20 wines under $20: Great summer values
By Eric Asimov
In the stores where I shop for wine, the shelves have looked a bit less packed than usual with intriguing bottles. I suspect I’m not the only one to notice.
Inflation, delays, supply chain problems — we’ve heard all the reasons goods are more expensive and harder to come by. Wine is subject to all these pressures.
Just the other day an importer told me the lengths he’s gone to assure a supply of wine for later in the year, ordering well in advance of his needs and paying for the wine months ahead of when he can begin to recoup his costs.
The early purchases were necessary, he said, because such a high percentage of wine sales come in the last quarter of the year. But it’s a situation favoring well-financed companies that can afford to lay out cash in advance.
It’s not that wine stores are showing a pronounced scarcity. But as I was shopping for this summer edition of 20 Under $20, I did note fewer new producers and unexpected finds than I had expected.
Instead, I bought a lot of bottles that I have gotten to know over the years. They still are great values, and, as it is summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, this list is heavier on whites and rosés than reds.
Value in wine is often a moving target. A $5 wine can be an abysmal value, and a $100 bottle a great one. Wine pricing is never a straightforward reflection of quality. Supply-and-demand, status and fame, land and labor costs — all these things affect pricing.
Regardless of the formula, it has been my experience that the greatest concentration of values for wine can be found in the $15-to-$25 range. Does this mean that a $20 bottle will always be better than a $10 bottle? Of course not. But it means that at $20, you have a much greater probability of finding a distinctive, intriguing bottle than you would at $10.
Among these 20 bottles you will find wines from lesser-known districts of France, Italy and the United States, as well as from Greece and Austria, Argentina and Spain, countries that have long traditions of wine but may still be relatively undervalued.
Not every $20 bottle is going to be good. The best way of increasing your odds is to shop at serious wine merchants, which have already done the work of cutting away a lot of mediocre stuff. Chances are, they won’t have all the bottles I’m recommending here, but they might have a few. And they certainly should be able to recommend worthwhile alternatives to the wines they do not have. You can always consult previous 20 Under $20 columns, too, even if some of those prices may have crept up a bit.
Here are the 20 bottles, all under $20, beginning with the least expensive.
Moulin de Gassac Pays d’Hérault Guilhem Rosé 2021, 12.5%, $11.99
This pale rosé is a great value. Mas de Daumas Gassac, one of the leading producers in the Languedoc region, has been working with local cooperatives to produce lower-cost wines under the Moulin de Gassac label. This blend, 50% cinsault, 30% carignan and 20% grenache, was typical in Languedoc before other grapes like syrah got popular. It’s dry and refreshing, with flavors of licorice and herbs. (Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, New York)
Luberri Rioja Orlegi de Luberri 2020, 14.5%, $14.99
The Monje Amestoy family farms roughly 85 acres in the Rioja Alavesa, the northernmost of the three Rioja regions. Orlegi de Luberri is a light, easygoing expression of Rioja, made of 95% tempranillo with a little viura, a white grape, tossed in. It’s fresh, fruity and well-balanced, perfect lightly chilled with grilled sausages or other informal dishes. (De Maison Selections, Chapel Hill, North Carolina)
Château le Payral Bergerac Blanc Sec 2021, 12%, $14.99
Bergerac in the southwest of France will always play also-ran to Bordeaux, its coastal cousin. The regions use the same grapes and make similar wines, yet Bordeaux is world famous and Bergerac, well, you would have to read a few Martin Walker mysteries to develop an urge for Bergerac. Or you could shortcut the process by trying this fragrant white, a blend of biodynamically grown sauvignon blanc, sémillon and muscadelle. It’s light and lively, earthy and tart, with a flavor of honeysuckle. (Savio Soares Selections, New York)
Loxarel Classic Penedès Sàniger Brut Nature Reserva 2016, 12.5%, $15
This delicious sparkling wine is another great deal. It’s made using the same method as Champagne, with the second fermentation in the bottle, and with the classic grapes of cava, parellada, macabeu and xarello, of which Loxarel is an anagram. Did I mention the grapes are farmed biodynamically? It’s floral and herbal, dry and saline, and thoroughly delicious. (Classic Wines, Stamford, Connecticut)
The Whole Shebang California Fourteenth Cuvée Red Wine NV, 14.2%, $16
I have written about several iterations of this wine because it’s so good. Why stop now? It’s a modern version of a California field blend, from Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co. Unlike the classic blend in which many grapes are grown all together in a single vineyard, these grapes come from several different vineyards from various parts of California and multiple vintages. This is mostly zinfandel but includes more than a half-dozen other grapes, fermented with native yeast and aged in old oak barrels. It’s fresh with spicy flavors of red fruit.
