Here are 25 wines under $25 to keep you warm and convivial in Winter 2021.
Durigutti, Cara Sucia, “Legitimo, Blanco, Mendoza, 2019: $15, organic
Palomino, Pedro Ximenez, Ugniblanc, Chenin, Moscatel Amarillo, Sauvignonasse from an 80-year-old vineyard, organically farmed.
Brothers Hector and Pablo Durigutti are among the young winemakers transforming Mendoza from industrial to artisanal farms. The wine is from a 80-year old vineyard, organically-farmed. It is a field blend, which means that all the varieties are planted together, picked concurrently– and these are hand-harvested– and co-fermented via native yeasts in concrete eggs, then bottled without fining or filtering.
The natural richness of the varieties is enhanced by the juice spending 20 days on the skins. Flavors and aromas of pear, honey crisp apples, hazelnuts and ginger are delivered with a plush mouthfeel that nonetheless finishes with fresh acidity.
Murgo, Etna Bianco, 2019: $18
70% Carricante, 30% Catarratto
Carricante, according to Italian wine aficionado, Ian d’Agata, is a one-zone variety (Etna) that loves high altitude and volcanic soils to bring out its intense minerality. Catarratto is blended with it to add more fruit flavors, tone down the acidity and lend some weight to the wine.
The 2019 displays a beautiful interplay of orange and melon fruit, and an herbal quality that heads toward tarragon, but then these more extroverted flavors are dialed back by a salinity that melds with the fruit and finishes by cleansing the palate.
Massaya, Blanc, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon ($18)
Obeïdi 20%, Rolle 20%, Clairette 20%,, Sauvignon Blanc 20%, Chardonnay 20%
High altitude (4000′-5000′), organically and dry-farmed vineyards, including a Lebanese clone of Chardonnay locally known as Obeïdi, hand-harvested and fermented with indigenous yeasts (no malo) that spends time on its lees to yield a creamy white with aromas and flavors of pear, apricot, honeysuckle and orange, and yet accompanied by that minerality that adds grace.
L & C Poitout, Bourgogne Blanc, 2018 ($20)
From a vineyard in Tonnerre, a region of Burgundy to the east and just north of Chablis and, like Chablis, is characterized by the chalky-limestone soil known as kimmeridgian that generates wines with minerality and tension. Louis and Catherine Poitout farm a total of 18 hectares throughout Chablis and Tonnerre, all Chardonnay.
The Poitout Bourgogne Blanc is a pure expression of lime curd and minerality just shy of something flinty. This label is so much fun, and fortunately, it captures the spirit of the wine– playful, energetic, delightful.
Tiberio, Pecorino, Colline Pescaresi, Abruzzo, 2018: $24, Organic
When we head into these lesser-known regions, we often find some wines with depth, with layers that show such character, and all for a price that seems high until compared with wines of similar complexity, then they appear as incredible values, like the Tiberio, Pecorino and the next wine, Poggio’s Timorasso, both of which have brought us immense pleasure.
I cannot possibly improve on Ian d’Agata’s description of this wine, from Vinous, Jan. 2020:
Luminous yellow, with just a hint of a pale green tinge. The lively nose offers aromas of lemon, lime and minerals, nicely lifted by lemon verbena and jasmine notes. Then steely and boasting noteworthy clarity and cut to the fresh lime, guava and green apple flavors. Closes juicy and with a laser-like acidity extending a hint of wild fennel on the long back end. Easily the best Pecorino wine Tiberio has made in the last few years.” 93+
Poggio, “Caespes,” Timorasso, Colli Tortonesi “Terre di Libarna,” 2018: $25, organic
We admit to a love affair with this wine for the past 3 vintages. Timorasso is another of those forgotten Italian whites that, once tasted, you’ll remember! Now grown almost exclusively in the southern Piedmont, d’Agata describes it as an “intellectual wine, not unlike a dry Riesling” (447).
The Poggio,,Timorasso is grown at high altitude (2000’, the highest altitude at which Timorasso is grown) on south-facing slopes that allow it to ripen fully while retaining its fresh acidity, a characteristic of Timorasso. Like Riesling, it shows stone fruit (peach and apricot) along with a floral note with tons of that compelling minerality. This wine delivers a trifecta of texture, aromatic and flavor complexity and beautiful minerality.
