Wine is the subject of many myths designed to intimidate the “common” man. For example, Ruth and I debunked the myth that the legs, or tears, of a wine are indicative of the quality of a wine in our post about our sommelier class in Alexandria where we learned that legs are only indicative of the alcohol content in a wine.
Another myth that I think needs to be dispelled frequently and fervently is that the price point of a wine is indicative of its quality. Sure, there are some lovely wines out there that are also very expensive, but the price point of a wine takes into account much more than just the quality of the wine. It might include the number of bottles available from a certain vintage, the type of wine, and the popularity of the varietal or brand name, among other factors. Part of the reason champagne is so expensive is because Champagne-with-a-capital-C can only be made in a small area of France, but you can find fabulous sparkling wines much cheaper than a bottle of Cristal that are made in Italy, Germany, or California. Sure, they aren’t Champagne, but when you are saving $193, that probably won’t matter. (Seriously, a bottle of Cristal averages $200, the Prosecco I list below is about $7!)
In an effort to help banish the “expensive = good” myth, I am highlighting 5 wines that I love and that I have never purchased for more than $15. Now, I know that personal taste plays a huge factor in whether or not you might like a wine (as you’ll notice there is not a chardonnay to be found on my list, and there will likely never ever be a chardonnay on a top wine list I create), but each of these wines has earned general aplomb from fellow winos and friends throughout the country. So, if you are looking to fill your wine rack while keeping your wallet full, give these a try.
Ménage à Trois Rouge, Folie à Deux Winery
This wine was my first ever “house wine,” the wine that I would keep on hand for a sudden dinner party invitation or a call from a friend who had a particularly bad day and needed a sympathetic ear and a glass of wine. It is a smooth supple wine that is great for those who are new to red wines or as a lighter red with grilled chicken and meats.
It is a blend of three wines – Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon all fermented separately and then blended prior to bottling. The Zinfandel provides a fruit forward and slightly sweet aspect to the wine, while the Merlot and Cab Sauv provide structure to the wine. Furthermore, this incredibly approachable wine remains consistent from vintage to vintage, so no matter what bottle you are picking up, you can be confident it will be good.
($7.97 at Total Wine, Virginia)
Crush, Dreaming Tree Wines
This is the most expensive wine on my list, but a recent favorite. The 2009 vintage is a simple blend of Zinfandel and Merlot grapes. I suspect that the blend may change through the years depending of the harvest, and I am hoping that, like the Ménage à Trois Rouge, the vintages remain consistently good.
This is full of smokey blackberry flavors with jammy pop on the finish. It is a medium body wine with just enough tannins to keep the fruit flavors from being overwhelming. This is definitely made to enjoy now, so, at this price, buy a couple of bottles, and don’t hesitate to pop the cork.
($14.00/$12.00 on sale at Target, Virginia)
Malbec, Don Miguel Gascón
I have not met a Malbec I don’t enjoy. At about $10 a bottle, this is one of my favorites because the quality of the wine really exceeds the price you’re paying. While the nose is very light, the flavor is bursting with cherries and blackberries touched with black pepper. Enjoy this bottle of wine below room temperature, by chilling it in the fridge for about an hour before serving, as some of the fullness is lost when enjoyed at room temperature. On really hot days when I still want a glass of red, I will refrigerate this all the way down to 50 or so degrees and enjoy it chilled.
($10.99 at Total Wine, Virginia)
Vinho Verde, Casal Garcia
This young Portuguese white wine is made for summer enjoyment. The wine, which is aged entirely in steel barrels, as a slightly effervescent feel on the tongue and is full of crisp citrusy flavor. Do not hesitate to chill this wine all the way down to 40 or so degrees, as the flavors are strong enough that they will come through the chill while still leaving you with a refreshingly cool drink for pool-side sipping. This wine is amazing on its own, but it does compliment lighter seafood dishes and salads, such as spinach salad with tuna cakes (wink, wink), really well.
($6.49 at Total Wine, Virginia)
This crisp, dry, and bubbly white wine is easily the best Trader Joe’s has to offer in the sparkling wine department. It has a lovely straw-yellow color with slightly sweet stone fruits – think peaches and mangoes – on the nose. The bubble are lighter than a champagne, which contributes to the smoothness of this wine. I enjoy it as a summer sipper, with scallops, or with a small scoop of sorbet (raspberry or lemon, please) as an after dinner dessert.
($6.49 at Trader Joe’s)