Good wine still available on a budget 

Everyone enjoys a good bargain, but these days, most of us are on a constant watch for a good deal.

Given the current economic situation, there are a lot of buys, but if you randomly walk into a wine shop and are looking to spend no more than $15, visiting some aisles is going to be a better use of your time than others.

There are the usual suspects, such as the Languedoc-Roussillon and Cotes-du-Rhone in France, southern Italy, especially the islands (Sardinia and Sicily), Germany and scattered regions throughout Spain. Australia and the United States have isolated inexpensive gems and Argentina and Chile have some wines that pass the Pamela Good, Cheap Wine Test.

Before going on, let me give you my criteria for a good, cheap wine. When people say, “Oh, it’s good ... for 10 bucks,” I want to cringe, not just because I don’t like the word “bucks.”

At the very least, a wine should have balance. But there is more to winemaking than following a recipe, and those that are worth drinking have character. No matter how little you can spend, this is not too much to ask.

In the meantime, here are some of the best values I found in 2009:

Starting in California, the Rancho Sisquoc sylvaner, 2008 ($12), is as good as all the previous vintages. Medium-bodied with minerals and an applesauce-like flavor, it offers a lot for its price point. The Cannonball Winery Perfecta, 2006 ($15), a blend of Grenache and syrah, is also a tasty little treat with red berries and a host of spices.

Heading all the way south of the border, some of the best wines coming out of Argentina these days are not malbecs, but white wines made from torrontes. Michel Torino torrontes, Cuma, 2008 ($15), is a stellar example of this aromatic grape with white flowers, melon, lychee and spice. For the malbec fans out there, the Otono, 2008 ($11), has a mound of cocoa-dusted, unsweetened licorice with a full, satisfying mouth feel.

Across the Pacific Ocean, the Waipara Springs riesling, 2007 ($15), from New Zealand, is a fresh, fruity and surprisingly tart treat with notes of honey and tropical fruits.

From France, the Caves de Rasteau Cotes du Rhone, Ortas, 2008 ($11.50), is bright and juicy with raspberry, pomegranate fruit and a conglomerate of peppery spice. For a crisp and fruity white wine, the Chateau Masiac sauvignon blanc, 2008 ($14), with its melange of citrus, peach and herbs, is a gem.

Elsewhere in Europe, the Quinta de Alqueve Fernao Pires, 2008 ($14), from the Ribatejo region of Portugal is a great alternative to Spanish albarinos, which have been climbing the price ladder over the past few years. Dr. Heyden’s silvaner trocken, 2008 ($13), from the Rheinhessen in Germany, is fresh and clean with spice, white peaches and golden delicious apple-skin flavors.

And finally, from the Lombardia region of Italy, we have the Vercesi del Castellazzo Pezzalunga, 2007 ($15), a blend of barbera, bonarda, uva rara, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.

Light-bodied, this multifaceted wine has rose petal overtones with cedar, white pepper, tobacco and strawberries. It might very well be the best wine I tried in the under $15 category all year.

There you have it, my top 10 $15 and under. Many of these wines are available in Bay Area retail stores or through the Internet.

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.


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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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