Cheap wines don’t have to taste cheap. There has been a major leap forward in wine quality at the low end of the price spectrum in the past decade as wineries and vineyards have become increasingly sophisticated in their methods and as wine production has spread to new, low-cost regions.
But that doesn’t mean that all inexpensive wines are worth drinking. In fact, the best values can be challenging to find—they often are made from varieties of grapes that are not especially well-known among wine drinkers or from grapes grown in nontraditional wine regions.
Ten top wines that are widely available and typically cost $10 or less…
Bogle Vineyards Petit Sirah. For three generations, the Bogle family has been growing wine grapes in California’s Sacramento Delta region. Bogle’s petit sirah is particularly notable—full-bodied and dark, but not oppressively so, with a somewhat “plummy” flavor. You won’t find a better petit sirah for $10. It pairs well with lamb or pork. BogleWinery.com
Sutter Home Sweet Red. Sales of sweet red wines have been shooting up in recent years, but these wines still get no respect from wine connoisseurs. They’re derided as Kool-Aid with alcohol—and many of them deserve that criticism. But if you’re looking for something sweet to drink other than soda or sweet tea, there are sweet red wines worth trying, and Sutter Home Sweet Red is the best of them. There’s nothing subtle about this wine—it’s very sweet, with noticeable cherry notes—but it also has some acidity to provide balance. While most sweet reds do not go well with food, this one can be paired with barbecued meats or spicy foods. And at $5 a bottle, it makes even the $10 wines on this list look pricey. SutterHome.com
Cusumano Nero d’Avola. Sicilian wines were somewhat uniformly bad until around a decade ago, when a new generation of winemakers full of new ideas began to take over. Now Sicily might be the best source of low-cost, high-quality wines in the world. This red made from the somewhat obscure nero d’avola grape is fresh, with some acidity. There are cherry and cranberry notes, but Sicilian wines are not excessively fruity or jammy. It pairs well with tomato sauce-based Italian dishes. Cusumano.it/en
Falesco Vitiano Rosso. This is the quintessential spaghetti wine—a big, well-balanced red from central Italy that is neither too fruity nor too acidic. It’s made from a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese grapes and pairs well with Italian dishes featuring tomato sauce or sausage. Falesco.it
Yalumba Y Series Shiraz. This Australian shiraz actually is a blend containing a small amount of viognier grapes in addition to shiraz grapes. Like most shirazes, it’s big and juicy, with lots of black fruit and high alcohol content—more than 14%. But the addition of those viognier grapes prevents it from being overly heavy like so many shirazes. It pairs well with beef. Yalumba.com
WHITES AND ROSÉS
A to Z Chardonnay. This Oregon chardonnay has a crisp, juicy green apple fruit flavor. Unlike most chardonnays, it’s unoaked, making it a great choice for wine drinkers who are tired of wines that taste like baseball bats, but not for wine drinkers in love with that traditional oaky chardonnay flavor. It pairs well with grilled seafood. AtoZWineWorks.com
Domaine du Tariquet Classic. This white wine from the Gascony region of southwestern France is largely made from a pair of grapes that are unfairly underappreciated outside Gascony—ugni blanc and colombard. The result is an extremely fresh, clean, fun-to-drink white wine with an interesting citrus flavor. It pairs well with grilled shrimp or Chinese food. Tariquet.com
Ludovicus Blanco. There are some great bargains to be found among Spanish wines these days as that country’s deep economic troubles hold down its wine-production costs. This white made from grenache blanc grapes is dry with spiciness and minerality, yet it also has mild notes of honey. It pairs well with seafood. OleImports.com
Segura Viudas Brut. You don’t have to pay steep Champagne prices to drink a quality sparkling wine. While only sparking wines made in the Champagne region of France can officially be called Champagne, Spain and Italy make excellent wines in similar styles, often at lower prices. Segura Viudas Brut is a cava—a sparkling wine from Spain. It has the tight bubbles and crispy flavor that Champagne fans like, plus a slight apple flavor. It pairs well with many foods-—almost anything except heavy meats. Try it with pizza. SeguraViudasUSA.com
Charles & Charles Rosé. This rosé made from a blend of sirah and mour-?vedre grapes is nicely balanced—neither overly heavy nor mouth-puckeringly acidic. It has strawberry and cranberry notes and pairs well with burgers. CharlesSmithWines.com
Yellow + Blue Chardonnay. There’s just one major difference between this California chardonnay and many others that cost twice as much or more—this one lacks pretension. It’s sold in a one-liter box with a plastic screw cap. If you can get past that packaging, it’s a very pleasant chardonnay, with tropical fruit flavors that pair nicely with salads or roasted or grilled chicken. The liter-size boxes sell for around $10, which is the equivalent of spending around $7.50 on a standard 750-milliliter bottle. YBWines.com