, is focused and not particularly complex but enticing and delicious. (Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, N.Y.)

Domaine de l’Hortus Pic Saint Loup Bergerie Classique 2015 $17.99

In the eastern Languedoc, north of the city of Montpellier, are two distinctive mountains, the Montagne de l’Hortus and the Pic Saint Loup. The scrubby foothills of these peaks produce some of the more distinctive wines of the region, like this one, made mostly of syrah, with grenache and a bit of mourvèdre. The elevation gives the wine freshness, the syrah provides a savory, saline note, and the landscape contributes a delicious herbal character. It’s great with a whole roasted chicken. (Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, N.Y.)

Mas del Périé Cahors La Roque 2014 $19.99

Malbec nowadays is mostly identified with Argentina. The fact that it’s a French grape, with long traditions in several regions of France, is often forgotten. People who despair of the fruity sweetness of many Argentine malbecs may be interested in a wine like this Cahors from Mas del Périé. Made from grapes grown on clay and limestone, the wines are clear and precise and with flavors of red fruit and fine minerality. (Fruit of the Vines, Long Island City, N.Y.)

Le Rocher des Violettes Touraine Côt Vieilles Vignes 2014 $19.99

Here is another expression of malbec, or côt, as it’s better known in the Loire Valley. It comes from La Rocher des Violettes, a fine, under-the-radar producer perhaps better known for its whites. It’s much more floral, with some ripe red fruit flavors but an underlying minerality and, surprisingly, it’s got more grippy tannins than the Cahors. (Skurnik Wines, New York)

Volpaia Chianti Classico 2014 $15.99

I keep hearing that the public has turned away from Chianti. Perhaps people are tired of familiar names, or maybe Chianti was its own worst enemy, regularly redefining itself in the 20th century until nobody knew what to expect. Regardless, the result is that many of the wines can be great values, like this one from Volpaia, gorgeously fragrant of cherries, herbs, tobacco and earth, with the acidic structure characteristic of the sangiovese grape. (Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, Calif.)

Les Brebis Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2015 $19.96

Good, moderately priced pinot noir from California is tough to find, because most of it comes from areas not well suited to the grape. Searching for well-priced pinot noirs is far more rewarding in Oregon, where land and labor costs have not accelerated out of control. This one from Les Brebis, a small producer in the Willamette Valley, is direct and without the sort of artifice often found in inexpensive pinot noirs. Its earthy flavors of red and black fruits and herbs pair well with pork, chicken and salmon.

Cooper Mountain Vineyards Willamette Valley Cooper Hill Pinot Noir 2015 $18.99

Why, here’s another one, also from the Willamette, and quite different in style from the Brebis. It’s made from organic and biodynamically grown grapes, and is equally elegant in profile. It’s a little more floral and herbal, and it has a meatier character, with a deliciously savory edge. Try it with hearty soups.

Valle Dell’Acate Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2013 $17.99

With so much attention focused on the Sicilian region of Mount Etna, the wines of Vittoria are often overlooked. Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the area’s leading wine, made about equally of nero d’Avola and frappato, is fresh and energetic, yet deceptively concentrated. Valle Dell’Acate may not make the best Cerasuolo of the region, but its wine is a great value, pure and lovely year after year. The ’13 is substantial yet lively, with deep flavors of flowers, red fruits and licorice. (Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, N.Y.)

G. B. Burlotto Dolcetto d’Alba 2015 $18.99

Dolcetto is another often neglected category, which means that bottles from great producers like Burlotto are available for moderate prices. Along with barbera, dolcetto is one of the everyday wines of the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy, and it goes well with mushroom pastas, poultry, pizzas and veal. Burlotto’s is pure and breezy with flavors of spicy red fruits and herbs, and discernible tannins. (Bacchanal Wine Imports, Port Chester, N.Y.)

Domaine de la Chevalerie Bourgueil Galichets 2012 $19.99

I’ve have been touting Loire reds for years, but few heed the call beyond a dedicated minority, which means great values are to be found. This Bourgueil, made entirely of cabernet franc and from an estate founded almost 400 years ago, is beautifully detailed and fresh, with earthy, smoky flavors of red fruit and flowers. It’s quiet at first, but don’t let it fool you. Give it some air, and it blossoms. (Fruit of the Vines, Long Island City, N.Y.)

Bernard Baudry Chinon “Cuvée Domaine” 2014 $19.99

Chinon and Bourgueil are divided by the Loire, with Bourgueil on the northern bank and Chinon on the southern. Baudry is one of the top Chinon producers, and the “Cuvée Domaine” offers another expression of Loire cabernet franc. It’s pure, fine and balanced, a wine of subtlety and finesse. As with the Chevalerie, it will benefit from decanting. (Louis/Dressner Selections, New York)

Wölffer Estate Long Island Cabernet Franc 2013 $19.99

Yet another side of cabernet franc, this one comes from Wölffer Estate on the south fork of Long Island. It’s rich and expressive, more in the Bordeaux style than the Loire, less subtle, more open and welcoming. It’s balanced and earthy, and though the tannins are still a bit firm, it will go well with a meaty stew.

Channing Daughters Long Island Rosso Fresco 2015 $17.99

Like Wölffer Estate, Channing Daughters is based on the south fork of Long Island, yet the estates could not be more different. Wölffer takes a more classical approach, but Channing is joyfully experimental, growing an eclectic range of grapes not otherwise seen on Long Island. The ’15 Rosso Fresco incorporates some of these — blaufränkisch and dornfelder along with merlot, syrah and cabernet franc. It’s bright, vividly fruity and floral, and absolutely delicious.

Fattoria La Rivolta Aglianico del Taburno 2013 $17.99

Aglianico, one of the great grapes of southern Italy, can make wines that will evolve for decades, and others that are enjoyable while they’re young. This one, from the Taburno region of Campania, is robust and satisfying right now, with flavors of dark fruits, tobacco, herbs and licorice. Try it with salumi and mozzarella, or with a pork roast. (T. Edwards Wines, New York)

La Rioja Alta Rioja Reserva Viña Alberdi 2010 $19.99

From its age-worthy gran reservas to this entry-level Viña Alberdi, La Rioja Alta is a reliable source for traditional Riojas. Viña Alberdi is 100 percent tempranillo, which is expressed in length and depth rather than in the complexity that might come from, say, a little graciano in the blend. Nonetheless, it’s a great introduction into the classic Rioja flavors of spicy red fruit framed and cushioned by American oak. Its plush textures will go well with lamb chops. (Skurnik Wines, New York)

Vesper Vineyards San Diego County McCormick Ranch Carignan 2012 $19.99

San Diego? Seriously? While the San Diego coast is more readily associated with beach volleyball and Navy bases, San Diego County is also home to a small wine region with some surprisingly good producers. Vesper Vineyards makes this fruity, smoky, well-balanced carignan tempered by citrus highlights.

Foxglove Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 $16.99

Foxglove is the reliable value arm of Varner Wine, which makes fine chardonnays and pinot noirs. Foxglove expands that range with moderately priced wines like this Paso Robles cabernet, which is bold and intense yet not at all a fruit bomb. It’s juicy and balanced, and will go well with steaks and chops.

Last edited by Goose (1/12/2017 2:37 pm)

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 

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