Romain Chamiot Savoie Apremont 2020, 11.5%, $16.96
I have grown to love the white wines of the Savoie, a French region in the foothills of the Alps near the border where France meets Switzerland and Italy. This wine is not complicated. It’s fresh, light and floral, made from the jacquère grape, and just right for a lunch outdoors with a salad, gazpacho or light seafood dish. (Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York)
Domaine Zafeirakis Tyrnavos Limniona Rosé 2021, 13%, $16.96
Christos Zafeirakis is one of the dynamic growers and producers supplying great energy to modern Greek wine culture. This bottle, a rosé made of the limniona grape, which Zafeirakis practically resurrected from oblivion, is a great example of the Zafeirakis style. It’s fruity, herbal and unexpectedly complex for a rosé. (DNS Wines/T. Elenteny Imports, New York)
Ca’ Lojera Lugana 2020, 13%, $17.99
Lugana, on the southern rim of Lake Garda in the Lombardy region of Italy, is not well known; but it can be the bardy region of Italy, is not well known; but it can be the source of some terrific white wines, like this bottle from Ca’ Lojera. It’s made of the turbiana grape, also known as trebbiano di Lugana, which, oddly, is not trebbiano at all. Rather, it’s a synonym for verdicchio, a grape more commonly found in the Marche region. This wine is savory and bone-dry, with a ]rich texture that lingers. (SoilAir Selection, New York)
Domaine Douloufakis Crete Dafnios Vidiano 2021, 13.5%, $17.99
Vidiano is a white grape grown historically in Crete. This bottle comes from the village of Dafnios, outside of Heraklion, where Nikos Douloufakis is a third-generation grower and producer. This fruity, floral wine is dry, with rich, lingering flavors of herbs and peaches. It would make a nice combination with grilled sea scallops. (Diamond Importers, Chicago)
ColleStefano Verdicchio di Matelica 2021, 13%, $18.96
This wine is so good and so reasonably priced that I regularly tout its virtues. It comes from Matelica, the smaller of two adjoining sources for verdicchio in the Marche, where Fabio Marchionni farms organically. It’s crisp and refreshing, with aromas and flavors of stones, flowers and almonds, a rich texture yet plenty of refreshing acidity. Drink it with anything. (Polaner Selections)
Hubert Vignerons Vin de France Les Vacances de Monsieur Merlot 2019, 14.5%, $18.96
The Hubert family makes some of the best values in Bordeaux under the labels Château Peybonhomme-les-Tours and Château la Grolet, all from biodynamically farmed grapes. This bottle, made entirely of merlot, does not require aging. It’s supple, not soft and amorphous, shaped by acidity and beautiful fruit flavors. I don’t know Monsieur Merlot, but I know he drinks well. (Summit Selections, Staten Island, New York)
Meinklang Osterreich Roter Mulatschak 2020, 11%, $18.99
Meinklang is one of my favorite producers. Wine is just one of the products from its mixed biodynamic farm just east of the Neusiedlersee, a long shallow lake in the Burgenland in eastern Austria. This light, savory red is gorgeous. It’s made of sankt laurent and zweigelt, and is spicy and deliciously refreshing. (Zev Rovine Selections, Brooklyn, New York)
Empire Estate Finger Lakes Blanc de Blancs Brut NV, 12.5%, $19.99
Don’t let the Blanc de Blancs fool you, this is 100% riesling. Blanc de blancs simply means a white made from white grapes. Generally, though, it’s used in the context of Champagne, where 99.9% of the time it means all chardonnay. It also connotes a wine made in the Champagne style, in which a second, bubbles-inducing fermentation takes place in the bottle. This wine is made in a less expensive, less labor-intense fashion, with the second fermentation taking place in tanks. No matter: It’s brisk, elegant, savory and refreshing.
