We love Eric Asimov’s idea of identifying 20 seasonal, affordable wines. We have followed his lead in creating a similar list filled with wines that we know are available in Vermont and that we know can be priced to stay under that $20 ceiling.
Alcohol is one of those powers “reserved to the states,” which means that there are fifty different systems in place for regulating sales of alcohol. Though prices for the same wine can vary wildly based on these systems, one thing they have in common is that those who sell wines to private citizens must buy those wines from a distributor located within the state. If a distributor within the state does not represent a wine, we cannot get it to sell to you. Many of the wines on Asimov’s list are not in Vermont. Each of the wines below is available in Vermont. At Windham Wines, each sells for $20 or less.
One major caveat about the list is that in the context of the uncertainty regarding the threat of more wine tariffs, supplies are limited. Importers have postponed bringing in more wine from Europe, fearing the imposition of the 100% tariff that was threatened. If that tariff is applied—and the rumor is that some pronouncement is going to be made early next week—than costs on wines from the EU will double, and prices will go up to reflect those rising costs.
The pricing we have for these is “pre-tariff,” i.e., before even the first round of the 25% tax on wine imports from France, Spain and Germany was applied in mid-October. Our distributors had supplies in their warehouses and sold those wines at extant cost. As they restock some wines and wait on many, the pricing has increased.
Asimov’s list was all red wines, a nod to the season in which red is preferred. Our list includes a modest number of winter whites and rosés. What make a wine more winter than summer? As we put the list together, we thought of the kinds of foods that we eat in the winter—more stews, earthier vegetables but often roasted to caramelize, creamier, richer sauces, roasted meats which then need weightier wines to accompany them. There is also a preference for lusher, fuller reds as friends with whom to sit by the fire and enjoy a good book. Many of our customers express a preference for that as the conclusion to their winter day, as opposed to getting disgusted by watching what used to be the news but has now degraded to upsetting “entertainment.” Winter wines are a bit self-indulgent, more comfort wines that invite you to settle down for the day.
We overlapped with Asimov on three wines that are listed as our first three reds, descriptions lifted straight from Asimov’s “20 Under $20: Where the Values Live, for Now,” (NYT, 2 December 2019).
Colombaio di Santa Chiara, Selvabianca, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, 2018– $19, organic
Not a surprise to be on our list. We loved it when we visited in May. Our customers have loved it. It was the favorite white of the organic-biodynamic-natural wines tasting on Feb. 1st. Apple, lime zest and almonds combine in a fuller-bodied but energetic wine that allows that fruit and nuttiness to sing without being cloaked by any oak.
Grosbot- Barbera, Vin d’Alon, Saint Purçaine, 2018– $17, organic
We have been smitten by the Gamay sparkling by this producer in little-known Saint Pourçain, a Loire AOC whose wine significance is overshadowed by the Allier forest, one of the famous sources of wood for French oak barrels. The Vin d’Alon is a blend of 70% Chardonnay, 30% Tressellier, the latter a variety confined to this region (53 hectares total) and anecdo
Gustavshof, Riesling, “Kalkstein,” Rheinhessen, Trocken, 2017– $20, biodynamic
The surprise white of the organic-biodynamic-natural wines tasting, coming in a close second to the Colombaio. Hand-harvested, ambient yeast fermentation, whole cluster pressed. There is more tropical fruit than the expected, along with melon and a softness that suggests lees aging. This is a dry Riesling, the only sweetness derived from the flavors of the grape.
Massaya, Blanc, Bekaa Valley — $18
Obeideh, Rolle, Clairette, Sauvignon Blanc and Chadonnay from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. We tried this wine, along with 3 others from Massaya, in the summer and declared this one both delicious and a strong winter rosé candidate. The Massaya Blanc is an aromatic wine with fruit and floral notes, and a full, creamy mouthfeel that has sufficient acidity to carry the finish.
Sincette, Chiaretto, Valtenesi, 2018– $18, biodynamic
A Groppello, Marzemino, and Barbera blend from the just south of Lake Garda, Sincette’s Chiaretto is deeply hued and full-flavored, yet light and spicy. Assertive flavors more than weight make this a candidate for a winter rosé to enjoy at the table.
Steininger, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rosé, Austria, 2018– $15
The Steininger family is well-known to Windham Wines tasters who have enjoyed several visits from Brigitta and Eva. Fortunately, the wines are also very tasty. Unlike other Austrian rosés that are mostly Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch, the Steiningers still rosé is made from Cabernet Sauvignon. Lightly-colored, crisp and fresh, we are including it as a more summery-style for those days of full sun against the white snow when temperatures rise and make us think of sap flowing, mud season and finally summer 2020.
Pecina, Rioja, Cosecha, 2016– $14
This is an entry-level bottle from one of my favorite Rioja producers. It’s made from the estate’s youngest vines, which are still around 25 years old, and unlike more ambitious Riojas, it is not aged in oak, which leaves it fresh, fruity and immediately accessible. It’s a balanced, refreshing expression of tempranillo from a good Rioja terroir. (Asimov; $2 less than Asimov, and 2 years older vintage which we think is now at its peak. We’ve carried the Crianza and Reserva for years, agreeing with Asimov’s preference that Pecina is one of our favorite Rioja producers).
