BUYING GUIDE: 20 UNDER $20 WINES FOR SUMMER
Get ready to stock your summer cellar (aka your ice chest) with my Summer 20 Under $20 Wine Buying Guide. I’ll host the first of a few virtual happy hours highlighting these wines starting on Wednesday, May 26, 4 PM PST, in time to help get you ready for a delicious and wine-venturous Memorial Day weekend. We’ll discuss the wines, and of course what to pair with all our favorite summer fare.
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SUMMER 20 UNDER $20
I am excited to share this list with you! In addition to flavors that showcase very distinctive wine styles and pair beautifully with summer fare, the wines have heart. Since summer is the season to be out in nature, I wanted the wines to represent the best of farming to respect and preserve the health of the environment. As you will see, many of them are produced from organically farmed grapes, but many top growers worldwide look beyond the notion of organics – avoiding synthetic inputs – to the whole picture of farming responsibly. That includes attending to conservation (of water, bio-diverse habitats, soil health, greener power), and to the well-being of their workers and their communities. Also, they’re wines you wouldn’t necessarily find or try on your own (because that’s my job!).
Tiamo Organic Prosecco, Italy – I love Italian Prosecco for its festive froth and delicate floral-pear fragrance. It’s now a crowded market, so the amazing value for the quality and purity of this Tiamo has stood out time and again in my blind tastings. It goes with everything or nothing, and the light alcohol makes it thirst-quenching without heaviness. And doesn’t the name Tiamo, meaning “I love you” in Italian, pretty much sum up how we feel about summertime?
Graham Beck Brut Rose, South Africa – The “Methode Cap Classique” is South Africa’s term for the traditional method of sparkling wine production, where a second fermentation in the bottle produces the fine bubbles and creamy texture. Based on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (just like Champagne), this wine is simply one of the most stellar values in bubbly on the planet. The layers of ripe cherry compote and pastry crust complexity, and that aforementioned texture, deliver subtle luxury for a song.
La Champine by Jean-Michel Gerin Viognier, France – Classically wines from the white Viognier grape, traditional to France’s northern Rhone Valley region, are rare and expensive. In this bottling by a Rhone specialist, you get the hallmark white peach fruit, jasmine fragrance, and lush texture, for an amazing price. A bit of bottle age adds a hint of marzipan complexity, too!
Domaine Jolly Petit Chablis, France – The Chablis region gives its name to the wine, one of France’s most famous in the white Burgundy category based on 100% Chardonnay. Its signature style is produced with no or very little oak to showcase the crystalline purity of yellow apple and Meyer lemon fruit, and the mouthwatering minerality and elegance. The “Petit” refers to the outskirts of the vineyard region—a bit less famous, and so less expensive for the quality.
InvivoX ‘SJP’ Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand – I’m not usually one for celebrity wines (Sarah Jessica Parker collaborates on this one), but this is simply one of the greatest New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs I have had in the last year. It’s dripping with the luscious passion fruit and key lime character that put New Zealand on the wine map, and makes it such a great summer sipper on its own and with food. If you’re doing a “boil” (crab, crawfish, shrimp) you’ve gotta have this bottle. Same if you’ve got a bumper crop of garden greens or fresh tomatoes.
Domaine Trois Versants Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie, Loire Valley, France – Muscadet (MOOS-cah-day) is a Loire Valley classic (and out of that whole long name, the short-hand you can use to refer to it!). The style is elegant and racy, with a subtle creaminess from aging sur lie, meaning on the fluffy yeast lees from fermentation, which add richness as they break down. Its light alcohol profile makes it a great quaffer in the heat of summer. It’s also fantastic for wine spritzers with some citrus slices and sparkling water or club soda.
