20 Under $20: Minimal Effort, Maximum Pleasure


Weeknights are a state of mind. More accurately, they are a state of fatigue.

Whether it’s a Tuesday or a Saturday, sometimes all you want is an uninterrupted stretch of peace and quiet, maybe some leftovers and a chance to wear out the Netflix subscription. That, and a couple of glasses of decent wine.

Wine with dinner is an easy win, especially with a bottle that is not only good enough to pique your interest and reward your attention, but one that is also inexpensive, without requirements for concentration or close observation.

Plenty of bottles can fulfill that mission. The crucial points are to have a few of these wines on hand at all times, and not to confuse them with inexpensive, processed big brands that can be bought without thought because they are ubiquitous.

Most of the bottles in the category that I am recommending will cost a little more than the bottom-rung selections. Sure, you can find sound wines for less than $10. Some will seem confected, others simple, and most will not be particularly interesting. Maybe that’s fine.

But if you prefer wines with a spark of life, that express the culture of a place and a people, your chances of finding these bottles will increase exponentially if you spend a little more money, $15 to $20 rather than $10 or less. If you like wine, or are curious to understand its appeal better, it’s worth it. You are worth it.

Here are 20 bottles, all under $20, including one under $15, that satisfy that weeknight desire of reward with minimal effort. Most are from little-known regions, often made from grapes of lesser status. That is where the values are. Critical acclaim brings with it higher prices.

You will notice only two bottles from the United States. Most good American wines are not great values, I’m sad to say. The cost of land and labor is high.

More than two American values are out there to be sure. I have favorites that I’ve named before and did not want to repeat in this list. They would include bottles from Broadside, Foxglove, Banshee, Bonny Doon, Camp, Tendu and Dexter Lake in California; Montinore Estate in Oregon; and Ravines, Hermann J. Wiemer, Empire Estate, Shinn Estate and Paumanok in New York.

Tiberio Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2018 $18.99

Italian whites made with the trebbiano grape are often straightforward and dull. But the relatively rare trebbiano Abruzzese grape is different from the others and much more interesting, especially in the hands of a producer like Tiberio, which has carefully and conscientiously nurtured old trebbiano Abruzzese vines and planted new ones. This wine shows it has been worth the trouble: dry, aromatic, richly textured and lively, with floral, saline flavors. And if you like this wine, see if you can find the winery’s single-vineyard Fonte Canale. (The Sorting Table, Napa, Calif.)

Dreissigacker Rheinhessen Riesling Trocken 2017 $19.99

This is a fairly full-bodied dry German riesling, with pleasing, spicy peach flavors. The wine has the sort of texture you want to roll around in your mouth forever. Jochen Dreissigacker is a young producer whose wines I have not encountered before. It’s a name worth remembering. (Schatzi, Milan, N.Y.)

Von Winning Pfalz Riesling Trocken 2017 $17.99

Another expression of dry German riesling, this time from the Pfalz. It’s not quite as rich as the Dreissigacker, with flavors a little more apricot than peach, and on the savory side. This wine is an excellent introduction to the Von Winning estate, which makes lively, multidimensional single-vineyard rieslings that are a step up in interest and in price. (A Terry Theise Selection/Skurnik Wines, New York)

Alessandro & Gian Natale Fantino Rosso dei Dardi 2016 $19.99

The Fantino brothers make excellent Barolos and Barbera d’Albas in the Langhe region of northwestern Italy. This Rosso dei Dardi is made with the fruit of young nebbiolo vines, along with small amounts of freisa and dolcetto. It’s a gorgeous, accessible red that tastes very much of nebbiolo but without the formidable tannins that require years of aging. Enjoy it now with mushroom pasta or a roast chicken. (Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Calif.)

Granito del Cadalso Sierra de Gredos Vinos de Madrid Garnacha 2016 $18.50

Ancient vineyards of garnacha dot the granite hillsides west of Madrid. For most of their history, the grapes just went into bulk wines that were sold cheap. In the last decade, however, ambitious winemakers, prospecting for old grapevines, discovered these vineyards and have been making sensational wines. Prominent among them is Comando G, run by a pair of young winemakers whose bottles set the standard for the region. They have helped a local cooperative, Granito del Cadalso, improve its wines. This one is lively and vibrant, a great value in fine garnacha. (Eric Solomon Selections/European Cellars, Charlotte, N.C.)

Domaine Michel Brégeon Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2017 $19.99

Muscadet is perennially a great value, though prices are beginning to creep up a bit. Brégeon, where the wines are now made by Frédéric Lailler, a protégé of André-Michel Brégeon, has long been one of my favorite producers. This wine — dry, tactile and subtly flavored — would be just the thing with light shellfish dishes and other seafood preparations. (Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant)

Frontón de Oro Gran Canaria Tinto Tradicional 2017 $16.99

This red — from high-altitude, terraced vineyards in the Canary Islands, made from listán negro grapes — is big and ripe, perfumed with aromas of flowers and red fruits. It’s lightly tannic and well balanced, and would be delicious with a juicy leg of lamb, or any other elemental red meat dishes. (David Bowler Wine, New York)

Contrà Soarda Breganze Vespaiolo 2018 $19.99

This dry vespaiolo from Contrà Soarda in the Veneto region of Italy is an old favorite. I haven’t mentioned it in a few years, but it’s so good that it’s worth revisiting. It’s a rich, substantial white, with bright citrus flavors and a honeyed edge that is thoroughly refreshing. Few producers make dry examples of vespaiolo. This is a good one. (Jan D’Amore Wines, Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Château Soucherie Anjou Blanc Les Rangs de Long 2018 $17.99