Orange wines are wines made from white grapes during which the juice or wine remains in contact with the skins. Fermenting the juice, or leaving the wines once fermented, in contact with the skins extracts flavor and tannins, just as it does for red wines. White wines with skin contact, while not exactly “orange,” are nonetheless much more deeply colored than whites fermented and aged without their skins. While the flavors will vary with both the variety (ies) used, the length of skin contact and the vessel in which the maceration takes place, you can generally expect a more full-bodied wine, with strong flavors that often reflect some cidery tones, and even a bit of tannin. Both of the wines on this list are on the “whiter” side of orange with only a percentage of grapes seeing skin-contact (Force Celeste) or the time very limited (Sikelè). The goal is to give you an idea of the difference that skin-contact makes, placing a toe in the water rather than diving in head-first, though we have those wines in the shop too if you are more for taking the plunge.
Mother Rock, “Force Celeste,” Chenin Blanc, Swartland, 2019: $16
100% Chenin Blanc
The Mother Rock comes from a single vineyard of dry-farmed, bush-trained 40-year-old vines organically-farmed since 2014. Hand-harvested, with 20% whole-bunch fermented on the skins in barrels for 4 weeks before being blended with the 80% stainless-fermented wine. The importer describes the wine as “zesty, with white stones and white stone fruits, some herbal hints too – a bit of funk but a whole lot of fun. A thirst quenching apéritif, light and energetic – yet a powerful, intensity of fruit and minerality abounds.”
Sikelè, Terre Siciliane Grecanico, 2017: $17, organic
100% Grecanico aka Garganega
The Sikelè spends only 13 hours on its skins, then is fermented with indigenous yeasts in concrete tanks. This is the most white-wine-like of the “orange” wines we have tasted, still fresher fruit but rounder than the tarter citrus often affiliated with Garganega (lemon and Granny Smith apple) to sweeter Meyer Lemon and softer orange. It started toward the honey and herbal notes that are often associated with orange wines, but then finished with something spicier and almost a bit gingery. I think this might make a nice pairing with curry dishes.
Rosé—yes, fuller-bodied, winter food-friendly rosé!
Cottanera, Etna Rosato, 2019: $20
100% Nerello Mascalese
We tried this wine in July just after it arrived; we were underwhelmed. This vintage seemed to need a bit of time and now it has come together to show fruit (clementine to pomegranate), floral (subtle, like violet then for a brief moment, rose) that moves to almond and fresh herbs. There is a salty, slightly bitter almond finish that brings to mind pairing this with sole Almondine. There is both weight and good acidity to make this a very food-friendly accompaniment to meals that include fish like salmon, tuna or swordfish; roast chicken; or pasta alla Norma, or an eggplant puttanesca.
Mirabeau, “Classic,” Cotes de Provence, 2019: $16
60% Grenache, 25%Syrah, 15% Cinsault
Not only do we find the wine delicious, but we are always eager to support producers who are committed to long-term environmental strategies to preserve and restore non-human nature. The 20-hectare Domaine de Mirabeau that includes 14 hectares of vines has recently eschewed conventional agriculture in favor of regenerative organics. We are all in!
The Mirabeau “Classic” reminds us of summer with its strawberry, raspberry and blueberry fruit, but as is more typical of a Provencal rosé, there is some weight on the palate. In June of 2020, Josh Reynolds wrote of “[r]aspberry, white peach and succulent flowers on the mineral-tinged nose. Sappy red berry, pit fruit and citrus zest flavors deepen slowly and take on a spicy aspect with air. Hangs on with very good tenacity, leaving pit fruit and red berry notes behind.”
Quo, Grenache, Campo de Borja, 2018: $11, organic
Grenache is one of those grapes that is universally enjoyed. I think of it as a bit like Beethoven. I never select that composer, but when one of his works is played, I am humming and conducting along. Similarly, I seldom take home a Grenache, but when I have a glass, I wonder why not?
The Quo comes from Campo de Borja, part of the northern interior that experiences a continental climate of cold winters and hot summers. The vines are bush-trained to provide some canopy from the hot summer sun, and dry-farmed, meaning no irrigation, despite getting only 15” of rain annually. Organically-grown, hand-picked and fermented and aged in concrete tanks, this is pure Grenache—juicy raspberry and a nice spicy finish.
