50 Affordable Wines You Can Always Trust
Beringer Founder’s Estate California Cabernet Sauvignon ($9)
This historic winery makes arguably the broadest collection of acclaimed wines in California. Its Private Reserve has been a benchmark for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon since 1976. The much more affordable Founder’s Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is also impressive: a velvety, generous, cassis-driven red.
Bogle Old Vine California Zinfandel ($12)
The Bogle family has been farming in California’s Clarksburg region since the mid-1800s but only ventured into grape growing in 1968. The late Warren Bogle and his son Chris founded their eponymous winery about 10 years later. The family business is currently headed by Chris and Patty Bogle's three children: Warren, Ryan and Jody. Bogle farms more than 1,200 acres of wine grapes in the Sacramento Delta—some of which go into Bogle’s jammy, luscious Old Vine Zinfandel, one of the best Zinfandel deals on the market.
Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Merlot ($15)
Unquestionably the largest producer in Washington State (more than a million cases each year), Chateau Ste. Michelle is also one of the most adventurous: The winery has forged partnerships with famous European names such as Tuscany’s Piero Antinori and Ernst Loosen of Germany’s Mosel, and has developed properties in up-and-coming regions like Washington’s Red Mountain and Horse Heaven Hills. Its Columbia Valley Merlot—smoky, savory and rich with black cherry fruit—is one of the reasons Washington Merlot is so highly regarded.
Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon ($15)
The H3 stands for Horse Heaven Hills, the remote Washington State region where the grapes for this perennially impressive value red are grown. It’s substantial, with ripe black cherry fruit and substantial but streamlined tannins—a great steak wine for less than the price of a great steak, in fact.
Foxglove Central Coast Chardonnay ($17)
Brothers Bob and Jim Varner made their name with high-end, single-vineyard Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs before branching out under their Foxglove label to more affordable offerings. This Edna Valley offering always overdelivers, and is full of vivid mango and citrus fruit.
Hess Select North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon ($17)
Although most of the great wines of the world come from specific vineyards, most of the great affordable wines of the world are a blend of grapes from many different sites—as is the case with Hess’s spicy, black cherry–rich Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon.
J. Lohr Estates Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon ($15)
One of the biggest growers in the Central Coast, the Lohr family farms more than 3,600 acres of vines in Monterey County and Paso Robles. The latter vineyards are the primary source for this finely made, incredibly reliable red. It hews to a a crowd-pleasing style, with sweet American oak accents and plenty of aromatic, juicy cherry fruit.
Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve California Chardonnay ($14)
Here are two things to know about Kendall Jackson’s Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay: More than two million cases are made each year, and every single grape that goes into those bottles comes from vineyards owned by Kendall Jackson. (This is why, when you take a tour of the Kendall Jackson vineyards, you do it by helicopter.) Vineyard ownership means control over viticultural practices, and that’s why this wine—despite its vast production—remains delicious: rich but finely focused, its flavors suggesting ripe mangoes and pears.
Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier ($15)
Year in and year out, this is one of California’s top wine values. Winemaker Michael Beaulac blends Chenin from the Clarksburg region with Viognier from Lodi, ages it in stainless steel to retain its freshness, and comes up with a white that tingles on the tongue, with vibrant mandarin orange and melon flavors.
Rancho Zabaco Heritage Vines Sonoma County Zinfandel ($14)
Rancho Zabaco is one of many labels owned by Gallo. The company also owns a vast range of vineyards, including many long-planted to Zinfandel. Its Heritage Vines Zinfandel takes advantage of the old vines’ intensity of flavor, and while it may not be as inexpensive as Gallo Hearty Burgundy was in the 1970s, it’s still a steal.
Ravenswood Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel ($14)
Not so long ago, Ravenswood founder Joel Peterson remarked that when he started out, his wines were considered high-alcohol. These days, Ravenswood’s Zinfandels seem positively graceful compared to some of the galumphing Zin-monsters out there—and that’s why we still love them. Of particular note is its Lodi Zinfandel, a shade pricier than the company’s ubiquitous Vintners Blend, but with a depth of blackberry richness that’s well worth the few extra dollars.
Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley Fumé Blanc ($16)
Though no longer owned by the Mondavi family, this is still one of Napa Valley’s defining estates, producing wines ranging from its age-worthy Reserve Cabernet to its citrus-scented Napa Valley Fumé Blanc. Robert Mondavi coined the term "Fumé Blanc" for his Sauvignon Blanc wines in 1968 (French Pouilly-Fumés are made from Sauvignon Blanc), and winemaker Genevieve Janssens still uses French techniques—partial fermentation in barrel, the addition of a touch of Sémillon—to add complexity to this zesty white.