Trimbach Riesling, Alsace, France – Trimbach Riesling is simply one of my all-time favorite wines. Family-owned and -run since 1626(!), this winery produces Riesling in the bone dry, concentrated, smoky style that makes this amazing with anything cooked in the smoker (ribs with a dry rub, anyone?), anything blackened, shrimp on the barbie, and so much more. And here’s the amazing thing—it gets better with cellaring! If you have the space and patience, get some extra bottles to put aside. In 3-5 years it takes on a custardy graham cracker crust richness that’s mind-blowing.
Pratsch Gruner-Veltliner, Austria – Stefan Pratsch assumed winemaking duties in his family’s 8th-generation winery before he could legally drink the wines! The idea was to free his parents to pursue their passion for organically tending the vineyards. Their deep attunement to the health of their glacially-deposited limestone soils has set a gold standard for forward-thinking viticulture in Austria. The white Gruner-Veltliner (GROO-ner VELT-linner, or just Gru-V) is Austria’s signature variety, alive with golden tree fruits (pear, peach, quince) and a distinct white pepper-turmeric spiciness. Bring on the Old Bay Seasoning and crustaceans, and get your Gruner on!
Commanderie de la Bargemone Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence Rose, France – Certified organic vineyards from a historic “commanderie” or Knights Templar compound built in 1250 AD–but that’s not what makes this Provence rose a cut above the sea of rose. It’s the taste—concentrated blood orange, watermelon, savory Berbere spice and crackling acidity. And, I’ll add, it’s the texture, which is quite unctuous and concentrated. To put it simply, this wine gives you white wine refreshment and chill-ability, with red wine complexity—the real-deal rose rather than the simple bubblegummy stuff.
Batasiolo Barbera d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy – The Piedmont region known for powerful, collectible Barolo reds also makes a lusty “locals favorite” red for everyday drinking from the lively Barbera grape. Its soft, suede-like tannins and lively balsamic-bruised plum flavor profile give it complexity with a nice summer weight that complements anything smoked or grilled, even veggies. It’s nice with a light chill, too.
Jean-Luc Colombo Syrah ‘Collines de Laure’, France – Famed for his wizardry with the Syrah grape, Jean-Luc Colombo named this wine for his daughter Laure, now in the family business, and the vine-cloaked hillsides (collines, in French) where she played as a child. This wine screams Rhone Syrah character—black plum and raspberry fruit, a smokiness that’s almost meaty, dark olive and rosemary savoriness. It’s got the perfect concentrated richness for your prime steaks, rack of lamb, grilled vegetables, succulent cheeseburgers (maybe add bacon?).
Domaine de la Bonneliere Saumur-Champigny, Loire Valley, France – You’ve heard of Cabernet Sauvignon, now meet one of its parents! The red Cabernet Franc grape is an important blending grape often combined with Cab Sauv, bringing violet, campfire smoke, mint aromatics and lush plum fruit. On its own as a pure varietal wine, it is fragrant and elegant, evoking Cabernet’s dark-fruited profile, but with much silkier tannins and lovely perfume. That aspect of the style makes it chillable and elegant but still very complex. If you fish and cook your catch, it’s great with the earthy flavors of trout or catfish. Smoked or long-cooked pork, earthy-grainy dishes like tamales or croquettes, all love Cabernet Franc, as does cheese and charcuterie when it’s too hot to actually cook.
Wakefield Estate Shiraz, Clare Valley, Australia – Shiraz, the Australian way of labelling Syrah, shows yet another face of this quite exotic, multi-faceted red grape. It serves up the beloved hallmark Aussie style of raspberry compote with hints of black pepper and eucalyptus, and a lovely jammy juiciness that keeps you coming back to the glass. Bring on the BBQ!
Aruma Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina – When the elite Rothschild family of Bordeaux partners with the iconic Nicolas Catena of Mendoza, Argentina, you get the European commitment to expressing terroir, with the local expertise of what that terroir (expression of the place in the wine), actually is. When I am successfully identifying Mendoza Malbec blind, it is this wine: blueberry fruit with clear but subtle black pepper hints, deep purple color and great concentration. This wine epitomizes a super buying tip: great pedigree will never put its name on a sub-par wine, so look for their value bottlings to really score.