Clos des Fous “Grillos Cantores,” Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile, 2015: $14
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Sometimes we forget about those wines that intrigued us early in our wine journey, like Cabernet. When we tried this one from Chile, we were reminded that we still like Cabernet. From a single vineyard, the Clos de Fous is fermented in stainless, then aged for 18 months in concrete. The 2015 is a classic Cabernet, with tart woody fruit (black currant), leather, and a bit of anise.
Couron, Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2017: $14
A classic G-S-M blend of Grenache (40%), Mourvedre (35%) and Syrah (25%) from 3 acres of vines averaging 50 years, hand-harvested, fermented and aged in cement.
The wine, made by Jean-Luc and Marie-Lise Dorthe, is an honest, authentic expression of fruit and place. Lots of fresh blueberry and dark cherry fruit, but with this bottle-age, the Mourvedre is starting to develop, at mid-palate showing some meaty-charcuterie notes and finishing with just a suggestion of black pepper.
Vina Robles, Arborist, Paso Robles, 2018: $16
Syrah (41%), Petite Sirah (35%) Grenache (12%), Tannat (12%)
Though some of the building blocks are the same as those of the Couron– Syrah and Grenache– the Vina Robles is a completely different being. It is the quintessential winter warmer, a New World expression of ripe fruit– dried cherries and plum, lush, velvety mouthfeel finishing with baking spice and chocolate from 18 months in oak.
Bodegas 1808, “Valcavada,” Rioja, 2018: ($16)
Hand-harvested from a 25-year-old vineyard in Rioja Alavesa, a subset of the broader Rioja D.O. that argues that the rest of Rioja relies on barrel-aging as Rioja’s signature, while Alavesea has a unique microclimate and exposure of vineyards in the shadows of the Cantabrian mountains that gives its wines their unique expression.
Well, not to get into that civil conflict, let’s just say that this is another wine that earned its spot on the winter recommendations list because of its authenticity. Only a portion is aged in American oak—used–and that only for 6 months. This is a “joven” (young) wine, released early and meant to be consumed now. Blueberry and raspberry fruit, molasses and a whiff of something floral are carried by a medium-full mouthfeel and a bit of tannin on the finish.
Masseria Cuturi, “Zacinto,” Negro Amaro, Puglia, 2017: $17, organic
100% Negro Amaro
We became aware of Masseria Cuturi because it is owned by the family of one of our favorite, wait a minute, no need to qualify that, by our favorite Valpolicella winemaker, Camilla Rossi Chauvenet,of Massimago. Both her Veneto property and the Puglia property are certified organic.
Negro Amaro is a perfect grape for the hot Puglian summers because it retains its acidity. This is the principal grape of a Salice Salentino. This wine gives us fruit—dark berry to plum—and a nice savory complement that echoes licorice and anise but without quite voicing those. There is a finish that is both spicy, woody and tart. Ian d’Agata writes that Negro Amaro is high in polyphenols (antioxidants) that give a wine color and flavors. One polyphenol in particular, resveratrol, helps to inhibit cancer cell growth and raise the level of high-density lipoprotein, aka “good” cholesterol.
Chateau des Antonins Bordeaux Supérieur, 2016: $17
50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon
We’re delighted to have this Bordeaux Supérieur that provides a glimpse of the flavors that make Bordeaux so compelling. From a small, family-owned and operated estate on the Left Bank of the Garonne, one winemaking choice that allows this wine to speak freely is the absence of any oak. Aged for 2 years in stainless before bottling in April 2019, the wine shows fresh aromas of red and black cherries, along with some brambly eucalyptus, and a bit of bay leaf. On the palate, the wine is medium-bodied with a beautiful soft, silky texture, and flavors that reminded us of cherries and chocolate. A great vintage, yes, but also nothing superfluous added.
Cécillon,“Les Graviers,” Syrah, Vin de France, 2018: $17
Julien Cécillon (and his partner, Nancy Kerschen) produce estate wines in the Northern Rhone. They also produce some negotiant wines like this one with Syrah coming from three vineyards, one in Northern Rhone and two from further south in the Ardèche. The resulting wine tones down the meatiness of the northern fruit with greater fruit presence from the south.