Matias Michelini Uco Valley Esperando a los Bárbaros Malbec 2021, 13.5%, $19.99
You malbec skeptics out there, here is a wine for you. Matias Michelini farms biodynamically in the Gualtallary region of the Uco Valley in Mendoza. These grapes were grown in granite and limestone soils and fermented and aged in concrete eggs. It has got the plummy fruit typical of malbec, but it’s focused and balanced, tempered by fine tannins and an earthy minerality that gives the wine shape and energy. (Ripe Wine Imports, New York)
Domaine Yohan Lardy Vin de France Gamay Poppy 2020, 13%, $19.99
Beaujolais is an archetypal summer red, generally light-bodied, refreshing and delicious lightly chilled. This bottle, from an excellent Moulin-à-Vent producer, is not technically Beaujolais, even though the organically grown grapes come mostly from Beaujolais-Villages (with a little Moulin-à-Vent). Yohan Lardy chooses instead to use the Vin de France appellation for this fresh wine with tart dark-fruited flavors. It’s not complex or structured beyond its lively acidity, but it’s a pleasure to drink. (Bonhomie Wine Imports, South Orange, New Jersey)
Jo Landron Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie Amphibolite 2020, 11.2%, $19.99
Muscadet is an understated wine. If you are looking for flamboyant, fruity flavors, this is probably not for you. But if you value subtlety and texture, embrace it. Jo Landron has been farming biodynamically for years, and makes wines carefully and conscientiously. This bottle is creamy and saline, with citrus and herbal flavors. It feels great to roll around the mouth. (Polaner Selections)
Gulp/Hablo Spain Orange 2021, 11.5%, $19.99, 1 liter
The Gulp/Hablo series from Spain is not the sort of wine to which I’m typically drawn. It’s difficult to discern where the grapes came from or who produced them, a lack of transparency that troubles me because it would be so easy to remedy. On the positive side, the wines are made from organically grown grapes and they are good values. This bottle, an introductory orange wine, is made, I think, of verdejo and sauvignon blanc, by, I think, Juan-Antonio Ponce of the excellent Bodegas Ponce. It’s profoundly herbal, and gently tannic, which comes from macerating the juice of the grapes with the skins. (T. Edward Wines, New York)
Day Wines Willamette Valley Lemonade Rosé 2021, 12%, $19.99
Brianne Day makes an assortment of terrific wines from the Willamette Valley and southern Oregon. But Lemonade was born of necessity. In 2020, she had purchased 25 tons of pinot noir to make a wine for a distributor’s proprietary label, but the distributor feared smoke taint in the wines from the year’s forest fires. Instead, Day turned those lemons into lemonade, a pinot noir rosé that surprised her by selling out quickly. She made a lot more of it in 2021, and it’s easy to see why it was so popular. It’s dry, earthy and savory, and goes down extremely easily.
Antica Tenuta Pietramore Abruzzo Pecorino Superiore 2018, 14%, $19.99
I’ve been enjoying this wine for a few years now. It comes from Antica Tenuta Pietramore, which farms biodynamically and is one of the producers that is making Abruzzo such an exciting source of wines. This bottle is herbal and saline, dry and refreshing, terrific with pasta with butter and sage. (Communal Brands, Long Island City, New York)
Vincent Paris Sélection Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah 2021, 12.5%, $19.99
People often think of Northern Rhône reds, made of the syrah grape, as wines for cold weather. But I crave them year-round. It’s not a bad idea, though, to look for a lighter weight, easygoing syrah for the summer like this bottle from the négociant arm of Vincent Paris, a very good Cornas producer. The Collines Rhodaniennes is an appellation for the greater Northern Rhône area, often used for grapes that weren’t grown in areas of higher status. The wines lack the distinctive qualities and structure of those appellations. What remains? Merely the savory deliciousness of Northern Rhône syrah, which is a beautiful thing with burgers or grilled lamb chops. (A Thomas Calder Selection/Polaner Selections)