We've spoken with experts and wine vendors, read reviews, and held tastings to round up cheap white wines that achieve a certain level of quality. Cheapism's resident wine expert, Tess Rose Lampert, compiled this year's final list. A New York City-based wine and spirit educator and judge, she has encountered hundreds of wines in her experience working with Ultimate Beverage Challenge and selling and purchasing for restaurants and stores.
Her favorite white wines under $10 are Indaba 2013 Chenin Blanc from South Africa (starting at $9) and Cono Sur 2013 Sauvignon Blanc from Chile (starting at $9). On the second tier sit Bandit Pinot Grigio from California (starting at $9) and Big House White, a blend from California (starting at $9.50).
Because wine inventories vary from vendor to vendor, we've fleshed out the top picks to include a dozen appealing and low-priced white wines. This should increase the chance that at least one of the featured bottles will be available at a local wine shop (consult Wine-Searcher) or online, although shipping can double the total price. These wines are good values and should be enjoyed while relatively young; low-cost white wines don't benefit from aging. While large producers strive for consistency, the quality of a given wine can vary from year to year, so be sure to note the vintage (the year of production). The wines are discussed in alphabetical order by grape variety below. The listed prices do not include taxes and vary based on where you buy.
White wine grapes grow in the United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South America, South Africa, and several eastern Mediterranean countries. Wines produced in the U.S. tend to bear labels that note the specific grape or blend of grapes used in making them. Wines from Italy and France, by contrast, have labels that place the growing region front and center rather than the grape. We've supplied information including grape variety, region, brand name, and vintage to make these wines easier to find.
Wines that blend different grapes use the best from any given year, which means more flexibility and greater likelihood for a good deal. The Domaine de l'Enclos Colombard Ugni Blanc 2014 (starting at $7), from Gascony in southwest France, blends two grapes (colombard and ugni blanc) not associated with single-variety wines. As a result they are sold for cheap, and the winemaker passes on the low cost to consumers. The wine is crisp, similar to sauvignon blanc, and tastes of green apple and citrus fruit.
Hailing from California, Big House is a producer of excellent, everyday, inexpensive wines. Its Big House White (starting at $9) combines grenache, malvasia bianca, and orange muscat to create a fruity and pleasant wine. The overall flavor is dry but packed with floral aromas and sweet citrus fruit, making this an ideal wine for sipping on its own or pairing with salads, poultry, and fish.
Albariño is a Spanish grape that makes clean, straightforward wines typically paired with seafood and meat and cheese tapas. The wines tend to be citrusy and ripe, along the lines of sauvignon blanc, with a slightly more oily texture. While albariños tend to be mid- to high-priced, more and more producers and coming out with entry-level wines that start around $10. The Candes "Gran Selección" Albariño 2013 (starting at just under $10) from Rías Baixas, Spain, serves as an excellent introduction to this style of wine. The flavors are full of peach and lemon with undertones of herbs. A good everyday wine, it is approachable enough for any white wine drinker and a nice departure from the usual suspects.
Chardonnay is the most popular wine in the U.S. in terms of market share. Chardonnay typically possesses flavors and aromas of melon, citrus, apple, nuts, and hints of grass. It's a nice accompaniment for fish, poultry, cheese, and Asian and spicy foods.
Chardonnay wines can be relatively complex, with medium to high acidity, and tastes and textures derived from the grapes' growing region as well as the vinification process. In other words, it pays to know where the wine is from. While chardonnay is often aged in oak barrels, unoaked styles aged in stainless drums or tanks are becoming increasingly popular. This is a boon to frugal wine drinkers, who don't have to help producers pay for expensive barrels.
It's a safe bet that for less than $10 you can enjoy a rounded, full-flavored chardonnay. Our pick for best cheap chardonnay is the Indaba 2013 from South Africa (starting at $8). The rich and rounded wine is dry yet full of ripe citrus flavors with hints of floral aromas and a touch of oak that enhances the natural butteriness without overwhelming the fruit.
Budget chardonnay can be less than exemplary, however. Tisdale Chardonnay (starting at $3.50) is a case in point. Naysayers deem this California wine barely drinkable, with an acidic finish, unpleasant aftertaste, and off-putting smell. Save your money, caution reviewers on the wine site Snooth. Others argue that the wine is quite refreshing if served cold enough.
An ancient grape that's been grown for thousands of years in the Loire Valley of France, chenin blanc now thrives in many New World wine-growing regions. It's a very versatile grape that lends itself to styles across the spectrum, from dry to sweet to sparkling.
Chenin blanc is typically rich and fruity, with some apple and citrus undertones and a distinct oily texture that adds complexity. This is a wine that pairs well with salads, fish, and chicken. The (slightly) sweeter styles can balance the spiciness of Asian and Latin American cuisines.
