It’s not difficult to find inexpensive, refreshing wines for summer. But when the weather turns cooler, and you’re in the market for something with a little more weight and richness, good choices for $15 or less can be harder to find.
That’s particularly true for reds. I taste a lot of inexpensive red wines, particularly from California, that seem to be made from a formula: sweet fruit, sometimes a touch (or more) of residual sugar, vanillin/oak flavor. At best, not very interesting; at worst, downright confected.
So I went through my tasting notes from the past several months in search of 15 wines for $15 or less that are suitable for autumn. My menus are getting heartier at this time of year, so I skewed the list in favor of red wines. But I’ve also included some whites for consuming as an aperitif or with seafood.
Bubbles are a good way to start a meal at any time of year. The non-vintage NV Adami “Garbèl” Prosecco DOC Treviso ($15) is crisp and fresh, with apple fruit and a stony note.
When a lighter white is in order, the 2015 Nobilo Regional Collection Sauvignon Blanc ($13) from New Zealand is a good value; it has some richness, along with its lively pink grapefruit and passion fruit flavors, accented by a hint of tomato stem. Or, for something a little more unusual, try the 2015 Skouras Moscofilero ($15) from Greece’s Peloponnese region; it’s fleshy and a little smoky, with white fruit and a slight herbal note. The 2015 Ferraton Père & Fils “Samorens” Côtes du Rhône Blanc ($14), a blend of grenache blanc and clairette, is lean and fresh, with white stone fruit, apple and wet stone.
You may not have tasted a so-called orange wine, but no doubt you’ve heard of the trend. The 2014 Attems Pinot Grigio Ramato ($14), a skin-contact pinot grigio from northeastern Italy, isn’t full-on orange; rather, it’s a pale copper color. The wine displays the usual citrus and almond paste flavors of pinot grigio, but it’s also creamy, with more weight and richness than most “regular” pinot grigios.
Finally, for even more weight, the 2015 Chronic Cellars Eunice X ($15) — a California wine that’s mostly chardonnay, with a few white Rhone grapes — is creamy and ripe, with stone fruit, apple and firm acidity.
Italy – specifically, Tuscany – figures heavily in my red picks. First, two reds based on sangiovese. The 2014 Coltibuono Chianti Classico ($15), displays lively red cherry with a tobacco note and firm structure. The 2014 Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano ($15) offers warm, ripe red cherry with decent freshness and drying tannins. The 2013 Aia Vecchia Lagone ($15) is a Tuscan blend dominated by merlot; it’s bright and spicy, with black fruit, notes of anise and baking spice, and medium tannins.
Spain is a great source of bargains. There are some wonderful, inexpensive reds based on garnacha or monastrell, but venerable Rioja can be a great value, too. The 2014 Viña Zaco Tempranillo ($15) from Rioja is ripe yet lively, with cherry fruit, some spicy notes and a hint of lavender.
The south of France is home to some good values, like the 2014 Domaine de Fontsainte Corbières ($15), a savory blend of carignan, grenache and syrah with bright berry accented by notes of white pepper and roasted meat.
A lot of inexpensive malbec from Argentina is competently made but not very interesting. But I liked the 2014 Graffigna “Centenario” Reserve Malbec ($13), with its spicy berry, tobacco note and medium tannins. On the other hand, malbec from California is often overpriced and still not terribly interesting. An exception is the well-priced 2013 Clayhouse Malbec ($14) from Paso Robles, which displays spicy berry, a slight dried fruit character and a note of dark chocolate.
Another California red to try is the 2014 Bonny Doon A Proper Claret ($15), a blend dominated by cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and tannat that’s bright and savory, with red fruit, notes of hard spices and dried herbs, and fine tannins.
The wines of Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington state are nearly always reliable, and that’s certainly the case with the 2014 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon ($15), with its juicy black fruit, hint of smoke and firm but approachable tannins. A ridiculous price for such a well-made wine.