Château Soucherie makes excellent Savennières. This is the first time I’ve had its Anjou Blanc, made with chenin blanc grapes grown in clay, sand, schist and limestone in the greater Anjou region, outside the Savennières appellation. Typically of the Anjou, it’s got an earthy, minerally flavor that is sometimes described as “wooly.” I love it. (Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York)

Vigneau-Chevreau Vigneau Sélection Vouvray Méthode Traditionelle Brut NV $18.99

I love sparkling Vouvray when it’s well made, and this one from Vigneau-Chevreau has a great deal of finesse. It tastes lightly of vanilla, flowers and citrus, with fine bubbles. For this cuvée, which is not an estate bottling, Christophe Vigenau-Chevreau sources chenin blanc from old vines. It would make an excellent aperitif. (Regal Wine Imports, Moorestown, N.J.)

Niepoort Nat Cool Bairrada “Drink Me” Tinto 2017 $17.97

In most cases, wines with gimmicky names like “Nat Cool” are a turnoff. They reek of marketing, more than careful winemaking. But Dirk Niepoort is a visionary producer, so don’t look at the label, just drink. This is a delicious thirst quencher made of the baga grape, not complex. It’s easygoing and low in alcohol at 12 percent, with aromas and flavors of flowers and earthy red fruit. And it comes in a liter bottle. (Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, N.Y.)

Nathan K Finger Lakes Dry Riesling 2017 $17.99

Nathan Kendall is a native of the Finger Lakes, and he’s been making wine there since 2011, after gaining experience around the world. This wine is made with fruit grown around Seneca Lake. It’s light, pure and lovely, dry and savory, and with just 10.9 percent alcohol, a great weekday lunch wine.

Pittnauer Burgenland Pitti 2016 $13.49

Light, limber and earthy, this inviting red from the Burgenland region of Austria on the Hungarian border is 50 percent zweigelt, 40 percent blaufränkisch and 10 percent merlot. It’s bright and lightly fruity with just a touch of chocolate, another easy drinker that does the job of refreshing without taxing the mind or spirit. It’s a great deal. (Savio Soares Selections, Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Broc Cellars Le Clairet Solano County Green Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 $19.99

This is not your typical California cabernet sauvignon. It’s made by Broc Cellars, one of my favorite California producers, in collaboration with Selection Massale, an importer and distributor that specializes in natural wines. It’s fresh and bright, with pure radiant fruit, lively acidity and nary any tannin at all. Chris Brockway scours the state for neglected or unusual vineyards, like this one in Solano County southeast of Napa. Try it with burgers.

Compañía de Vinos del Atlántico Vara y Pulgar Vino de la Tierra de Cádiz Tintilla 2014 $18.99

This rare wine comes from the Cádiz region of Andalusia in southern Spain, an area more renowned for its sherries than its table wines. It is made entirely with the tintilla grape, better known in Rioja as graciano. It’s simultaneously fresh, juicy, spicy and powerful, though only 13.5 percent alcohol, just right for sausage dishes or bean stews. (Olé & Obrigado, New Rochelle, N.Y.)

Grosjean Frères Torrette Vallée d’Aoste 2016 $19.99

The terraced hillsides in the Vallée d’Aoste sit practically on the border with France. French and Italian are both spoken, and though this is an Italian wine, the label uses the French Vallée d’Aoste, so I’ll stick with it. It’s made largely of the petit rouge grape, another French name, with flavors of dark, spicy fruit. It’s lively, with a deep note that keeps me intrigued. (Rosenthal Wine Merchant)

Nigl Niederösterreich Grüner Veltliner Freiheit 2018 $19.99

Fifteen years ago, grüner veltliner was considered the next new thing. After many subsequent next new things, grüner has become something of an afterthought. But it still can be a lovely, appealing wine, especially from a great producer like Nigl. This one, made with purchased grapes, has a spicy, lightly peppery aroma. On the palate it’s pure and straightforward, fresh and lively, and would go well with a fall salad and vegetable preparations. (Skurnik Wines)

Brezza Dolcetto d’Alba 2017 $18.99

Dolcetto has to be one of the world’s most underestimated wines. From a good producer, the wines can be deliciously drinkable, but not soft or unstructured. This one comes from Brezza, another excellent source for Barolo. Its dark fruit flavors arrive with a rasp of tannin and just enough bitterness to refresh and prompt the next sip. (Coeur Wine, New York)

Domaine Dupeuble Père et Fils Beaujolais 2018 $16.99

The world has caught on to the greatness of cru Beaujolais, which carry the names of 10 villages in the Beaujolais region judged to possess superior terroirs. Consequently, prices are rising. But good producers also reside in the southern part of the region, the home of plain old Beaujolais, which, though the lowest rung of the region’s terroir hierarchy, can be superb in the right hands. This wine lacks the complexity and depth found in the crus, but the earthy fruit flavors are full of pleasure. (Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant)

Camarda Terre Siciliane Nerello Mascalese 2017 $19.99

This perfumed, rich, yet lively red, made from 90-year-old vines, comes from the foothills of Mount Etna in Sicily, and it has all the nervous energy I have come to expect from wines made in the shadow of that active volcano. I love the play of sweet and bitter flavors, balanced by acidity and the barest scrape of tannins. (Savio Soares Selections)

By Eric Asimov

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