With so many good inexpensive white wines to pick from, I want to talk about some of what I believe are the best cheap white wines under $20.
I am going to focus primarily on California producers of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc as these are two of the most popular white wines.
This wine is produced in many countries around the world and by varying methods, which results in a variety of styles and flavors and price ranges.
California is the leading producer of this wine in the US. The harvest in 2017 was one of the best in the last decade due to very favorable weather conditions during the growing season.
California Chardonnays, and Chardonnays in general, will range in style and taste depending on climate, the region where the grapes are produced and the methods the winemaker uses to ferment and age the wine.
Other factors that affect the taste of Chardonnays are;
(1) whether the grapes have been fermented and aged in oak barrels, stainless, or concrete;
(2) the amount of malolactic fermentation (ML) that occurs; the more ML, the more the Chardonnay will have that rich, creamy, buttery taste, and;
(3) how long the fruit stays on the vine before being harvested.
In future posts I will do a deeper dive into why Chardonnays taste different, but for now I want to get into my favorite best cheap white wines under $20, starting with a few Chardonnays.
1.) Joel Gott Chardonnay
This “un-oaked” California Chardonnay has aromas of white peach, papaya, and honeysuckle with traces of lemon and jasmine. On the palate, you will notice bright fruit flavors followed by crisp minerality on the finish.
Grapes sourced from Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Monterey counties give the wine its radiant fruit flavors and well-balanced acidity. Bold fruit flavors producing richness and depth are provided with fruit from Napa county while minerality and complexity are derived from grapes from Sonoma county.
The wet winter and early spring, followed by a warm late spring and summer, a little heat wave at the end of summer, resulted in the fruit being picked in late August. All of this allowed the fruit to develop its much desired concentration and crisp acidity.
While I prefer the more traditional buttery, creamy, oaky Chardonnays, I don’t mind drinking an un-oaked Chardonnay occasionally. My wife and I prefer this inexpensive un-oaked Chardonnay over a few others that cost a lot more.
While this wine is fine on its own, try it with sea bass, trout, roasted or rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes with garlic and butter and a crisp vegetable salad.
2.) Josh Cellars Chardonnay
This California medium-bodied, crisp Chardonnay has been consistently good year after year and is the go-to, everyday wine for many.
Upon pouring, you will notice aromas of apple, pear, vanilla and butter. This wine represents a balance of light citrus, honey, and tropical fruit flavors that blend well with the creamy butter and vanilla. You will also notice the light toasty flavors of oak barrel fermentation.
The winemaker sources grapes from cooler regions in California including Mendocino and Monterey counties.
Suggested food parings would include roasted chicken, shrimp, creamy pastas, fettuccine with clams, or grilled vegetables.
I highly recommend this Chardonnay which is very reasonably priced. You will not be disappointed.
3.) La Crema Chardonnay – Sonoma Coast
La Crema produces 11 different Chardonnays, all north of $20 dollars, but this medium bodied one and the Monterey one are the two entry level chards.
Unlike the Joel Gott Chardonnay made from fruit sourced from five different counties, this wine is entirely sourced from the Sonoma Coast Appellation.
Once poured, there are aromas of citrus, bright floral notes, butterscotch and lemon peel. On the palate you will notice flavors of citrus, pear, and honeysuckle that blend nicely with slight toast and caramel.
While this wine opens with a fruity crispness, it ends with a nice creamy, buttery finish. Overall, I would say this wine is smooth and well-balanced and compares quite favorably to other more expensive Chardonnays.
Suggested food parings: roast or pecan-crusted chicken, roast pork, shrimp tacos, baked or poached salmon, cod, halibut with brown butter, angel hair pasta or crab risotto.
This is another white wine that will vary in taste depending on the climate, region, terroir and winemaker techniques used in fermenting and aging of the fruit.
I am not a big fan of Sauvignon Blanc, particularly the grassy ones from New Zealand, but if I am going to put my hard earned money down for a bottle, it will be for a Honig or Simi.
1.) Honig Sauvignon Blanc
I discovered this wine with my wife several years ago and she has been a big fan ever since. Honig Vineyard and Winery in Napa (Rutherford) actually has this entry level SB and a more expensive Reserve SB.
Wine Spectator has given the 2018 SB a 91 point rating. MaryAnn Worobiec describes this wine as follows:
“succulent peach, nectarine and dried mango flavors that are intense with vibrant flavors showcasing plenty of style, with a note of honeysuckle lingering effortlessly”.
On the palate, you may notice flavors of pineapple, apricot and lime which compensate for the slight traces of grapefruit. It is light to medium bodied with good minerality.
Suggested food pairings include: fried chicken, crab cakes, baked or roasted chicken, grilled seafood, veggie and vegetarian dishes.
2.) Simi Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc
Tasting notes from the Simi winery website:
“This brilliantly clear, pale-straw-colored SB is fresh, bright, and crisp. The wine opens with complex aromas of lime zest, Meyer lemon, pink grapefruit, lemongrass, freshly cut hay, honeysuckle and a hint of wet stone. Fresh and forward with zesty flavors of lime, lemon, and grapefruit, fresh herbs, and passion fruit with a lively acidity. The finish is long and lingering with lemongrass and mineral”.
I know I have stated that I do not like grassy, grapefruity SBs. However, the slight flavors of lemongrass and grapefruit are not bothersome to me in this wine. I have had this wine a few times and I have to admit that it is quite pleasant.
I am still baffled about how my wife has switched from a lover of buttery, creamy, oaky Chardonnays to only un-oaked, stainless chards and Sauvignon Blancs like the two mentioned above.
A friend of mine said that you can drink this wine before dinner, during dinner and after dinner! Sounds like a winner to me.
In addition to the suggested pairings for the Joel Gott SB above, the website offers other recipes for poached prawns with horseradish pudding and risotto with english peas.
These are just a few of what I believe are the best cheap white wines under $20 and I have’t even got to the Pinot Grigio/Griss. Chenin Blancs and Viogniers. Perhaps in a future article.
I hope you find this article informative and useful. Please feel free to leave any comments or suggestions below and I will reply.
Now go drink something nice.