Choosing wine is never easy, but it’s always a pleasurable challenge. The mere thought of heading to the local wine shop makes me giddy with anticipation, with so many possibilities looming behind those doors. But finding quality, everyday drinking wines under $20 is difficult, and even harder if you don’t know what to look for.
As a rule of thumb, wines from appellations neighboring some of the most famous in the world are about a third of the price, without compromising integrity. The areas of the Rhône and Loire valleys are some of the best examples. Domaine du Coing Chardonnay from the Loire Valley is versatile and crisp, due to being unoaked, allowing the fresh fruit notes of pears and quince to display prominently. Its lowly designation of a Vin de Pays, meaning “country wine,” makes its value underappreciated by the French—lucky for us ($10.99 at Market Street Wineshop).
Another great Loire Valley find is a Sauvignon Blanc made by Michel Langlois. Right off the bat, it’s pretty obvious they saved some money on label design, as it’s not much to look at, but that’s not nearly as important as what’s inside. The wine shows classic notes of grapefruit and refreshing minerality that come from the limestone and clay soils of its origin. This wine is best suited for those who prefer a fuller bodied, yet dry white wine ($12.99 at Market Street Market). In the Rhône Valley, value wines are easy to come by with plenty of Côtes du Rhône and village appellations to choose from. These wines, in a nutshell, are declassified Chateauneuf du Pâpe and Vaqueras wines, which come with much stricter wine laws and a hefty price tag. Michel Chapoutier’s Bila Haut is a Côtes de Roussillon Village-designated wine made from syrah, grenache, and carignan grapes ($13.99 at Market Street Market). It shows the savage aromas of syrah, the jammy spiciness of grenache, and the dried herb characteristics of carignan, making it a full-bodied, mineral-driven red wine suited for grilled meats and duck. The Chapoutier line of wines spans from high end, single origin appellations to organic and middle-of-the-road whites and reds.
I’m a sucker for Italian wines across the board, but the whites from Campania take the cake, and are often priced affordably, which make them a realistic option. They have personality, floral aromas, bright acidity, and an oily texture unmatched by other regions. The Cantina del Taburno Falanghina is optimal, with hints of lemon peel, pineapple, and supple ripe pear. It is well suited for seafood and light appetizers ($16.99 at Market Street Market).
Moving north to the Piedmont region, where some of the finest wines of the world are crafted, the G.D. Vajra Langhe Rosso comprises a mélange of pinot nero, dolcetto, nebbiolo, barbera, and albarossa. It is a lighter-bodied red wine with noticeable tannins (almost) rivaling its big brothers, Barolo and Barbaresco, while showing similar notes of bright cherry and violets. The family-owned and run winery makes fantastic expressions of those as well, but at an affordable price, this bottle can be enjoyed with greater frequency ($15.99 at Beer Run). It’s a solid match for charcuterie and aged hard cheeses, which cut through the sharp tannins.
The Folk Machine Tocai Friuli rivals its Italian heritage in the new world. It is round, creamy, and ripe, with candied lemon rind, grapefruit, and plenty of aromatics. This producer focuses on making quality, esoteric wines and has succeeded with this one. Serve it with Vietnamese food and the puzzle is complete ($14.99 at Greenwood Gourmet).
Austrian wines are often affordable and quaffable, with many Grüner Veltliners on the market that are thirst-quenching and don’t require much thought. Meinklang in Burgenland makes a Pinot Noir that is organic and biodynamic ($16.99 at Market Street Market). With this grape gaining popularity in the U.S., prices are going up in regions like Oregon and California, and have remained steadily high in France’s Burgundy region, but this one hovers within our everyday threshold. It is fresh, with notes of white pepper and jammy fruit, and easily packable for a picnic of prosciutto, cured meats, and cheese—it even has a screw cap! The wine is vegan and vegetarian friendly, even if the picnic foods aren’t.
Finding inexpensive local wines proved more challenging than anticipated, with many selections hovering right around or just over the $20 mark. The Pollak Vineyards rosé is made from the saignée (meaning “to bleed”) method from cabernet franc grapes. It’s refreshing and reminiscent of strawberry and rhubarb jam, but with a dry finish and vibrant acidity. Perfect for end-of-summer weather ($16 at Greenwood Gourmet).
Tracey Love is the event coordinator at Blenheim Vineyards, the sales and marketing associate for the Best of What’s Around farm, and proprietress of Hill & Holler.