Spring wines: 15 for $20 (or less)

The calendar finally says spring, and it’s about time. Here in the Santa Cruz Mountains, we’re approaching 100 inches of rainfall over the last five months or so. A few April showers would be fine, but I’d like to think the flooding and mudslides are behind us.

Sunny weather also has me breaking out brighter, fresher wines, rather than the hearty, warming wines of winter. There is still a cloud on the horizon, though: tax time. I’m always looking for reasonably priced “house wines,” but the budget imperative is even greater right now.

So here are 15 wines, white and red, for $20 or less. Some are a little more esoteric, but many should be widely available.

Bubbles make any day a celebration, and a good budget choice is Blanquette de Limoux, from the south of France. The non-vintage Antech Blanquette de Limoux Brut Nature ($13) is fresh and appley, with a zippy core of acidity. And it’s cheap enough for every day.

A couple of my favorite fresh whites from California feature chenin blanc. One is the 2016 Dry Creek Dry Chenin Blanc ($15) from Clarksburg, which is very crisp, with aromas and flavors of Golden Delicious apple. Another is the 2015 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier ($15), which is 83 percent chenin. It displays aromas and flavors of apple and apple blossom, along with lively lemon and lemon zest.

Some California unoaked chardonnays are refreshing but not much more. The 2015 Chamisal “Stainless” Chardonnay ($18), a Central Coast wine, has some weight and complexity along with its racy green apple and apple peel flavors.

Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington is a world leader in riesling, producing nearly 1.5 million cases of riesling under its family of brands. But big doesn’t have to mean bland. It’s hard to beat the value of the 2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling ($9), with its racy lime and wet stone flavors, accented by a hint of sweetness. (Its 2015 Dry Riesling, also $9, is even better, but it’s harder to find.)

The market is awash in inexpensive New Zealand sauvignon blanc because there’s so much of it being grown. Sadly, much of it is pretty innocuous stuff. The fragrant 2015 Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc ($20) is an exception, with its tart grapefruit and tomato stem flavors and persistent finish. For a twist on the sauvignon theme, look for the 2015 Cousino-Macul “Isidora” Sauvignon Gris ($15) from Chile, with its racy flavors of citrus, green apple, wet stone and a slight herbal note.

Moschofilero from Greece’s Peloponnese region often represents a good value in white wine. The 2015 Skouras Moschofilero ($15) is fleshy and a little smoky, with white fruit and wild herbs.

Finding a good pinot noir for $20 or less can be a tall order. I liked the 2014 Olema Pinot Noir ($20), a Sonoma County wine from Amici Cellars, with its spicy cherry and crushed strawberry fruit, slight leafy note and supple texture. A great value.

The 2013 Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvée ($20) is a savory merlot-dominant blend from Sonoma County. It offers lively, dark fruit with a hint of bay leaf, medium weight and approachable tannins.

We’re doing more grilling at my house now, and petite sirah and zinfandel fit right in. The 2015 Chronic Cellars Suite Petite ($15) – a Paso Robles blend that’s mostly petite sirah, with a little syrah – is lively and  spicy, with berry fruit and firm but approachable tannins. The 2014 Renwood Premier Old Vine Zinfandel ($20) from Amador County contains a little petite sirah, barbera and syrah; the zin comes from vines that are 50 to 103 years old, according to the winery. The wine is ripe yet bright, with black raspberry fruit, a leafy note and some spiciness. The 2013 XYZin Old Vine Zinfandel ($18) displays bright and brambly zinberry with a hint of tobacco leaf and firm tannins. The blend includes a little carignane and petite sirah.

Finally, a couple of good values from Italy. The 2013 Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali Nero d’Avola ($16) from Sicily is bright and a little earthy, with red cherry, a hint of tobacco and a smooth finish. And the 2013 Renato Ratti “Battaglione” Barbera d’Asti ($20) from Piedmont displays bright, spicy berry with a toasty note and fine tannins.


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