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Five Wines Under $20 to Drink Right Now

Jon Bonné goes shopping for the bottles that over-deliver for under $20.

Bargain” is perhaps the worst of wine words. It holds all the wrong connotations, in that “bargain wine” is code for something made with the lowest common denominators: cheap, cynical, industrially produced.

“Value” indicates something different. It’s an x-ray of a wine’s innate worth. The quality of being cheap isn’t what matters, so much as a wine over-delivering on pleasure-per-dollar. It’s an essential idea. So, with summer upon us and much drinking to do, what better time to revisit it?

Below are five wines under $20 that prove that there’s no secret to making these wines. Find decent fruit. Make wine from it relatively simply. Don’t overshoot your goals.

Castellroig Cava Brut Rosat

Cava remains my pick for cheap, decent bubbles, mostly because the region sticks to Champagne-like winemaking, even for its basic wines. Castellroig, from the Penedès town of Subirats, always over-delivers. This mix of two red grapes, trepat and garnacha, which is fermented with indigenous yeast and rests on its lees for 15 months, is rare for cava. That unusual use of all reds makes it big and gutsy, with Fuji apple flavors and a chewy, strawberry fruit-leather side. Less subtle, maybe, but summer isn’t perforce about subtlety.

  • Price: $17
  • Vintage: NV
  • From: Regal Wine Imports

Neumeister Vulkanland Steiermark Gemischter Satz

Grüner veltliner from Austria remains a mainstay of under-$20 drinkability (even if grüner’s fate has evolved beyond liter bottles), but Austria has an awful lot more to offer in the white-wine realm. This brings together two lesser-known things: the tradition of white field blends known as gemischter satz, usually found around Vienna but also the imposing-sounding Vulkanland Steiermark, or volcanic Styria, in the very southeastern corner of Austria. The soils—volcanic, obvi—bring a spice to whites, including this mix of riesling, müller-thurgau, pinot blanc and more. There’s blanched almond and wheatgrass and a fullness to the texture, like pinot grigio that cares.

  • Price: $17
  • Vintage: 2016
  • From: Monika Caha Selections/Frederick Wildman & Sons

Point Ormond Frankland River Sauvignon Blanc

I acknowledge that a set of people exist who seek nothing more than a good sauvignon blanc. I also acknowledge that recommending one—along with recommending any inexpensive Australian wine—comes with a lot of baggage. But the negociant-like Point Ormond outfit finesses it all, with this bottle from far southwest Australia. It’s more kaffir lime than the usual grassiness, and the pale color doesn’t quite give away how much energy and tang there is. A sign of hope for legit Oz drinkability.

  • Price: $15
  • Vintage: 2017
  • From: Little Peacock Imports

Combel-La-Serre Cahors “Le Pur Fruit du Causse”

I’ve been kinda harsh to Cahors in the past—not undeservedly so, since this area of southwest France, the ancestral home of malbec, has found every way possible to shoot itself in the foot. Thank goodness for people like Julien Ilbert, who understand that the region’s best chance is to reclaim its proper roots with malbec (which he even makes in a carbonic, Beaujolais-like version). This is his unadorned, basic Cahors, and as the name implies, it’s all about the fruit—that rugged, violet-edged plumminess well-grown malbec can offer.

  • Price: $15
  • Vintage: 2016
  • From: Louis/Dressner Selections

Mélaric Vin de France “Le Tandem”

Mélanie and Aymeric Hilaire established their young property in the outer ring of the Saumur, near the new appellation of Saumur Puy-Notre-Dame. This is where the dark volcanic soils of the Loire begin their shift to bright limestone, and the Mélaric wines stylistically sit in Saumur-ness and the Anjou wines to the west. It makes the best of its mix of relaxed grolleau fruit and tensile, spicy cabernet franc. Carafe it for a bit to let the layers reveal themselves.

  • Price: $18
  • Vintage: 2015
  • From: MFW Wine Co.