You already know Maggie from her weekly Serious Beer column here. Well, it turns out she knows a thing or two about wine too! Please raise your glasses to her new monthly column on affordable wines. —The Mgmt.
Serious Eaters know you can eat well for eight bucks. It's easy to forget, though, that a nice glass of wine doesn't have to blow your budget.
As you gaze at the bottom-shelf bottles at your local wine store, it's hard to tell what's going to be great and what you'll be pouring down the sink. Is there drinkable, even truly enjoyable wine for under $10? Yes. Is there plonk that'll cost you more? Sorry, but it's true.
Each month, we'll taste some of the cheapest wines we can find and let you know how they fare. We'll explore reds, whites, rosés, and sparklers from all over the globe, recommending budget bottles that you can proudly bring to a dinner party (and warning you about any wines to avoid.)
Carignan, Poudou 2008
Our inaugural red wine was a mere $6.99. The grape, Carignan, is usually only used in blends, particularly in the house reds of southern France and in the riojas of Spain. This wine proves that unblended Carignan is worth seeking out.
The scent is musky, with hints of raisins. We found that this wine benefits from decanting or just sitting in an open glass for awhile—uncorking this wine 30 minutes or an hour before serving will help it open up, but it continues to develop in the glass if you take your time. At first sip, the taste is dominated by bright acidity and spicy fruit, but as it gets exposed to oxygen, this wine become more velvety, with supple jammy flavors.
This unoaked wine reminded us of dark cherries baked in a pie, with a hint of cinnamon and herbal notes—one of our tasters detected hints of chamomile. It's a little dusty tasting, medium-to-full bodied with firm leathery tannins and significant slate/mineral notes. The herbal and mineral flavors make it a good match for lamb or game; we'd love to pair this with a seared duck breast.
Origin: Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Worth it? Definitely, a great value and delicious wine.
Redcliffe Sauvignon Blanc, 2005
We've always liked sauvignon blancs from New Zealand's Marlborough valley, but they're not always particularly inexpensive. (Kim Crawford makes especially nice ones.) This bottle from the DeRedcliffe Estates is dirt-cheap, though: $5.99* for a standard 750 milliliters, and $8.99* for a party-size 1.5 liter bottle.
If you're looking for an intense white wine with zippy acidity and bright fresh fruit flavors, then this one is for you. We tasted honeydew melon and tart green apple, and smelled a hint of pineapple and lime.
If you're tired of buttery Chardonnay, this wine will be a nice change of pace. While the Redcliffe has subtle mineral and floral undertones, it's mostly a tart fruit bomb—we think it would be nice with shrimp pad thai or a spicy crab dish. While it's not a super-complex wine, it is refreshing, lively, and smooth.
Origin: Marlborough, New Zealand
Price: $5.99 for 750 mL, $8.99 for 1.5 liters
Worth it? Yes, if you like your white wines tart.
Prices may vary depending on region.
Do you have a favorite wine for $9? Let us know in the comments!
About the author: Maggie Hoffman also writes about her cooking adventures at Pithy and Cleaver.