Rodney Strong Sonoma County Chardonnay ($14)
Former Broadway dancer Rodney Strong was one of Sonoma County’s earliest fine-wine pioneers, helping it make the transition from a source of grapes for mass-produced jug wines to a fine-wine region whose reputation can challenge that of neighbor and rival Napa Valley. Strong, who founded the winery in 1959 (and passed away in 2006), focused on vineyard-driven bottlings—he created the first single-vineyard Sonoma Cabernet, Alexander’s Crown, in 1974—at reasonable prices. The winery (owned by Tom Klein since 1989) still produces one of Sonoma’s greatest values, its lightly toasty Sonoma County Chardonnay.
La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($19)
La Crema makes a range of subtly expressive Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, but the Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, one of the winery’s most widely available bottlings, is also one of its best. It’s round and rich, with ripe pear and caramel-vanilla flavors.
Brancott Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($10)
While Cloudy Bay is still the most famous Sauvignon Blanc made in New Zealand, the much larger producer Brancott Vineyards deserves recognition, too. With properties in regions on both the North Island (Gisborne and Hawkes Bay) and the South Island (Marlborough), Brancott turns out a broad range of wines, including this compulsively drinkable Sauvignon Blanc.
Giesen Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($15)
Grapefruity and intense, with a distinctive peppery-lemon grass edge, this is classic New Zealand Sauvignon from one of the region’s top family-owned producers (Theo, Alex and Marcel Giesen founded it in 1981, after immigrating to New Zealand from their native Germany.)
Jim Barry The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon ($16)
Jim Barry has been a name to know in Australia’s Clare Valley for several generations, partly thanks to its famed (and quite expensive) Armagh Shiraz. But all of the family’s wines (currently made by Tom Barry) are good. Cassis and spice notes make up the core of this intense Aussie Cabernet, which can easily be mistaken for a substantially more expensive wine.
Yalumba Y Series South Australia Viognier ($13)
A family-owned Australian big brand is rare today, but Barossa Valley–based Yalumba is still owned by the Hill-Smith family, as it has been for five generations. Winemaker Louisa Rose wields a deft hand with both whites and reds, and her talents particularly shine in this focused white, which stays away from the overripe peachiness that often mars inexpensive viognier. Instead it’s aromatic and vivid.
Bodega Norton Reserva Lujan de Cuyo Malbec ($15)
Though founded by an Englishman (Sir Edmund James Palmer Norton) and now owned by an Austrian (Gernot Langes-Swarovski of Swarovski crystal), Norton is deeply Argentine—as is clear from its spicy, black-fruited Reserva Malbec.
Alamos Mendoza Malbec ($9)
Nicolás Catena is probably the vintner most responsible for helping Americans realize that Argentina has the capacity to produce world-class red wines, not just affordable everyday bottles. So it’s a bit ironic that Catena’s surprisingly inexpensive second label, Alamos, is so good—as evidenced by the remarkably consistent Alamos Malbec, with its velvety raspberry fruit and toasty oak notes.
Casa Lapostolle Rapel Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($12)
Most people may be familiar with the name Marnier (as in Grand Marnier), less so with Lapostolle. But that’s been changing in recent years thanks to the high-quality wines of Casa Lapostolle, the Chilean winery co-founded by Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle, great-granddaughter of Grand Marnier’s founder. Consulting top enologist Michel Rolland oversees the winery’s production, including a crisp and lively Sauvignon Blanc that’s consistently one of the best in Chile.
Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Rapel Velley Carmenère ($10)
Odds are that if you’re drinking a Chilean wine, it’s Concha y Toro, which is not only that country’s largest producer (15 million cases a year) but also its largest exporter, accounting for almost a third of all Chile’s international wine sales. The blackberry-rich Casillero del Diablo Carmenère, made from vineyards all over Chile’s Central Valley (including those in Maipo, Rapel and Maule), is Concha y Toro’s affordable star.
Cousiño-Macul Antiguas Reservas Maipo Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($15)
The Cousiño family has been producing wine at the Cousiño-Macul winery for more than 150 years. But this doesn’t mean the Chilean company is stuck in the past: It still turns out attractive, well-made wines, most notably the Cousiño-Macul Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon, a fruit-forward, accessibly styled red.
Santa Rita 120 Reserva Especial Central Valley Chardonnay ($8)
Although Santa Rita is practically within the city limits of Santiago, in the Maipo region, the winery owns vineyards all over Chile, including the Aconcagua Valley, the source of the fruit for its soft, citrusy 120 Chardonnay. Made mostly in stainless steel vats (only 10 percent of the grapes are aged in oak), it’s a clean, bright white with just a touch of oak-derived richness.
Paul Jaboulet Aîné Parallèle 45 Côtes-du-Rhône ($13)
Jaboulet’s large portfolio ranges from the stunning Hermitage La Chapelle, one of the Rhône’s greatest wines, to more modest offerings such as the peppery Parallèle 45, but the firm’s laserlike focus on quality carries across the whole line.
