The wine industry over the past few months has done a complete one-eighty. This is in reaction to main income sources screeching to a halt, specifically due to the closure of restaurants and tasting room sales. Many wineries will suffer irreparable consequences, even as they start to open back up. The passionate ambassadors that are typically out sharing their knowledge have been sheltering at home along with the rest of the nation.
In these frantic times, many wine consumers have reacted by buying anything affordable off grocery store shelves. “Grocery store wine” and hard seltzer sales are at an all-time high, and these major changes in purchasing are leading some small wineries and vineyard owners to the brink of collapse. That being said, this author reached out to some of the best sommeliers in the industry, to give Winetraveler readers several affordable wines to try. She hopes the reader can make some small changes to their regular wine purchases to make a big difference in the wine community. In return, the reader can find joy knowing that he/she is drinking some of the best wines for price and quality ratio, all while supporting small family-owned wineries.
During this time, wine can allow the drinker to transport them to the very place that the reader was planning on traveling to. The story, history, and romanticism of enjoying wine can take a bottle from good to unforgettable. Sommeliers typically gravitate to smaller owned wineries in general because they have more soul, and the lower amounts of production give a greater sense of place. There’s no reason why consumers can’t do the same.
Did you know? Many of the wines found on the shelves of supermarkets are made by large businesses. Many make over 1 million cases of wine a year. These “supermarket” or “grocery store” wines are often made in large factories and include several additives to keep styles consistent. From one wine lover to another, it should be celebrated when anyone finds a bottle of wine that they truly love. However, it is possible to find a wine that can be truly loved AND can make him/her feel good about where it came from.
In this list, links have been attached from sites that do country-wide shipping. Simply click the link and it will direct you to a site for direct purchase. The wines on this list are organized from lightest to fullest in body. A major criterion for the wines listed below is accessibility. An alternative would be to call an independently owned wine shop or restaurant with a sommelier-lead wine program and ask them for a recommendation based on your preferences. Individuals who work in the service industry want to cater to you.
Sommelier Recommended, Affordable Wines To Try Today
Jolie-Laide is a secret kept amongst sommeliers. Scott Schultz, a sommelier turned winemaker, produces less than 1,000 cases of wine total. It is no wonder why these wines are so hush-hush. But during these times, there is a little bit more to go around. Even Wine.com has some to offer. Melon, also known as Melon de Bourgogne or Muscadet, is a grape from the Loire Valley of France. The characteristics are dry, mineral, subtle tart fruit with a long textural finish. A classic pairing is oysters or other shellfish.
Diana Hawkins, the assistant winemaker at Batch Winery in Waiheke Island, NZ, and former sommelier from Chicago, shares one of her favorite Sauvignon Blancs from the land with the most of it! Mahi is made naturally and environmentally responsible by ‘Veteran’ Winemaker Brian and his wife Nicola Bicknell. They utilize a small amount of oak for texture and it is a major focus of the winery to ensure that all their wines have mouthfeel.
For something a little zestier, Benjamin Johnson, customer service associate at Hart Davis Hart Auctions recommends Huia, a family-owned Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Huia was started by Mike and Claire Allen in 1996 and is a certified organic winery. The Allens also started a grower collective called MANA. 6 wineries are within it, and they are focused on low-intervention winemaking. Any of the wineries that are part of Mana are worth checking out, especially Hans Herzog and Te Whare Ra if you’re planning a trip.
Winetraveler Tip: Wine.com offers a subscription called Steward-Ship. It is $49 a year and allows you to ship wine to ANYONE during the subscription period.
Sandhi Wines is an exciting project started by well-known sommelier Raj Parr and accomplished winemaker Sashi Moorman back in 2010. All of their wines are truly delicious, but the Santa Barbara Chardonnay is a great place to start. Ten months barrel crafted in a lean, crisp way especially for a warm growing region like Santa Barbara is one worth seeking out.
Giant Steps is crafted by dynamic duo Phil Sexton, as visionary and owner, and Steve Flamsteed, affectionately called Flammo, as winemaker. Lots of exciting wines coming out of Australia in general and Giant Steps make a show-stopping Pinot Noir up with the best of them. Their Chardonnay is made exclusively in oak barrels and has a beautiful balance of richness and reduction. This is the type of wine that makes it hard to put down the glass! The writer may be partial on this one, as she worked the harvest there back in 2018!
