In the brave new world of wine, “cheap” is no longer a dig. In fact, being on a budget is a blessing—a means to narrow the world of wine into a slightly more manageable sampling of the good stuff. For less than $25 (i.e., the average price of two cocktails at your local craft cocktail bar) you can drink everything from excellent Beaujolais from Clos de la Roilette to a minerally carricante from Sicily’s Gulfi to funky, ashy pineau d’aunis from the Loire’s Domaine de Montrieux. Diversity is in—and it’s birthed a great big bargain bin. The only challenge is sifting through it.
We’re here to help. Once a month, we’ll gather a group of some of our favorite sommeliers, retailers, writers and knowledgeable drunkards to taste through a selection of 12 wines, blind. Some months it’ll be a mixed case, while other months we’ll follow a theme. Next month, for instance, we’ll tackle sparkling wines, and the following we’ll focus on rosé to kick off the summer. Then it’s back to a mixed case in July.
From the 12 bottlings up for consideration, we’ll write up only the wines we would wholeheartedly recommend at the under-$25 price point. Sometimes that might be three wines, other times we may end up with a full dozen winners. Some ground rules:
- All of the wines selected for consideration have to be good on paper, which means no mass-produced, supermarket wines will ever find their way into these tastings.
- All of the wines are tasted blind.
- While the wines must be under $25, we’ll do our best to find wines that stick closer to $20 and under.
- All of the wines must be available from a retailer that ships nationwide.
For our inaugural tasting we mixed a case of wines that spanned from South America to California to France and Italy, split (almost) evenly between white and red. For the tasting we were joined by Michael Madrigale, Head Sommelier at Boulud Sud and Bar Boulud; Joe Campanale, Executive Wine Director and Co-owner of Dell’Anima, L’Artusi, L’Apicio and Anfora; Ashley Santoro, Wine Director at Narcissa; and PUNCH’s New York wine columnist, Zachary Sussman. Without further ado, our favorites:
Gulfi Carjcanti 2011 | $22
The universal favorite of the group. Savory and mineral with super-concentrated fruit and a tinge of oxidation, a few in the group pegged the wine as savagnin from the Jura. But this is Sicily at its best. A blend of 95 percent carricante (a white grape that primarily grows on the slopes of Mt. Etna) and 5 percent albanello sourced from old vines in the organic Campo vineyard, which is located at 1,300 feet above sea level in the province of Ragusa, in southeastern Sicily. It’s aged in a mixture of old tonneaux and barriques for a total of 10 months. You need this wine. Trust. [Buy] Importer: Selected Estates of Europe
Domaine Oudin Chablis 2013 | $22
A classic Chablis from the up-and-coming Domaine Oudin that shows all of the lemon curd and chalky minerality that’s synonymous with chardonnay from this corner of the world. Another favorite of the group, who liked the fact that it had all of the racy acidity one could want with a bit more depth and richness thanks to longer lees aging. The estate is run by Nathalie Oudin, who farms sustainably and adheres to a philosophy of minimum intervention in the cellar, using native yeasts and adding only small amounts of sulfur to the wines. [Buy] Importer: Jenny & Francois Selections
L’Epicourchois Menu Pineau “Racines” 2010 | $22
A leesy, floral expression of menu pineau (a minor white grape in the Loire generally used for blending) sourced from vines averaging around 50 years of age. Located in the Loire appellation of Cheverny, L’Epicourchois is one of only a handful of producers making wines exclusively from the grape. While the grape is generally faulted for having low acidity, this wine, which is aged for 18 months on its lees, is proof of just how fresh and tense wines from menu pineau can be. [Buy] Importer: Weygandt Selections
Ricci Colli Tortonesi Timorasso 2010 | $20
While this wine proved to be a bit divisive at first, with strong petrol aromatics that turned off a few of our tasters, it won hearts after being opened for about an hour. Sourced from Piemonte’s Colli Tortonesi, which is located east of Barolo and Barbaresco near the border with Lombardia. While a number of white and red grapes are cultivated in the region, timorasso is arguably the most interesting white grape grown here. Sourced from organic vineyards and aged for one year in stainless steel, this is a full-bodied, earthy take on the grape that shows a strong mineral backbone that begs for cured meats. Probably best to oblige. [Buy] Importer: Vinity Wine Company
Louis-Antoine Luyt Carmenere “La Grande Vie Dure” 2013 | $22
One of the most surprising wines in the group, this carmenere from Chile’s Maule Valley has all of the hallmark aromatics of northern Rhône syrah—violet, pepper, roasted meat, olive brine—coupled with a warmer, rounder mouthfeel and salty savoriness that one of the tasters likened to fish sauce (in a good way). A protégé of famed Beaujolais producer Marcel Lapierre, winemaker Antoine Luyt adheres to a philosophy of low-impact winemaking and organic farming and has become an outspoken advocate for natural wine in Chile. This is the ultimate backyard, meat-grilling red, and will take well to a slight chill. [Buy] Importer: Louis/Dressner Selections
Le Grange Tiphaine Touraine-Amboise “Ad Libitum” 2013 | $17
An imminently slammable vin de soif natural wine from the Loire, this is light in color and in touch. A juicy, brambly mix of gamay, côt (malbec) and cabernet franc from a husband-and-wife team located in a sub-appellation of Touraine called Touraine-Amboise, which hugs the Loire River, east of Tours. This is by no means a serious wine, and that’s exactly why we like it so much. [Buy] Importer: Jenny & Francois Selections