E. Guigal Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge ($15)
While Guigal’s greatest acclaim derives from its extraordinary single-vineyard Côte-Rôties, which Rhône wine fanatics refer to as the "La Las"—La Mouline, La Landonne and La Turque—this family-owned firm makes top-notch wines at every price. Its typically Syrah-based Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge is full-bodied and compellingly aromatic.
Georges Duboeuf "Flower Label" Moulin-à-Vent ($17)
Georges Duboeuf’s name is synonymous with Beaujolais, and for good reason: He makes consistently appealing wines, from his ubiquitous delivered-in-November Beaujolais Nouveau (Duboeuf is credited for creating that particular mania in the United States) to single-estate wines produced in limited amounts. Many are good, but his ageworthy, blackberry- rich Moulin-à-Vent "Flower Label," from Beaujolais’s most distinguished village, may be the star of the portfolio.
Hugel et Fils Gentil Alsace ($14)
This venerable Alsace producer makes a wide range of white wines, yet its best-known wine is also its most affordable. Hugel’s Gentil revives a reportedly ancient Alsatian tradition in which wines blended from the region’s noble grape varieties were known generically as gentil. Hugel’s modern version, introduced in 1992, combines Sylvaner with Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Muscat to create a lithe, dry white with stone-fruit and floral aromas.
Louis Jadot Mâcon-Villages ($14)
The firm of Louis Jadot is a rare thing: a large-scale Burgundy négociant whose reputation nevertheless hovers at the same level as many smaller, more rarefied domaines. This is in part thanks to the sure hand of winemaker Frédéric Barnier, but partly it’s because of the inarguable quality of the company’s fruit—found even in basic bottlings like Jadot’s crisp, floral, lime-inflected Mâcon-Villages.
Peter Zemmer Alto Adige Pinot Grigio ($16)
Most Pinot Grigio bears a simple “delle Venezie” designation, and the wines are often simple—to the point of anonymous—too. Those from Alto Adige tend to be a bit pricier, but Zemmer’s focused, elegant version, full of bright nectarine-scented fruit, is a consistent steal.
Badia a Coltibuono Cetamura Chianti ($12)
One of the great names in Chianti Classico, Badia a Coltibuono also makes this basic Chianti with fruit sourced from throughout the Chianti region. Bright, crisp and filled with wild-berry flavor, it’s a perfect pasta-night wine (for instance with the hand-rolled pici you might learn to make at the estate’s equally famed cooking classes, which draw Italophile foodies from around the world).
Banfi Centine Toscana ($12)
Importing Italian wine to America wasn’t enough for John and Harry Mariani (though their family has been doing so for over 70 years); they wanted to make Italian wine as well. Now, with 2,400 acres of vineyards in Montalcino, the brothers produce excellent Tuscan reds under the Castello Banfi brand, including Centine, an earthy blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot.
Capezzana Barco Reale ($15)
A perennial great value, this Sangiovese-dominated red from a Tuscan estate whose history goes back over 500 years suggests wild berries and rosemary, and its vivid tangy finish begs to be paired with a rich ragù.
Frescobaldi Castiglioni Chianti ($14)
The Frescobaldis are nearly as famous as the Antinoris in their native Florence (the family also has a palazzo there) and in all of Tuscany, too. The Frescobaldi clan currently claims nine Tuscan estates, including Castiglioni, where the label’s basic Chianti offers a taste of ripe Frescobaldi fruit for a very small price.
NV Mionetto Prosecco DOC Treviso Brut ($14)
Mionetto’s widely distributed, appley-citrusy sparkler is made with Glera grapes sourced from hillside vineyards in the Treviso region. It’s great chilled on its own, or in the summertime in an Aperol spritz.
Tormaresca Neprica ($12)
This robust, fruit-forward blend of Negroamaro, Primitivo and Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the Antinori wine dynasty’s substantial estate in Puglia, far to the south in the hell of Italy’s boot. It captures the Mediterranean sun and warmth in its ripe, mocha-accented flavors.
Nino Franco Prosecco Rustico ($18)
Proof that Prosecco doesn’t have to be a simply, fizzy drink (yet can remain affordable), Nino Franco’s basic cuvée has layers of toasty bread and citrus notes, with fine, elegant bubbles. Founded by Antonio Franco in 1919, the company is now ably run by 3rd generation vintner Primo Franco.
Altovinum Evodia Garnacha ($10)
A custom cuvee made for Spanish wine specialist importer Eric Solomon of European Cellars, this ebulliently juicy, dark-fruited red comes from ancient vines (some up to 100 years old) on a high, remote plateau in north central Spain’s Calatayud region.
