Budget Red & White Wine
Ten Wines for Under $10
Wine is always appreciated as a hostess gift, but finding one that costs less than $10 while being drinkable is a challenge. We consulted several experts and held tastings to discover the five best budget red wines and five best budget white wines that you could serve with confidence. What you sacrifice at this price point is depth and nuance -- these wines probably wouldn't satisfy wine connoisseurs -- but they make for adequate table wines and help keep holiday parties joyous.
Cheap Red Wines.Look to South America for some excellent deals on red table wines, says wine merchant Ed Domaney of Domaney's in Great Barrington, MA. He is particularly keen on Malbecs.
Callia Alta Malbec
At his suggestion, we tried the 2011 vintage of Callia Alta Malbec (about $9/bottle), which held up well with our tasters who found it "exceedingly drinkable." While a few said it tasted a bit sweet, that proved to be a plus for others. On the whole, the Callia Alta Malbec was smooth and fresh with a hint of spiciness. There wasn't much complexity here, but Wine Enthusiast gives this budget wine a thumbs-up with 87 points.
From Chile, Carta Vieja Merlot 2012 (about $8/bottle) delivered a lot of richness for an inexpensive red wine. Tasters thought it would go equally well with cheese and other happy hour snacks as with meats and possibly even stews. It presented a bit of a peppery finish that most of our panelists enjoyed.
A rougher, heartier wine that would pair nicely with pasta was the 2011 Feudo Arancio Nero D'Avola (about $8/bottle) from Sicily. Although a bit acidic at the end, one taster said that after a glass or two you wouldn't notice and deemed it "perfect for winter." Another said this budget red wine tasted just like what you'd imagine of a Sicilian table wine, with interest arising from its jagged edges. Wine Enthusiast awards this specimen a hearty 87.
A surprise entry comes from Bulgaria, a country not often associated with wine. The 2011 Vini Pinot Noir (about $8/bottle) was a comparative lightweight, but tasters who didn't much like red wine really liked this one a lot. Panel members found it summery and soft and thought it would be good chilled. Perhaps this isn't the low-cost red wine you'd want to sip by a roaring fire, but it went down easily and earns an 86 from Wine Enthusiast.
Also easy on the palate, as well as the wallet, was another Chilean pick, Pepperwood Grove Cabernet Sauvignon (about $8/bottle). The more discerning panelists declared it unlike a traditional Cabernet because it was so light and smooth and slightly astringent. These qualities made it well-suited for just drinking or for paring with snacks; in other words, this is a good cheap party red. One taster said she had tried this wine in a restaurant and quite enjoyed it with dinner.
Cheap White Wines.According to Ed Domaney, there's a glut of California whites right now, so finding a quality wine at a bargain price should be relatively easy.
2012 J. Lohr Chardonnay Riverstone
One California wine that qualifies is the 2012 J. Lohr Chardonnay Riverstone (about $10/bottle). Our panel members tasted lots of fruit and a bit of oak. They agreed it was fine for an everyday wine, and one said she wouldn't be ashamed to offer it as a gift.
Rex Goliath Pinot Grigio (about $6/bottle) is a Domaney recommendation and winner of three medals in California taste-offs. This very cheap white wine boasts a bright, crisp taste. It was fairly dry but not as dry as our tasters expected from the pino gris grape. Although some detected a slightly sour or off aftertaste, several said it was good enough to not be deterred by that. "I would definitely cook with it," one noted.
At the top end of the price range, the Austrian Berger Gruner Veltliner 2012 (about $11.50/liter bottle) was pronounced "lovely." This budget white wine was crisp and mild, without much acidity, although some thought it had a bit of a spicy kick. This wine would be an excellent summer tipple and a calming influence when paired with spicy foods.
Also hitting the end zone on price was a French Sauvion Touraine Les Eglantine 2012 (about $10/bottle). This Sauvignon exemplar was considerably drier than the other inexpensive whites we tasted but still "very fresh." Panelists said it would go well with fish or other seafood.
We asked our wine consultant about Rieslings but learned that at this price point it is hard, even close to impossible, to find anything worth buying. But he came through with a suggestion that some of us may remember from college -- Schmitt Sohne Zeller Schwarz Katz 2009 (about $8/bottle). This bargain white wine was sweet and fruity and seemed to be a match for desserts. Our tasters were won over, declaring it not just acceptable, but quite drinkable.
Tip: If you really want to lower the per bottle cost of good wine, check out the Zagat Wine Club. You'll get an early holiday present of 15 top wines for only $70. Club membership entitles you to a case every three months for $139.99 ($11.67/bottle), not counting shipping. You can cancel at any time, even after trying the introductory offer.