Oregon Native, but currently based in Bangkok, Charity Waltenbaugh took a moment to share her favorite wine from her hometown. Charity sings her praises for Alloro, a winery that not only farms grapes but also participates in production. With their shipping offered directly from the source, it is always nice to be able to support the winery directly as no middleman is collecting their cut of the profit. If the reader is located in the Portland metro area, Alloro also offers an epic produce basket with 3 bottles of wine for $155.
Nikki Frank, Bartender and Captain at Wherewithall in Chicago, absolutely loves the Crow Valley Vineyard Riesling by Teutonic Wines. It is hard to blame her with their natural winemaking and dry-farmed-only vineyards. It is only a matter of time until these wines take off. Off-dry in style, the slight sweetness of the wine curbs the acidity and allows for a plethora of food and wine pairings. It is found in many wine stores, in addition to being sold and shipped on their website to most states.
Maison Noir is not an average winery, and that is part of the fun. The labels are inspired by hip-hop scenes and reminiscent of independent skateboard company apparel of the 1990s. Maison Noir is not only a winery but also a t-shirt line by Sommelier turned winemaker Andre Mack. Mack is sure shaking things up in Oregon and across the globe. With a delicious Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris called “Other People’s Pinot Noir,” it’s hard not to get excited about these uniquely named wines. Andre Mack started this small project back in 2007 and it is important to note that when purchasing from Maison Noir, the buyer is also supporting an African-American owner/winemaker.
Dustin Chabert, Sommelier at Spiaggia Chicago, had no hesitation when asked for a recommendation. Domaine de Fa all the way. Dustin, a Frenchmen at heart, is excited about this new project between famed Northern Rhône winemakers Antoine and Maxime Graillot in a new territory, Beaujolais. Their Gamay from Cru’s Fleurie and Saint-Amour has a juicy fruit character with delicate tannins that lend well to warm days and a variety of dishes. In addition to being available for purchase online, Domaine de Fa is offered at several retailers including Gary’s Marketplace.
Myles Trapp, Sommelier at Ungrafted in San Francisco, has a go-to wine that may be a little bit harder on the wallet, but well worth the extra dollars. Tulocay was founded by Bill Cadman, who started his wine career by working for early Napa stalwarts such as Charles Krug, Beringer, Heitz, and Clos du Val. It was in 1975, while working as a tour guide for Robert Mondavi, that he established his Coombsville winery. That same year he made the first iteration of ‘Haynes Vineyard’ Pinot Noir. After over 40 vintages, Bill’s daughter Brie has taken over as winemaker. The style of the wine is much more restrained than most Napa Pinot due to the cooling effect the San Pablo Bay has on Coombsville.
Scarpetta is an exciting, relatively new wine company started by Chef Lachlan Patterson and Master Sommelier, Bobby Stuckey in 2007. With their expertly trained palates and sourcing of great fruit, they have been able to craft some great wines. ‘Frico Rosso,’ a Sangiovese based blend, among many other great wines like the ‘Timido’, a sparkling rosé is to name a few. Frico Rosso is beloved for being drinkable. It can be easily enjoyed with or without food any day of the week.
Looking for something with a little more tannin and dried red fruit? Big fan of Barolo but don’t want to spend the money these days? This hard-to-say Greek varietal is one of the best price-to-quality wines in the market right now. Kokkinos started as a fruit grower and still distills into raki as a major part of their business. This small winery in Macedonia produces a Greek wine that is not as intimidating as it sounds!
Kristy Wenz, a fellow Winetraveler Writer, shares her love of Finger Lakes and Cabernet Franc with her recommendation of the Hector Wine Company Essence Red Blend. Hector Wine Company was started back in 2010 by Jason Hazlitt, a 7th generation grape grower on Seneca Lake. This Bordeaux based blend is a unique opportunity to try something from an American wine growing region that still has a lot more growing to do!
Alexis Iaconis, Advanced Sommelier and co-owner of Brick & Mortar Wines recommends a go-to supermarket wine! The Cabernet Sauvignon by Alexander Valley Vineyards may be a little bit of a larger operation than the rest of the wineries listed here, but is worth a try. Alexis said that the Wetzels are a wonderful Healdsburg family and contribute hugely to the local Healdsburg community. Even with the larger size, their estate is sustainably farmed and does offer a Cabernet Sauvignon that is 100% organic for an additional $5 per bottle.
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