Media Conversations

20 Wines for Under $20: The Fall Edition

“I hear it all the time: Where should I look for the best wine values?

“The answer is simple: They are all around you.

“You have to keep your eyes and ears open, and even so, sometimes they are hard to find. But in my research for this latest installment of 20 Under $20, I have reaffirmed some key principles for getting the most wine for your money.

“Great values come from all over the globe, but the greatest percentage comes from Old World wine regions.

“Why? Simply because the diversity of wines available from, say, France or Italy (home to a vast number of ancient, indigenous grapes) far exceeds the variety made in the United States, where few producers depart from the handful of most popular grapes. That said, five of my 20 choices are American, exceeded by only the six from France.

“The ratio of quality to price is greatest in the area of $15 to $25 a bottle.

“Even that price is more than many people want to pay. For those who wish to spend less, many sound bottles are available for less than $15. But I am not searching for sound. I want exciting and distinctive, which often requires more labor-intensive, expensive farming and winemaking.

“I am willing to pay a little more because exciting wine is important to me. That’s an individual decision, but the fact remains that your chances of finding distinctive bottles grow exponentially in the $15 to $25 range.

“Finding great wine requires finding great wine shops.

“You will not find most of these bottles at the supermarket, and even if you have a great wine shop, you still will not find all these bottles. But you may find a few, and those that you don’t find immediately are worth keeping in the back of your mind for when you happen upon them in another vintage or on a restaurant list.

“Keep a wide-open mind.

“Most wines are good values because they do not have the sort of pedigree that almost always raises prices. Many come from little-known regions, made from little-known grapes. Trying them requires a commitment to the unknown. Exceptions exist, of course, like the bottle of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon on this list.

“You may love some of these wines. Others not so much. Distinctive bottles can often be polarizing. So be prepared not to love everything you try.

“Find a professional to trust.

“This is the corollary to finding a great wine shop. Even great stores won’t have everything. Arcane, complex American laws governing distribution of alcoholic beverages virtually assure that every state will have a very different selection.

“But if they can’t find the exact bottle you are looking for, good wine merchants can often suggest something similar. Trust them (and see above on keeping an open mind).

Route Stock Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Route 29 2013

“Route Stock is a label owned by Wilson Daniels, a big wine importer. I wouldn’t ordinarily look to it as a source for wines (other than its imports, of course). But this is a very good, straightforward Napa cabernet sauvignon, well shaped and lightly tannic, with flavors of dark fruits, earth and herbs that are unexaggerated. How often can you find that for $20? Bring on the burgers and lamb chops.”

Eric Asimov, October 6, 2016
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20 Wines for Under $20: The Fall Edition