Sometimes wine is daunting, and the fact that vintages change every year is one of the reasons. Was 2014 better than 2015? Worse? How are you supposed to know? One solution is not to worry about it. We’ve assembled a list of 50 of the world’s most reliable, inexpensive wines—bottles that offer amazing quality for their price year in and year out.—Ray Isle
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At La Crema, winemaker Elizabeth Grant-Douglas makes a range of subtly expressive Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Her Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, one of La Crema’s most widely available bottlings, is also one of her best: round and rich with ripe pear and caramel-vanilla flavors. Craig McAllister is the new head winemaker and he also worked extensively on this wine in particular before he changed positions.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Cousiño family has been producing wine at the Cousiño-Macul winery for more than 150 years, they own the best private wine storage. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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