The 20 Best Wines Under $20
2012 Ravenswood Vintners Blend "Old Vine" Zinfandel, California
The man who founded Ravenswood is widely regarded as the "godfather of Zin," so this is a name you should look for when buying this varietal, says wine consultant Leslie Sbrocco, author of Simple and Savvy Wine Guide
. With notes of black cherry, raspberries, and blueberries, this mouthwatering, unapologetic wine also features a hint of smoke that gives it more body.
Pair with: Ribs or other spicy grilled meats. It also goes well with hearty pastas loaded with earthy veggies and tomato sauces. ($10; ravenswoodwinery.com)
2012 SIMI Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County, California
This pale yellow wine is easy to drink, thanks to hints of lemon, lime zest, stone fruit, grapefruit, tart apple, and flowers. Crisp and bright, you're left with a lingering taste of citrus at the finish.
Pair with: Light appetizer fare such as cheeses, flatbreads, or crab cakes. It's also great with light entrees like pan-roasted chicken and papardelle pasta. "The citrus notes almost act like extra ingredients when paired with the right foods—like squeezing lemon onto a dish," says Shannon Latting, a sommelier based in Southern California. "The high acidity also cuts through buttery sauces to balance the flavors." ($15; simiwinery.com)
2011 Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages, Beaujolais, Burgundy, France
The Beaujolais region of France is known for producing lighter reds like this fruity wine made from Gamay Noir, which is perfect for the holiday season. "Beaujolais-Villages wines are a step up in quality from the more famous Beaujolais Nouveau (meaning new wine released right after the harvest) and offer excellent value. Plus, Jadot is consistently one of the best," Sbrocco says.
Pair with: Any poultry. The elegant, earthy notes go excellently with turkey, but the versatile grape works well with everything from duck to chicken to ham. ($11; louisjadot.com)
2011 Wild Horse Viognier, Central Coast, California
Grown on the Central Coast of California, one of the fastest growing wine regions today, the Viognier is a unique grape variety that makes for a beautifully finished, everyday wine. Light aromas of honeysuckle, apricot, and citrus blossoms are accompanied by bright acidity and balance.
Pair with: Cheeses, especially gouda or brie, and roasted nuts. "I love Viognier with cuisines like Thai or Indian too," Latting says. "The texture of it can mellow out and balance more exotic dishes." ($17; wildhorsewinery.com)
Segura Viudas Brut, Cava, Spain
From Spanish producer Segura Viudas, this deliciously dry bubbly (Brut means dry when referring to sparkling wine) is light yet lush. Made in the northeastern part of the Penedès region of Spain near Barcelona, this is an affordable classic. "It's one of the best value bubblies on the market—period," Sbrocco says.
Pair with: Appetizers, from chips and salsa to shrimp cocktail. Sample with soft cheeses or light fish dishes. ($10; seguraviudasusa.com)
2010 Terrazas de Los Andes, Malbec Reserva, Mendoza, Argentina
One of Argentina's top Malbec producers, this lushly styled red is a full-bodied beauty. Dark berry flavors marry with a peppery finish in a wine that showcases the best of Argentina. "If you like bold reds, this wine is for you. It's a wine worth twice the price," Sbrocco says.
Pair with: Meat, meat and more meat. Roast beef, ham, Portobello mushrooms, and hearty soups. ($16; terrazasdelosandes.com)
2012 Dr. Konstantin Frank "Dry" Riesling, Finger Lakes, New York
"For those who think that all Riesling is sweet, this dry rendition will change minds," says wine expert Linda Murphy, author of American Wine
. New York's chilly Finger Lakes region produces juicy yet crisp Rieslings, and the Dr. Frank is a mouthful of apricot and spiced apple flavors with a mouthwatering finish that's far from sweet.
Pair with: Light fish dishes and spicy fare from piquant burritos to fiery curry dishes. ($15; drfrankwines.com)
2011 Hahn Pinot Noir, Monterey, California
This lighter-bodied wine offers aromas of fresh cranberry, raspberry, and cherry that are apparent with the first swirl of the glass, Latting says. After a sip, you'll taste secondary notes of lavender, violet, and spices.
Pair with: Lighter dishes such as fish, poultry, or pasta. Think risotto with shellfish, wild mushrooms, and pancetta, roasted chicken, or grilled salmon. ($16; hahnwinery.com)
2012 Muga Rosado Rioja, Spain
Rioja is the most famous and historic wine region of Spain. It's known for producing age-worthy reds made mainly from the Tempranillo and Garnacha grape varieties, but those in the know also seek out the area's dry-style rosés like this strawberry-scented beauty. "Rioja is one of my favorite wine region's in the world and Muga makes a stylish pink to enjoy year round," Sbrocco says.
Pair with: Turkey and cranberry sauce, salty ham, and sweet potato casserole. ($12; bodegasmuga.com)
2012 Ruffino "Lumina" Pinot Grigio, Delle Venezia, Italy
Ruffino is a trusted name in Italy as a classic producer of quality, affordable wines. Start out a holiday meal with a glass of this medium-bodied, elegant white wine, or enjoy it with a light weeknight dinner. It's incredibly versatile and extremely refreshing with a touch of fresh lemon and sage.