Zorzal, Garnacha, Navarro, 2017– $12, organic
This fragrant, floral red, made from old-vine garnacha, is one of the best deals I have seen in a while. It’s lively and spicy, and while not especially complex, it’s fresh, juicy and offers unexpected nuances. (Asimov)
Tiberio, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, 2016—$17
Tiberio has become one of my favorite producers in the Abruzzo region of southeastern Italy. The whites are superb, and so is this bright, vibrant entry-level red, with earthy minerality, a touch of welcome bitterness and a light tannic grip. (Asimov and a happy note—ours is $3 less than his, and one vintage earlier, a vintage we are still very happy to have, and a dynamic female winemaker).
Versio, Dolcetto, Dogliani, 2018– $20
Dolcetto is one of those grapes that each time we show at a tasting, it is one of the most popular wines with our customers (measured, how else?—by sales). At our recent organic-biodynamic-natural wines tasting, that pattern continued, with the Versio one of the 3 most popular reds. Francesco Versio is a young winemaker who started as the winemaker for Bruno Giacosa, is now with Luigi Oddero, and makes micro-quantities of his own Barbarescos and this Dolcetto from a .7 hectare plot. Dark cherry, just a slight bit of anise, finishing with a lovely minerality.
Oscar Olmos, La Princesa, Jumilla, 2016– $17, organic
From high-elevation, pre-phylloxera vines, this organically-certified, naturally made wine is hand-picked, fermented via ambient yeasts, aged in used barrels, and bottled unfined and unfiltered. Its soft, lush mouthfeel conveys deep, dark berry and plum fruit flavors with just a bit of something earthy, like ground coriander.
Bodega Garzon, Tannat, Reserva, Uruguay, 2017– $17
Tannat is to Uruguay what Malbec is to Argentina, i.e., a SW France grape that migrated and became something different and appreciated in its new home. Aged in stainless steel and large, used barrels, this wine lets the ripe raspberry and plum fruit shine in combination with some tannins that make this a nice match for roasts.
Clos de Roilette, Fleurie, 2018– $20
Always one of our favorite Beaujolais Crus, and never what one expects for a Fleurie. Here is the review from Vinous for the very recently received new vintage:
Highly perfumed dark berry and floral aromas are complemented by suggestions of exotic spices and minerals. Sweet and penetrating on the palate, offering black raspberry, cherry and floral pastille flavors that are given spine by a core of juicy acidity. In a seamless, energetic style, displaying a suave blend of richness and finesse and finishing gently sweet and impressively long, with well-knit tannins and lingering florality. 93
Cazes, “Ego,” Cotes de Rousillon, 2017– $18, biodynamic
This, along with the Garzon, Tannat, is one of the two biggest estates represented on our winter list, with 220 hectares across 6 Roussillon AOCs. It has been biodynamic for over twenty years. The Ego is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, heavier on Syrah (60%) enabling some sweet-smoky flavors to define this creamy, hedonistic winter warmer.
Lunar Apogé, Syrah, Pay d’Oc, 2017–$18, biodynamic
A 100% Syrah from the Cote du Rhone region, organic since 1997, certified biodynamic (Demeter) in 2009. This was the most popular wine at our organic-biodynamic-natural wines tasting in early February. Much lighter than that Cazes in mouthfeel, it has a lively palate that shows that beautiful, smoky cured meats character of Syrah, with plenty of ripe fruit from this southern Rhone location across the Rhone from Chateauneuf.
Zorzal, Gran Terrior Malbec, Uco Valley, 2016– $18
Unrelated to the Vina Zorzal from Spain above, this Malbec comes from vines at 4250 feet elevation, virtually 1000 feet higher than the sea of Malbec on Mendoza’s valley floor. And a good thing too since el Nino hovered over Mendoza in 2016,
dumping 29” of rain on a region that normally sees under 10” annually. Elevation and slope protected Zorzal from rot. Tanzer wrote that the 2016 Gran terroir, which he gave a 90+, shows “sweet, energetic aromas of dark fruits, minerals and violet.”
DioFili, Xinomavro, Siatista, Greece, 2016– $18
Made from 70-115 year old vines in Macedonia by two Greek friends (dio fili) including Yiannis Boutaris, longtime wine businessman and former mayor of Thessaloniki (Greece’s second largest city). The wine shows sour cherry and some expected resiny notes, while also expressing fruit and spice.
Waterkloof, Circumstance, Cabernet Franc, Stellenbosch, 2015– $19, biodynamic
Cabernet Franc has made a comeback in the past 6-8 years. Historically characterized by more vegetal notes, rising temperatures and longer growing seasons have made it one of the winners of global warming. Waterkloof is organic and biodynamically-farmed, located on south-facing slopes only 4 kilometers from False Bay, with cooling breezes providing a long growing season that produces ripe fruit. Hand-picked, destemmed and fermented naturally in wood before being basket pressed, then aged for 2 years in 2nd and 3rd use French oak, the wine is characterized by fresh cherry fruit and spice, and a lovely finishing acidity.
Contour, Pinot Noir, California, 2017– $14
A bigger production Pinot Noir with fruit from Mendocino, Monterey and San Luis Obispo, we included this as a fuller-bodied Pinot with a proven-track record of satisfaction among our customers. Blue and red berry fruit (blueberry, dried cranberry, pomegranate) accompanied by baking spice and chocolate, our customers have voted that this is a wine to keep in stock.
Achados e Perdidos, 28 Uvas, Douro, 2016– $14
28 different (Port) varieties planted in Portugal’s Douro region home of Port wines. Bush-trained, organically-farmed, planted together so harvested (manually) as a field blend, fermented in cement by wild yeasts, this is a raisiny, tarry, brambly wine with minerality.