Our best budget example by far comes from the value-driven South African brand Indaba. The 2013 chenin blanc (starting at $9) is a dry yet floral wine that features flavors such as apricot, cardamom, and lemon.
Muscadet is a spritzy white wine that comes from the Loire Valley of France. The grapes grow in soil made from compacted marine life (think ancient seashells and crustaceans), which gives the wine mineral and saline flavors. As a result, muscadet is an ideal pairing for shellfish and most other seafood. As a category, the wines range from simple and very inexpensive to complex and premium-priced. One of the best values on the market is the Domaine des Cognettes Muscadet Sèvre et Maine "Selection" 2013 (starting at $8). A slight chalkiness and plenty of minerals, lime zest, and lemony citrus fruit make this wine lip-smackingly refreshing.
The character of pinot grigio depends heavily on where the grapes were grown and the vinification technique. The color of the grape varies by region and ranges from deep bluish gray to nearly red to almost white, and the hue of the finished product varies accordingly. Regardless, it pairs well with seafood, light pasta dishes, and cheese, and some pinot grigios can serve as stand-alone sippers.
The Italian winemaking style yields pinot grigio that's mildly floral, lean, and tart. Cheap pinot grigio can often be so simple that it tastes watery, so the challenge is to find an inexpensive expression that still retains character. A go-to producer for serious bargains that retain varietal character is California's Crane Lake. While light and fairly simple, Crane Lake 2013 Pinot Grigio (starting at $6) retains an earthy and herbal character that unmistakably smacks of the namesake grape. Another great value from California is Bandit Pinot Grigio (non-vintage). It comes in a 1-liter Tetra Pak (larger than a typical 750-milliliter bottle) starting at $9, which means more wine for less money. This simple wine hits the spot for those looking for a clean, crisp taste with a touch of fruity tartness.
Riesling is a well-known white wine grape from Germany that now grows in the Alsace region of France, as well as Austria, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, upstate New York, California, and Washington. The growing conditions and timing of the harvest strongly affect the character of the wine, which may be dry, semi-sweet, sweet, or sparkling.
Regardless of the style, riesling grapes produce wines filled with floral and fruit aromas and pleasantly crisp acidity. In drier rieslings, the residual sugars and natural acidity make a good companion for many foods, such as fish, pork, and spicy Asian cuisines.
Some experts assert that it's close to impossible to get a good riesling for less than $10. Take Barefoot Riesling (starting at $5). It has hardly any fruit flavors; it's just sweet -- really sweet, as described on the wine and spirits blog SourMashed. One of our tasters suggested it might be fit for sangria, with no added sugar. A much better option is Washington Hills Late Harvest Riesling 2013 (starting at $8). It's a semi-dry wine from Washington state with flavors of apricot and peach.
Sauvignon blanc was originally a French grape but now grows in regions with cooler climates, including Canada and Chile. New Zealand and Australia are well-known for sauvignon blanc, as well. Sun levels during the growing season and the degree of ripeness at harvest affect the finished product. Under the right conditions, sauvignon blanc is dry, crisp, and tangy with hints of melon, citrus, bell peppers, and even grass. Sauvignon blanc is a versatile wine that stands up to pungent tastes, such as garlic and tomato, and also works with cheese, fish, and sushi.
We found several good cheap sauvignon blanc wines, including one of our picks for best white wine overall: Cono Sur 2013 Sauvignon Blanc from Chile (starting at $9). It is clean, crisp, and zesty, with flavors of young grass, grapefruit, and other citrus fruits. Another budget-friendly option is the Domaine Horgelus 2014 Sauvignon Blanc and Gros Manseng (starting at $8) from Gascony, France. The addition of gros manseng, a local grape variety, to the sauvignon blanc-dominated wine creates extra layers of herbal flavor, tart citrus, and a semi-chalky texture that leaves the mouth feeling very clean.
These wines from Portugal are named not for a grape (the grape variety depends on the growing region) but for the fact that the grapes are young when harvested. They taste young too -- light, fresh, and sometimes mildly effervescent. That fizziness used to be a product of fermentation but now often results from direct injection of carbon dioxide, according to a report in The New York Times.
Vinho verde wines are low in alcohol and most definitely a summer drink. Because of their newness, the vintage that was reviewed last summer probably won't be the one you find next summer. Vinho verde wines should be drunk within about a year of bottling. Perhaps the most important feature of vinho verde is that just about every bottle sells for less than $10, because the wine spends little time aging. It pairs well with light, summery meals of fish, salad, or sushi.
The 2013 Vera Vinho Verde (starting at $8) is a light, fresh, mouthwatering wine that enjoys a perch on our list of top budget whites. A roundup at Shape names it best in class, giving a shout-out to the lime and pink-grapefruit aromas and slightly bubbly mouth feel.