Pair with: Vegetarian dishes like herbed pastas or broiled or grilled fish. ($10; ruffino.com)
2010 LangeTwins "Caricature" Red Blend, California
The Lodi-based winery is heralded for their Zinfandel, but this easy-drinking red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel layers dark berry flavors with a spicy kick, Sbrocco says. A whimsical label makes it an ideal holiday gift.
Pair with: Hearty stews, pasta in marinara sauces, hard cheeses, and grilled sausages with mushrooms and onions. ($15; langetwins.com)
HandCraft Inspiration White, California
A ripe, racy blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Moscato, and Pinot Grigio, this is a crowd-pleasing white. HandCraft was founded by Cheryl Indelicato, a third generation wine proprietor. As part of her passion to make a positive difference in people's lives, proceeds from the HandCraft collection support breast cancer research, prevention, and awareness.
Pair with: Curry dishes or Thai cuisine. "Also, creamy risotto with squash and mushrooms or pumpkin soup will sing with this delicious white," Sbrocco adds. ($12; handcraftwines.com)
Zardetto Prosecco, Italy
From Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve and into 2014, this sparkling white is perfect for any occasion. Equally as lovely on its own, with notes of white flowers and apricots, this delicate, dry bubbly also makes an ideal pairing in bellinis and other brunch drinks.
Pair with: Shellfish, white meats, and fresh cheeses. ($14; zardettoprosecco.com)
2012 Charles Smith Wines "Boom Boom!" Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington
Washington is a mecca for big reds hailing from the eastern Columbia Valley. Both Merlot and Syrah have been garnering attention for their ability to shine in the state. "This wine is an explosion of ripe black cherry fruit and savory hints of tobacco and fresh leafy herbs," Murphy says. "It's full-bodied and flavorful."
Pair with: Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, grilled lamb, or pizza loaded with meat. ($15; charlessmithwines.com)
Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
"Kim Crawford was a key figure in putting New Zealand on the map in the United States for producing delicious, affordable Sauvignon Blanc," Sbrocco says. With aromas of passion fruit and fresh herbs and citrus flavors, this wine captures the essence of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
Pair with: Vegetarian dishes, herbed poultry dishes, and marinated and grilled seafood. "I love it with some grilled asparagus, a fillet of swordfish, and maybe a simple frisee salad with grapefruit segments, goat cheese, and a light vinaigrette," Latting says. ($20; kimcrawfordwines.com)
2011 Robert Mondavi Private Selection "Coastal Crush" Red, California
This red blend benefits from the unique geology and climate of California's Central Coast, located midway between San Francisco and LA. With juicy aromas of ripe strawberry and raspberry, this food-friendly wine features Syrah most prominently, followed by Merlot and Malbec, Latting says. You'll also find touches of fruit, chocolate, spice, and a little smoke as you sip.
Pair with: Smoky foods like tacos, grilled meats or veggies, or wood-fired pizza. ($10; robertmondaviprivateselection.com)
2011 Liberty School Chardonnay, Central Coast, California
Chardonnay is America's favorite white wine, thanks to crisp and refreshing versions like this bottle. Capturing zesty notes and lushness, this wine sports a dash of Marsanne and Viognier and is sure to please all palates during the holiday season.
Pair with: Turkey and mashed potatoes, grilled salmon, pork in a mustard sauce, and roasted squash, Sbrocco suggests. ($14; hopefamilywines.com)
2011 Acrobat Pinot Noir, Oregon
Grown in the organic vineyards of King Estate Winery in western Oregon, this unique red features appetizing flavors of vanilla, juicy red berries, chocolate, plum, coffee, and cocoa. Crisp and refreshing on its own, it also works wonderfully with a variety of foods.
Pair with: Dishes that incorporate root vegetables, herbs, and mushrooms—it helps highlight the hearty flavors of those foods, Latting says. ($20; kingestate.com)
Korbel Brut Rosé, California
One of California's most historic wineries creates this lightly sweet sipper made with red grapes Pinot Noir and Gamay. Appealing to look at with its garnet hue, this sparkler is an all-purpose holiday treat. "When you want a party wine, this pretty-in-pink bubbly is a great value," Sbrocco says.
Pair with: Any protein, from salmon to pork loin. With a touch of sweet juicy flavors, it has the ability to match desserts from fruit tarts to chocolate too. ($11; korbel.com)
2010 Jacob's Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia
Hailing from the terra rosa soil of south Australia's Coonawarra region, this complex and supple Cabernet is a wine for every holiday event. "This is one to buy by the case—it's pure pleasure in a glass," Sbrocco says.
Pair with: Hearty dishes like hamburgers, steak, pasta with ragu sauce, or cheeses like asiago and blue cheese. ($14; jacobscreek.us)