Wine Gems Under $15 for the Holidays
By The ABC Wine Experts Published October 2020
It’s officially the holiday season. Although it might look different this year, we can’t help cracking open our planners and beginning the holiday preparations. Some people may be celebrating with a handful of their closest in-state friends and family, while others are hosting virtual parties, but we all deserve to go all out this season. Especially after this year. One thing we also deserve - not spending an arm and a leg to do so. That’s why our wine experts have laid out these hidden wine gems all under $15, from our Sourced & Certified Collection. They are premium picks for your holiday gatherings, without that premium price tag.
I have long said that there is no better value in wine than Chianti. The bang for your buck goes way further in quality and drinkability, as long as you don’t dip into the very bottom of the quality spectrum. Enter Fattoria La Ripa le Terre di Monna Lisa Chianti. Nestled in the stunning hills of San Donato (about an hour drive south of Florence, Italy) you will find the small rustic winery responsible for one of the best Chiantis’ under $15. The winery has been making wine dating back to 1457 and, in fact, the estate was once owned by Mona Lisa’s (yes, from the painting) father. The estate was given as a dowery and was eventually renovated by the Caramelli family in 1940. Made from 80% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo and 10% Merlot, Monna Lisa is fresh, floral and gently spicy, showing vibrant flavors of cherry, raspberry and violets. Since 2006, all cultivation and winemaking have been in strict accordance with EU organic farming regulations. It’s worth every penny. Grab a bottle today and thank me tomorrow.
Most people are unfamiliar with the relatively uncommon Spanish grape variety Verdejo, but they should take the time to get themselves acquainted. A fun alternative to Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, Verdejo grows almost exclusively in Rued, Spain. Known for its light body and bright fruit flavors, Verdejo is as refreshing as it is exciting. To get nerdy for a moment, Cuatro Rayas produces its Verdejo organically from ungrafted, pre-phylloxera, 150-year-old vines. This means the vines are grown on their own original rootstalks, which is very uncommon due to the phylloxera (root louse) plague of the late 1800s. Cuatro Rayas Verdejo shows aromas of lime pith, Meyer lemon, grapefruit and fennel, with flavors of white peach, green melon and even almond if lightly aged. Drink as an aperitif, or with any dish containing lime, think tacos. Cuatro Rayas Verdejo is absolutely a wine that you should keep around the house at all times, especially during the holidays.
At this moment, Bordeaux might be the best place in the wine world to find the greatest values. Yes, Bordeaux can also cost you your monthly mortgage, but in the past few vintages, the quality has been stunning, and that isn’t just at the top of the food chain. Although Bordeaux is best-known for the top 100 world-class, collectable, ageable wines, there are literally thousands of other chateaux where you can find a gem, you just have to do some legwork. Château Jalousie Beaulieu 2016 is one of them. The estate is classified as Bordeaux Supérieur, so the vineyard location offers more ripeness than the average Bordeaux. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, the 2016 is drinking beautifully now, maybe with an hours decanting and even at the price, will continue to improve in the bottle for a couple of years. In the 2014 vintage, we decided to pursue a handful of Bordeaux which met some basic criteria including price (under $15), press and ratings, and they needed to be packed in wooden crates. Château Jalousie Beaulieu was the third one we found and it is simply a home run.
Rosé season is about to pass in many parts of America, but here in Florida it’s a year-round wine. With all the excitement surrounding French Rosé, prices have trickled up a bit, so it’s nice to have a go-to that is affordable enough to open. Bleu de Mer Rosé is as fresh as a daisy and is produced from 60% Grenache and 40% Cinsault from the Pays d’Oc in southern France. Bleu de Mer is produced under the umbrella of Bernard Magrez, owner of Château Pape Clément and a handful of other Bordeaux estates, as well as wineries throughout France and the world. Imminently drinkable as an aperitif, but remember, Rosé is a food wine. Pair this wine with your holiday charcuterie board or some garlicky prawns.
From Washington State’s very first AVA, Yakima Valley, this sustainable Pinot Gris has that perfect balance between tart Italian Pinot Grigio from the Tre-Veneto and riper French Pinot Gris from Alsace. Lone Birch is a second tier from Airfield Winery, so it provides an incredible value though fully estate-grown and produced. Light tropical notes on the nose like lychee and jasmine, become brightly acidic on the palate making it a perfect wine to pair with lighter fare like seafood, roasted chicken and roasted vegetables but could also be your perfect Thanksgiving white wine. The acidity is very balanced and elegant with just enough ripe citrus and apple fruits on the palate to make it a great beginner Pinot Gris that represents the typical flavor profile of a Washington Pinot Gris.
Milbrandt made their name selling their extra grapes to Chateau Ste Michelle, but now produce some of their own world-class wines that exemplify the typical value-to-price ratio we find in Washington State. From the Columbia Valley, this estate-grown and produced Cabernet Sauvignon has that perfect balance of deep flavors, bright fruit and velvety tannins. There is a restrained elegance to most Washington Cabernets that differentiate them from the typical California offerings. After the customary black currant notes on the nose, I get hints of tobacco and toasted oak; a rich mouthfeel emerges on your palate that provides a long finish. Pair this with grilled meats or even barbecue, and due to its softer tannins, this is a Cabernet that can also work with lighter fare, like chicken or a nice cheese platter.
Falanghina (Fah-lahn-Geeh-nah) is another indigenous grape variety that is primarily cultivated in the Campania region of southern Italy, though there is some production in the neighboring regions of Puglia, Abruzzo and Molise. The origins of Falanghina can be traced back to Roman times. It is believed to have been the major component of Falernum, the most popular wine of the Roman emperors. A heady wine that was sweet, strong and deliberately oxidized.