Tarima Hill Monastrell, Spain – If you love lush, ripe, full-bodied reds, this wine is your summer go-to. The Monastrell grape (known as Mataro in the US and Mourvedre in France), delivers gamy, dark-fruited intensity and spice, without the vice-like, powerful tannins of other big grapes like Cabernet. To me, this is important in a summer wine because even the big reds should lie atop the ice in the cooler so they don’t take on the ambient warmth. Since really intense tannins start to feel gritty in a wine that’s even slightly chilled down, a wine with texture like this Monastrell really hits the spot. It’s got the spicy-intense taste profile to stand up to saucy barbeque, the richness for prime steaks on the grill.
Andrew Murray Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley, California – I met Andrew Murray when he was just starting out. Winemaker dinners were still cool and we hosted one. I was smitten with his debut wines, and impressed by his determination to make French Rhone grapes like Syrah in California’s central coast. The category has never taken off the way, say Napa Cab or Oregon Pinot Noir, has, and when you taste this magnificent wine you will wonder why. Its gorgeous warm ripe wild berry fruit and compote-y texture, with spunky pepper and cumin spice, are so yummy to just drink that I wouldn’t really care what’s for dinner—which is great, because it pairs with most anything.
Peter Yealands Pinot Noir, New Zealand – Pinot Noir loves a cool climate, and as a skinny island nation New Zealand is just that, at least when it comes to wine-growing. The ocean influence made it a celebrated Sauvignon Blanc region, and that coolness prompted growers to explore Pinot Noir, to great advantage. The perfect combination of cooler temperatures but plenty of sunlight gives us the silken texture and crystalline cherry pie filling flavor that Pinot Noir lovers crave, but rarely find at this value price. My summer pairing with this one is fried squash blossoms stuffed with truffled cheese. Or just a BLT!
Trerose Salterio Rosso di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy – The hilltop town of Montepulciano traces local winemaking back to the Etruscan settlers, some of whose ancient cellars are still in use by modern wineries. The grape is Sangiovese, better-known in the Chianti region, and locally called Prugnolo. You will recognize the savory dried herb and brown spice notes of Chianti’s version, but this region has more ripeness and depth. The bottle age on this wine gives a glimpse of why aging classic Tuscan reds has its rewards in complexity: warm terra cotta earthiness, a hint of leather and toffee—but still dry as a bone and great for smoky dishes, tomatoes, low-and-slow-cooked meats like brisket, and more.
Lapostolle Apalta Red Blend, Chile – While Chile got its start in the US with value-priced Merlots and Chardonnays, the full story is totally different and exciting. Viticulture, having been brought by the European explorers and missionaries, is centuries old in Chile, and now many vintners are re-discovering the old vines, old traditions and quality potential that’s there. This has been helped by the “next wave” of Europeans, modern winemaking giants like the aforemented Rothschilds, and in the case of this wine Alexandre Marnier-Lapostolle (think Grand Marnier). Alexandre discovered and re-planted prime vineyard sites in Chile’s Colchagua Valley, and this Cabernet-dominant blend shows the result of her efforts, which have received international acclaim. It has the cedar-blackberry character Cabernet lovers seek, at an amazing price.
Bujanda Rioja Reserva, Spain – No grilling season is complete without Spanish Rioja, the region where chuletas de cordero (lamb chops) grilled over vine cuttings, are the swoon-worthy signature dish. The Tempranillo grape, Spain’s iconic red, dominates, and the Reserva designation requires extended aging in barrel and bottle before release. This harmonizes the bruised plum, balsamic and rosemary herb notes with a sweet tobacco-leather whiff by a gentle oxidation that can only be achieved by such aging. Anything pit-roasted or spit-roasted would honor the patience involved in getting both the wine and the food to peak expression. Long-cured, exotic Spanish jamon iberico is also a classic match, but I’d just as happily do a paella with Spanish chorizo and chicken, or shellfish if you can source it. Salud!