Finding an affordable wine isn’t as big a challenge as you might think. Just ask our critics, who tasted upwards of 15,000 wines this year, recommending more than 1,000 priced eighteen dollars or less. When we considered all brands with two or more recommendations in that price range, the best performers stood out as our Value Brands of the Year.
We highlighted brands in our June issue that range the world, from the cool coast of Portugal to the sunny hills of southern France, from California to South Africa’s Cape. One specializes in sparkling wines; others major in big, rich reds. All have one thing in common: Their wines aren’t merely cheap; they’re real, and really delicious.
Here are our four favorites from California.
(Certified California Sustainable & SiP-certified; still family owned)
Jess Jackson was a savvy businessman and marketer, and that’s partly why his wines took the US by storm in the 1980s. But he also invested in great vineyard land, and the company now farms over 10,000 acres stretching from Santa Barbara to Mendocino County. In 2011, the same year Jess Jackson passed away, the winery introduced Avant Chardonnay—a mostly steel-aged alternative to the popular oak-aged Vintners Reserve. The 2014 ($17; check out the Zin, too, also at $17) is delicious, with a fresh, peachy tang.
(*40th anniversary this year)
Joel Peterson crushed his first few tons of zin in 1976, bucked the white zin trend with his gutsy dry red zinfandels in the 1980s, and sold the growing winery to Constellation Brands in 2001. Zinfandel is still Ravenswood’s strength, and the 2013 Vintner’s Reserve Petite Sirah is as bold and flavorful as most cabernets triple its $10 price.
(Aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020)
In a sea of bland California appellation wine, Bogle consistently stands out with vivid, clean varietal wines. The family planted its first vineyard in 1968, and now farms more than 1,500 acres (certified Green by Lodi Rules) of grapes in the Sacramento Delta; most are within the Clarksburg AVA, which is notably cooler than many of the more inland vineyards that drive California appellation wines. The 2014 Sauvignon Blanc ($10) is bright and citrusy, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better grocery-store red than the rich and zesty 2013 Petite Sirah ($13).
When Greg Popovich founded Castle Rock 20 years ago, he purchased bulk wine to build a value-focused wine brand; now, 90 percent of the production comes from long-term vineyard contracts. Pauli Ranch in Potter Valley is the main source of the perfumed, lithe and lightweight 2013 Mendocino County Pinot Noir ($13), while Vino Farms grew most of the bold, savory 2013 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($11).