The fruit is hand-picked and fermented via native yeast, some whole cluster in barrels and some destemmed in stainless steel. It ages for 7-14 months in used barrels. This is a lovely introduction to Syrah. It shows the red and blueberry fruit that one expects from Syrah and conveys some darker tapenade-caperberry tones that stop short of being green. I suggest a side-by-side tasting with the Highbury Fields Shiraz below to see two different expressions of Syrah.
Perez, Ultreia, Saint Jacques, Bierzo, 2018: $19
From northwest Spain’s Bierzo region, this wine is appropriately named to reflect one of the salutes of pilgrims along the Camino de Santiago– “Ultreia!” means to keep going, or to go beyond. Raul Perez’s Ultreia Saint Jacques is a perennial over-achiever. The Ultreia Saint Jacques is a blend from multiple vineyards planted between 1900-1940. It is also a blend of different varieties, though the vast majority is Mencia, an Iberian grape that when it is not over-extracted–and it is not with the Saint Jacques–has some similarities to Pinot Noir: weight and acid, but fruit flavors tend to be less ripe, more pomegranate and blackberry and the earth notes more slate and mineral than wet leaves or mushrooms.
Earlier this summer (late June) Luis Gutiérrez wrote this review for the Ultreia, Saint Jacques, to which he gave a 93+:
The truly impressive 2018 Ultreia Saint Jacques transcends its price category. They destemmed more grapes because they fermented it in the oak vats they bought from Vega Sicilia to use in the new winery, where it macerated for two months and then matured in used barrels for nine to 10 months. The secret is to use very good grapes from very good vineyards. The wine is clean, precise and fresh, and the oak is super-subtle, almost unnoticeable. The palate reflects a fluid wine of pleasure, a red of thirst. This is the wine where they have invested more, and 2018 has to be the finest vintage to date
Terre Rouge, Tête-à-Téte, Sierra Foothills, 2014: $19
43% Grenache, 43% Mourvedre, 14% Syrah
The Terre Rouge Tête-à-Tête returns to that popular G-S-M formula endemic to the South of France and emulated in warm wine-growing regions globally to produce a wine with broad appeal. Bill Easton’s approach is to use oak, but then age the wine for an unusually long time at this entry-level. The 2014 is the current vintage, aged 16 months in barrels at various stages (new to neutral).
Bill Easton describes the wine flavors as replicating a Cotes du Rhone-Villages: “sappy, spicy, mouth-filling, and nuanced.” While the oak flavors (sandalwood and baking spices) are still pronounced, they are accompanied by “deep boysenberry fruit aromatics, with smoky/meaty/ gamey complex flavor components” (Easton again) and a full-bodied mouthfeel.
Clos de la Roilette, Fleurie, 2019: $20
This is the only wine to make the list two years in a row, and not because there aren’t several from last year that we will be enjoying again this winter, but because the recent review William Kelley, of the Wine Advocate, was just too good not to include it again.
William Kelley, Wine Advocate, 94:
Bottled only a week before I tasted it, Alain Coudert’s 2019 Fleurie from the Clos de la Roilette is showing beautifully, wafting from the glass with aromas of rose petals, red cherries, raspberries, spices and orange rind. Medium to full-bodied, deep and velvety, it’s elegant and fine-boned, with lively acids, refined structuring tannins and a long, perfumed finish. Readers who gravitate toward classical styles of Beaujolais will prefer the 2019 to the richer, more gourmand 2018, but both are lovely vintages for this reference-point address.
Troon, Zinfandel, Applegate, 2018: $20, Biodynamic
This wine has continued to surprise both Zin lovers and those who never drink Zin. It is remarkably refreshing for a Zin, lighter than expected for a grape whose wines have been characterized by their inky extraction and often syrupy texture. For those who generally avoid Zin, we think it is time to reconsider.