Today, modern-day examples are probably very different from what Caesar and Caligula were drinking. Tenuta Pepe Lila Falanghina has hints of citrus fruit, peaches, nectarines and orange blossom with uplifting acidity. Try this juicy and refreshing white with a classic caprese salad of mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil. Another incredible value from our Sourced & Certified Collection of wines.
Coming from the sometimes-overlooked region of Edna Valley in California, Hitch Chardonnay is an outstanding value. What makes this area so special is its unique geography which allows for a long, cool growing season that yields grapes with great depth of flavor. Hitch was rated 90 points by Wine Enthusiast, making it one of the highest rated Chardonnays we carry at its price point. It balances ripe tropical fruit flavors with refreshing acidity, a rounded texture, and just a touch of oak. I recommend trying this with soft cheeses or roasted chicken.
Made by Cooper Mountain Winery, one of the oldest in the Willamette Valley, this Pinot Gris is one of the very finest you’ll find in its price point. What makes this so special is in the way the grapes are grown: 100% biodynamic from vineyards entirely owned by the winery, which is rarely seen in a wine of this price. It has flavors of pear and melon, with bright acidity that pairs it beautifully with charcuterie or a refreshing salad.
Chenin Blanc is a grape varietal that is not on the radar of many people in this country but should be. The best-known Chenin comes from France’s Loire Valley, but those from South Africa, like this wine, are a very close second. The wine itself is dry, fresh and vibrant, with notes of apple, pineapple and melon, as well as a zippy acidity that is perfect for seafood (think crab, shrimp and especially oysters, as well as tuna, salmon, and trout), or try it with chicken salad, sushi, risotto or goat cheese. This is a wine to pour and enjoy with your friends. It is something just a little different from your everyday Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc and its crisp zesty freshness make it a perfect aperitif and food-friendly white for a value price.
Winemaker and owner, Mary-Lou Nash, is originally from Maine. She found herself in South Africa about thirty years ago, undertook a major career change and is now both successful and highly respected for her winemaking abilities. In Florida, her wines are only available at Disney and ABC Fine Wine & Spirits.
This is an absolutely amazing wine for the price, or for just about any price really. It is made from 70% Malbec and 30% Cabernet Franc, sourced entirely from the famed Uco Valley in Mendoza, Argentina.
Santa Julia is the sister winery to the Zuccardi estate. Literally, as Julia is actually the sister of the illustrious young winemaker Sebastián Zuccardi. Both estates show great care for the grapes, for the land and for the people who live on it. The vineyards at Santa Julia are completely sustainable and to a large extent, organic.
The wine itself has the complex aromas and flavors of Malbec (plums, cherries, jam) which blend wonderfully with the added spice, dark fruits and violets of the Cabernet Franc. The 2018 vintage is rated 91 points from Wine Advocate. It pairs deliciously with a wide variety of foods – smoky beef and beef empanadas, steak, charcuterie, lamb, game, pork, duck, even burgers and chilli con carne. This is a wine to enjoy by itself, or to serve at mealtime with family and friends.
CVNE (Compañía Vinicola del Norte de España) is one of Rioja’s most celebrated producers. It is the only winery in Spain to achieve the coveted Wine of the Year honor from Wine Spectator. CVNE produces the Cune label wines at their historic Haro estate in Rioja Alta. Cune Rioja Crianza is mostly Tempranillo with Garnacha and Mazuelo added for structure and complexity. The wine spends twelve months in American oak barrels and an additional twelve months aging in the bottle. It’s an elegant alternative to Pinot Noir and a tremendous value with red cherry, violet, tobacco and spice box on the palate. Pair it with grilled lamb and sautéed piquillo peppers.
Rioja is primarily a red wine region, yet it also produces a small amount of terrific dry white wines. N de Nivarius is a Rioja white produced from the unique and rare Tempranillo Blanco grape. The wine is unoaked with white flowers and citrus on the nose, juicy pear and quince in the mouth, zesty and bright on the finish. Fans of Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc will find a lot to like here. Enjoy it with pan-seared scallops in lemon butter with your friends and family this holiday season.
Domaine Vetriccie is nestled between the sea and mountains along the Corsican coast near the town of Aghione, on the Costa Serena plateau. The 2019 Domaine Vetricccie Île de Beauté Rosé is a blend of 40% Niellucciu, 30% Sciaccarellu, 15% Grenache and 15% Merlot. A classic example of the style, this wine exhibits a pale salmon pink color with aromas and flavors of fresh strawberries, raspberries, wild-flowers and a long vibrant finish. Enjoy as an aperitif, or pair with mixed salads, roasted vegetables, black olive tapenade, goat cheese, seafood dishes and grilled fish. This Rosé is a real bargain offered at an unbeatable value.
The 2019 Bourgogne Rosé from Domaine Gueguen, 100% Pinot Noir dry Rosé wine, impressed our wine team with its freshness, perfect balance and expressive aromas and flavors of cherry, strawberry and peaches, lingering on a long lasting finish. This is the best example of Burgundy Rosé I’ve ever tasted, and on par with the highest quality Rosé wines from Provence and Corsica. It represents a great value and for that reason has made it in my top 5 list of dry Rosés, along with Château Trians (Provence), Château de Pibarnon (Bandol), Château de la Noblesse (Bandol) and Domaine Vetriccie (Corsica).
Are you looking for more ways to enhance your holidays on a budget? Check out our ideas for holiday gifts under $15 here.
Pricing, selection and vintages may vary by location.