In this article, I have confined my listings for best red wines under $20 to those from California and the Columbia River Valley of Washington. I will broaden my recommendations to other countries in future posts so stay tuned.
I intended to talk about the six varietals that I mentioned in my last post which are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah/Shiraz, Zinfandel, Malbec, and Merlot, but instead I have narrowed my choices to three of my favorite Cabs and Pinots. My article was getting too long so will cover the others in future posts.
For Cabernet Sauvignon, my two top picks come from wineries in the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County. The Alexander Valley is one of California’s premier wine growing areas and its predominant grape variety is Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernets from this AVA tend to be lively, fruit forward wines which typically are less earthy than those from the neighboring Napa Valley to the east.
Most of the leading vineyards in the Alexander Valley are on the benchlands on the eastern side of the Russian River with its southwesterly position and alluvial gravel soils that provide a perfect terroir for producing excellent Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Days in the valley tend to be warm and dry while nights tend to be cooler.
This terroir with its lack of water in the soil will influence the vines to grow deeper in search of water, thus producing less energy sapping leafy foliage. Vines will instead produce small thick-skinned berries with concentrated flavors which is perfect for producing excellent Cabernets.
OK, enough of the hows and whys; lets get on to my picks for best red wines under $20.
1.) Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
This medium bodied Cabernet has awesome fruit forward flavors and smooth layered tannins. Merlot has been blended for structure, Cabernet Franc for flora tones and Malbec and Petit Verdot for that vibrant color. Upon pouring, there are hints of black cherry, plum, blueberry, vanilla, oak and chocolate.
Any wine that gives me vanilla, oak and chocolate, I am in all the way!
This jammy (fruit forward) wine has vibrant smooth flavors, nice balance and a lengthy, silky smooth finish. You can’t go wrong with this very inexpensive Cab.
2.) Simi Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley –
This Cab, which is also produced in the Alexander Valley, has a dark garnet color with a ruby edge. Before your first sip, you will notice aromas of abundant black fruit, plum and oak with notes of cocoa, pepper and cedar.
Black fruit dominates that first sip accompanied by plum and black cherry with a bit of spice.
The finish is smooth with a bit of peppery black currant (cassis) with notes of roasted coffee with mildly firm tannins.
You can’t go wrong with this Cab from Simi Vineyards, who also produces one of my favorite Sauvignon Blancs (if I had to pick a “favorite”……..more on that in another post.)
3.) Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon
I seem to gravitate to this wine from the ColumbiaValley in the southeastern part of Washington (no, not D.C.) quite frequently. It will never be considered a great Cab, but for me, it is a very good Cab for under $20 and you will not be disappointed.
The Columbia Valley, on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains, is centered around the Columbia River and its tributaries, the Walla Walla and Yakima Rivers. Being located between latitudes 46 degrees N and 47 degrees N (the same as France’s Bordeaux and Burgundy wine regions) provides abundant sunshine during the growing season and cool temperatures at night.
This Cab has a ripe, jammy (fruit-forward) taste and is considered to be a “New World” style of Cabernet Sauvignon. (According to my friends over at Wine Folly, ‘New World wines are often described as tasting riper, having higher alcohol, having less acidity and tasting more fruity’).
This medium-bodied cab has moderate tannins and a fairly smooth finish. Like for most of the red wines in this article (exception being Pinot Noir), this wine will definitely taste better with food like beef, veal, duck, blue cheese and chocolate.
This Cab is blended with 89% Cabernet Sauvignon and % Syrah with grapes being sourced for six separate vineyards. Maybe it’s the blending with Syrah that makes this wine of my every day Cabs.
1.) Scott Family Estate Pinot Noir – Arroyo Seco Dijon Clone
This has tbe one of my favorite Pinots and I love it every time I drink it.
Grapes are grown in the Arroyo Seco (“Dry Creek”) which is a sub-appellation of the Monterrey AVA. The cooler climate of this region allows the grapes to stay on the vines longer which enhances fruit ripening and more lively acidity. This region has deep, gravely soils which is perfect for growing Pinot Noir grapes. This terroir along with the climate help produce smaller more intense berries with deeper concentrated flavors.
Upon pouring, this Pinot Noir has aromas of sweet sage and cherry with hints of toasted oak and roasted coffee accompanied by flavors of vanilla, berries and rosemary. Its crisp, balanced acidity is offset with smooth tannins for a wonderful texture and lengthy, velvety finish.
This wine is perfect to sip by itself, or paired with pork tenderloin, seared halibut, grilled salmon or any dish with a rich, creamy sauce.
2.) Hahn SLH Estate Grown Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands)
No other dark grape reflects its soil conditions, growing conditions and climate more than the Pinot Noir grape. This is particularly true for this Pinot Noir grape grown in the Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH) AVA.
I love the Pinots and Chardonnays from the well-established winery in the SLA. And, again, this is one of my favorite go-to Pinots for less than $20. Anytime, I can find a very good Pinot for less than $20, I am in. There are many, many excellent Pinots in the $40 -$60 range, but I don’t want to spend that much for an every day Pinot.
In the glass, it is soft, bright and fruity with aromas of dark fruit and with nice oaky hints with cinnamon. At the palate, there are cherries and spices blending in to a smooth finish.
This Pinot is more full-bodied with cherry, cola and earthy notes combined with dried red fruit and some acidity for balance.
Check out their website, www.hahnwines.com for some very interesting recipes that Hahn believes would pair well with this very good Pinot Noir from the SLH.
3.) Meiomi Pinot Noir
OK. Don’t laugh. I know this does not have snob appeal, its sold almost everywhere and it may not have that cache. But, all I know is that I like this fruit forward medium-bodied Pinot. As some of you already know, I really don’t like those watered-down Pinots from Oregon. Meiomi is definitely not watered-down.
The grapes for this tasteful Pinot are sourced from three separate California coastal vineyards in Santa Barbara, Monterrey and Sonoma counties which the winemaker blends to produce a wine with awesome balance, complexity and rich flavor.
Meiomi has a rich garnet color with a ruby edge with aromas of jammy fruit, cherries, raspberries, mocha, vanilla along with toasty oak flavors.
On the palate, there are flavors of boysenberry, blackberry, dark cherry juicy strawberry and toasty mocha flavors.
Meiomi can be sipped by itself or with almost any food. I believe this wine will do well with all the traditional suggested Pinot parings, as well as with tomato-based rich pasta dishes, pizza, grilled lamb and turkey.
I am not a professional wine critic and these recommendations are only my personal choices. Many other wines could have been included and may be included in future articles.
I was going to include the other four varietals that I mentioned in my earlier article about wine, but this article was getting too lengthy, so I will cover those in upcoming posts, so stay tuned.
I would welcome any comments or suggestions that you may have.
In the meantime, life is too short and there are too many wines to enjoy, so go enjoy!