Bodegas Borsao Tres Picos ($16)
Black cherry liqueur and peppery spice notes are at the heart of this formidable (and astoundingly affordable) Spanish red. It comes from older vines on the foothills of the Moncayo Mountains in Spain’s Campo de Borja region, from a local cooperative of 375 different wine growers.
Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut Cava ($10)
Freixenet’s ultrapopular, black-bottled Cordon Negro Brut is probably the only sparkling wine in the world that’s as famous as Moët & Chandon Champagne. And it’s a lot less expensive but also very good. A crisp, dry sparkling wine with charming citrus notes and a touch of classic cava earthiness, it’s always reliable and a pleasure to drink.
Marqués de Riscal Rioja Reserva ($19)
There’s the much-ballyhooed Frank Gehry–designed hospitality center, but there are also great wines made at Marqués de Riscal. Among them are the luxurious Barón de Chirel blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, a long-aging Gran Reserva and this focused Reserva, with its classically Riojan notes of red cherries and vanilla.
Penfolds Koonunga Hill South Australia Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon ($12)
Once upon a time, only one Australian wine was considered first-rate: Penfolds Grange, a Shiraz and (sometimes) Cabernet blend. While Grange remains the country’s standard-bearer, Penfolds also makes many other excellent wines, especially its blackberry-scented, fruit- forward Koonunga Hill Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the most reliable reds from Down Under.
Tio Pepe Fino Muy Seco ($18)
Never had fino sherry? You owe it to yourself to buy a bottle, chill it down, and sip a glass or two of this savory, tart, lightly briny Spanish classic—ideally with a bowl of salty marcona almonds at hand. Tio Pepe is the standard bearer for the category, and a perennial steal.
Commanderie de la Bargemone Coteaux de l’Aix en Provence Rosé ($18)
Provence is the heartland of rosé, and this pale salmon-hued bottling captures the essence of Provençal rosé—delicate and bright, yet with surprising intensity of flavor (think wild strawberries and raspberries, with a citrusy edge). It comes from an estate founded in the 13th century by the Knights Templar, when they weren’t off fighting in the Crusades.
King Estate Acrobat Oregon Pinot Gris ($15)
While Ed King was on a hay-buying trip in Oregon’s Lorane Valley in 1991, he noticed that the hillside slopes where the cattle were standing were similar to a couple of small vineyards he already owned. That 600-acre ranch turned out to be for sale, so King bought it. Now King Estate has become one of Oregon’s largest and most reliable producers. Its affordable line of Acrobat wines are great values, partucularly this crisp white full of stone-fruit flavors.
Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Crianza ($12)
This groundbreaking winery was founded in 1970 by Enrique Forner, with help from legendary Bordeaux winemaker Émile Peynaud. Today, though it may be more stalwart than upstart, Cáceres walks a graceful line between modern and traditional. For instance, its ruby-colored crianza (in Rioja, a term for reds that are aged at least a year in barrel and not sold for a minimum of three years after the vintage) is aged in French oak rather than the traditional American but still has all the balance and elegance of old-style Rioja crianzas.
Langlois-Chateau Crémant de Loire Brut NV ($20)
It’s sparkling, it’s from France, it’s delicious—and it isn’t Champagne. Langlois-Chateau, founded in 1885, makes a variety of wines, but its shortbread-scented, pear-inflected Crémant is the one that rises above the rest. A blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc, it ages for 24 months on its lees (the yeast cells left over after fermentation) rather than the nine months typical of most Crémants, which helps give it unusual lushness and depth.
Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Cava ($9)
Though it’s not quite as ubiquitous as Freixenet’s Cordon Negro, the lemon-and-lime-scented Cristalino Brut cava is equally delicious, with tart green-apple flavors and fine, appealing bubbles. The company, founded in 1943 by winemaker Jaume Serra Guell, is now owned by the Carrión family, but it still makes wine in the caves under its winery in the coastal town of Villanueva y Geltrú.
M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge ($12)
In 1990, at age 26, Michel Chapoutier took over his family’s firm and lifted it back to its former status as one of the Rhône’s most significant producers. Since then he’s ventured into new territories, first to lesser-known French regions such as Roussillon and Collioure, and more recently (both on his own and in a joint venture with the wine-importing Terlato family) to southern Australia. Yet his basic Côtes-du-Rhône Belleruche Rouge, with its Grenache-based spicy, cherry flavors, remains one of his most impressively consistent bottlings.
Folonari Veneto Pinot Grigio ($6)
Though Folonari first became famous for Soave back in the 1970s (and set the reputation of that wine back several decades by producing a mediocre, characterless wine), the company also produces a truly delicious Pinot Grigio that’s marked by mouthwatering acidity and bright green-apple flavors. And a note on that Folonari Soave: It’s gotten a lot better.