The 7 Best Wines Under $15, According to Sommeliers
Don't let the label fool you: You don't need to spend a lot to score a really solid bottle of wine. Most humans fall victim to the placebo effect when it comes to their vino, research proves. In an August 2017 Scientific Reports study, participants were told to sample from a bottle of wine that was presented at its current price, then marked up 50%. Even though it was the exact same drink, people rated the higher-priced wine better.
I learned as I was studying for my level one sommelier exam that you do have to invest some to get a non-headache-inducing wine—but not a lot. The sweet spot is right around $15 to $20. That's where you'll get past the mass market, hastily made wines (that often scoop up and process the grapes right along with the bugs and weeds that are hanging out with them to expedite the process) and snag some extremely quaffable fermented juice.
Beyond the $20 range, most casual drinkers won't notice too much of a flavor or aroma difference. A lot of the price tag above that has to do with the label reputation, marketing and the cost of the land the grapes are grown on.
Of course you can score some life-changing wines at $200 , but we'll save those for really special occasions. For virtual happy hours, host gifts that taste far richer than their price tag or to treat yourself on any old Tuesday, consider pouring a glass from one of these surprisingly affordable sommelier-approved wines.
Best Wines Under $15
Cune Rioja Crianza
"For an easygoing, fun, light-hearted time, try out a crianza," suggests Nisha Aher, sommelier and in-house retail manager at Verve Wine in Chicago. Compared to other Riojas, a variety of Spanish red wines, these spend time aging in oak. This garnacha blend showcases slick fruit and grainy tannins (that astringent quality that makes your mouth water) that pairs beautifully with dark meats, such as a holiday beef roast, rack of lamb or prime rib. "This has a long, savory finish that makes it a total winner for the dinner table," Aher adds.
Buy it: $13, chi.vervewine.com
Le Contesse Prosecco
Bubbly can be a steal if you steer clear of Champagne. While delicious, the cost per acre in that specific region of France means your wine will likely be over $30 for a quality bottle (still not that bad!). But if you're watching your budget, try Spanish cava or an Italian prosecco like this one, adored by Jon McDaniel, a sommelier and the founder of Second City Soil in Chicago who was named one of Food & Wine's 2018 Sommeliers of the Year.
"The holidays are a perfect time for celebrations and whether you are ringing in the New Year or having a holiday mimosa brunch, I have always loved Le Contesse. There is a lot of Prosecco out there, but Le Contesse is not only a family-run business in Veneto, Italy. It's so versatile for any occasion," McDaniel says, and the hint of creamy citrus teams up nicely with everything from seafood to charcuterie.
Buy it: $13.98, vivino.com
Weingut Laurenz V. Singing Grüner Veltliner
This Austrian white is a favorite of many wine pros, including Rachael Lowe, the beverage director at Spiaggia in Chicago and James Beard Award-nominated sommelier. The under-the-radar, equally crisp and refreshing white wine is a wonderful wallet-friendly alternative to sauvignon blanc. "This is an amazing grüner veltliner with an expansive body and long finish which stands up well to a variety of appetizer recipes, or it can certainly be enjoyed by itself. Aromas of pear, golden apple, a hint of tropical fruits and a stony minerality finish with bright acidity," she says, all of which makes it a very food-friendly wine.
Buy it: $13.99, b-21.com
Setzer Grüner Veltliner
In fact, why not go big when you're staying home? "Consider the brilliance of the one-liter bottles [eight 5-ounce glasses] of awesome grüner veltliner Austria is putting out. For family holiday parties, what better way to do a mixed bag of food than with the friendliest food-pairing wine around? Setzer does an extraordinary grüner veltliner, full of savory and citrus flavors. Drink it with the first several courses—or hours—of your party," Aher says. Even if your gathering is small, this twist-top option is a good investment. Leftovers will save well for up to three days after the festivities if you store it in the fridge.
Buy it: $11.98, wineworksonline.com
Quinta da Lixa Aromas das Castas Grande Escolha Vinho Verde
For another crowd-pleasing, easy-pairing white, try this low-alcohol Portuguese wine. "Delightful, and sometimes effervescent vinho verde, is bright, fresh and fruity," explains Brianne Cohen, a Los Angeles-based event producer and certified sommelier. "I taste green apple and pear, stone fruit, plus a slight tropical note. This wine is yearning for some seafood," she says. Bring on the Feast of the Seven Fishes!
Buy it: $6.88, thewinebuyer.com
Château de Berne Romance Rosé
Don't reserve pink wine for summer alone, McDaniel says. It's a terrific year-round choice, especially when the price is this right. "Rosé from Provence may be the perfect wine for the winter and the holidays. Not only does it combine the juicy berry flavors that red wine-drinkers seek, it is crispy, zippy and fresh to please the white wine drinkers," he adds. Try it with anything from turkey to ham and sweet potatoes to cranberries.
Buy it: $13.99, vivino.com
Be Human 2018 Merlot Columbia Valley
Despite what the 2004 movie Sideways might lead you to believe, merlot can be just as magnificent as its fellow red wines, Cohen believes. "Poor merlot. She was revered round the world and then fell from grace in the early 2000s. She was kicked to the curb by the sexier pinot noir," she says. "But don't sleep on merlot, which some believe is cabernet's red-headed younger sister. Her wines tend to be full, lush and filled with red fruit characteristics. I found this wine warm, balanced, juicy and fruity," making it a delight with any recipe with blue cheese, pork or mushrooms. We know this one is *technically* not under $15, but we promise your extra dollar will be well spent on this bottle.
Buy it: $16, aquiliniwineshop.com