This Zinfandel, from 45-year-old vines in Southern Oregon, is for us a joyful wine. Tons of fruit, but not in the least jammy, this is a zinfandel with acidity that is happy to be at the table with everything from vegetarian fare featuring roasted root vegetables (we enjoyed it with a baked penne pasta of butternut squash, spinach, ricotta and jalapenos) to duck breast with a cherry reduction to any version of Wellington—vegetarian, salmon or beef. Troon Zinfandel is a purer expression of fruit, reminding us how Zinfandel became so popular. Charming, easy to enjoy and lively.
Giovanni Rosso, “Donna Margherita,” Barbera d’Alba, 2016: $22
Barbera is one of those Piedmontese grapes that our customer-friends always seem to enjoy. It shows good fruit and bright acidity, often displaying a vein of minerality. At 13% alcohol, this wine could easily also make the list of summer reds, especially given the pretty floral notes. The additional earthy character—leather and tar—shifted it to the winter list when we are more likely to be at the table with mushroom risotto or a rich lasagne. Of course, don’t hesitate to start with a glass of Giovanni Rosso Barbera and a charcuterie plate.
Monica Larner, who has tasted somewhere between a hundred thousand and a million times more Italian wine than I have (and I do love Italian wine), wrote the following about the Giovanni Rosso:
The Giovanni Rosso 2016 Barbera d’Alba Donna Margherita shows a slightly aged personality with toasted hazelnut, dried blackberry, dusty mineral and campfire ash. Barbera maintains bright primary fruit for a long time, but this wine (tasting four years after the harvest) is just beginning to show that added complexity of time, especially on the bouquet. In the mouth, however, Donna Margherita is surprising lively, bright and fresh.
Forest Hill Vineyard, Highbury Fields, Shiraz, Great Southern, Western Australia, 2017: $24
92% Shiraz, 8% Malbec
To carry out the red winter-welcome, Syrah-theme, we recommend an Australian Shiraz; it’s been a long while since we’ve done that! This wine comes from far western and southern Australia, influenced by both the Indian and Antarctic oceans that create a cool climate that has been the gold coast for Australian Riesling.
Owner and co-winemaker, Guy Lyons, practices dry farming (no irrigation) with weed control managed by sheep. The wine is fermented with native yeasts, aged for 10 months in various sizes of oak, all previously used.
This is a full-bodied wine with blueberry, strawberry and raspberry fruit and, while the wine is creamy, the fruit remains fresh, not cooked, like a treacly jam. There is a nice black pepper spice and a very pleasant minerality that give the wine a lighter feel on the finish. Time to give Australian Shiraz another look.
Clos Perdus, Prioundo, Corbieres, 2015: $24, biodynamic
80% Grenache, 20% Cinsault
Biodynamically-farmed enclosed vineyards encompassing 1.5 hectares, hand-harvested, fermented via indigenous yeasts, basket-pressed then bottled—unfined– after 9 months lees contact. Owner Paul Old describes vintage 2015 as “delicate and elegant,” “floral to the nose, followed by a red fruit drive of raspberry, cherry with a finish of earth, wet stone and bitter orange peel.”
Paul sent along this evocative review from Jancis Robinson, Master of Wine, who tasted the 2015 Prioundo along with 400 south of France wines. The Prioundo was one of her top wines, with a drinking window of 2020-2026.
Certified organic, certified biodynamic. From three walled clos grouped together, high on a 1.5-ha isolated plateau of free-draining limestone and clay, near Villesèque-des-Corbières, Hautes Corbières. 80% Grenache Noir, 20% Cinsault. Destemmed with no crush, 20% whole bunch. Three days’ maceration before fermentation in stainless steel with indigenous yeast. Basket pressed after 21 days on skins before élevage in stainless steel on fine lees for nine months. Bottled without fining or filtration.
Gamey and wild cherries on the nose. So much tang and freshness on the palate! An explosion of sharp redcurrant, white pepper and fresh lovage. The fruit on this wine is a coup de coeur. It has a purity and an intensity and intention of light and transparency and glow that makes me think of summer dawn light through the stained-glass window of a cathedral. Precise and linear but not sharp, in the way that red jewelled light will fall in a long, intense shaft along the cold stone floor with the dust motes dreaming through it. But such a quiet wine. You could trip over this and not notice it. You need to be sitting in that church, in the early morning, letting those cold ancient stones fill your nostrils and feeling the silence, and then you have this wine, ready, in your glass. It’s a prayer.