Founder’s Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($11)
Its Private Reserve has been a benchmark for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon since 1976. The much more affordable Founder’s Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is also impressive: a velvety, generous, cassis-driven red.
Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($18)
Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, one of La Crema’s most widely available bottlings, is also one of her best: round and rich with ripe pear and caramel-vanilla flavors.
California Merlot ($12)
Blackstone producing one of California’s most affordable Merlots. The backbone of its business, and one of its best bottlings, is still talented winemaker Dennis Hill’s lightly smoky, plummy Merlot.
Old Vine Zinfandel ($11)
One of the best Zinfandel deals on the market.
Chateau Ste. Michelle
Columbia Valley Merlot ($16)
The largest producer in Washington State (more than a million cases each year), Chateau Ste. Michelle is also one of the most adventurous. Its Columbia Valley Merlot—smoky, savory and rich with black cherry fruit—is one of the reasons Washington Merlot is so highly regarded.
Clos Du Bois
Sonoma County Pinot Noir ($20)
One of the few $20 Pinots that really gives a sense of the allure of this complex grape.
California Sauvignon Blanc ($12)
Picks a percentage of the grapes earlier than most other producers do to retain the variety’s hallmark crispness and grassy zing, then balances the blend with riper grapes that add juicy lemon-melon fruit character.
Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon ($12)
Hess’s spicy, black cherry–rich Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon. Typically sourced from regions that range from Napa Valley to Paso Robles to the Sierra Foothills, it’s a reference point for modestly priced California Cabernet Sauvignon.
Columbia Valley Riesling ($7)
Hogue’s bottling, with its orange blossom scent and crisp, minerally flavors, underscores the appeal of this grape; it’s lightly off-dry (i.e., slightly sweet), but the crisp acidity provides balance and makes the wine a natural match for Asian or Indian cuisines.
Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay ($12)
Vineyard ownership means control over viticultural practices, and that’s why this wine—despite its vast production—remains so delicious: rich but finely focused, its flavors suggesting ripe mangoes and pears.
Oregon Pinot Gris ($16)
The winery is particularly known for its Oregon Pinot Gris, a crisp white full of stone-fruit flavors that is a consistently great value.
California Merlot ($8)
Pepperwood Grove may be one of the company’s least playful brand names, yet its juicy California Merlot, full of plum and chocolate notes, embodies the appealingly straightforward drinkability of Don Sebastiani’s wines.
Heritage Vines Zinfandel ($17)
Its Heritage Vines Zinfandel takes advantage of the old vines’ intensity of flavor, and while it may not be as inexpensive as Gallo Hearty Burgundy was in the 1970s, it’s still a steal.
Lodi Zinfandel ($15)
A shade pricier than the company’s ubiquitous Vintners Blend, but with a depth of blackberry richness that’s well worth the few extra dollars.
Robert Mondavi Winery
Napa Valley Fumé Blanc ($18)
Partial fermentation in barrel, the addition of a touch of Sémillon—to add complexity to this zesty white.
Sonoma County Chardonnay ($15)
The winery (owned by Tom Klein since 1989) still produces one of Sonoma’s greatest values, its lightly toasty Sonoma County Chardonnay.
Australia & New Zealand
Barossa Shiraz Viognier ($16)
most notably the red-berried Shiraz Viognier.
Banrock, located on the Murray River in South Australia, is best known in America for its deliciously smoky, berry-flavored Shiraz.
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($12)
Properties in regions on both the North Island (Gisborne and Hawkes Bay) and the South Island (Marlborough), Brancott turns out a broad range of wines, including this compulsively drinkable Sauvignon Blanc.
Its wines have won a raft of medals (800 in the past three years), and its voluptuous, blackberry-rich Shiraz is consistently one of its best bottlings.
Koonunga Hill Cabernet Sauvignon ($12)
Once upon a time, only one Australian wine was considered first-rate: Penfolds Grange, a Shiraz and (sometimes) Cabernet blend. While Grange remains the country’s standard-bearer, Penfolds also makes many other excellent wines, especially its cassis-scented, fruit- forward Koonunga Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the most reliable Cabernets from Down Under.
Diamond Label Shiraz ($10)
Rosemount’s best known wine is probably the Show Reserve Chardonnay, which debuted in 1982, but its reasonably priced, robust Shiraz has helped make Rosemount Estate a household name.
Yellow Label Riesling ($12)
The winery is also focused on high-quality whites, including a wonderfully zippy Yellow Label Riesling that’s clean, bright and dry, marked by refreshing flavors of lemon and lime.
Chile & Argentina
Reserva Malbec ($15)
Though founded by an Englishman (Sir Edmund James Palmer Norton) and now owned by an Austrian (Gernot Langes-Swarovski of Swarovski crystal), Norton is deeply Argentine—as is clear from its spicy, black-fruited Reserva Malbec.
Mendoza Malbec ($10)
Alamos, is so good—as evidenced by the remarkably consistent Alamos Malbec, with its velvety raspberry fruit and toasty oak notes.
Sauvignon Blanc ($10)
Consulting top enologist Michel Rolland oversees the winery’s production, including a crisp and lively Sauvignon Blanc that’s consistently one of the best in Chile.
Concha y Toro
Casillero del Diablo Carmenère ($9)
The blackberry-rich Casillero del Diablo Carmenère, made from vineyards all over Chile’s Central Valley (including those in Maipo, Rapel and Maule), is Concha y Toro’s affordable star.
Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon ($15)
Well-made wines, most notably the Cousiño-Macul Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon, a fruit-forward, accessibly styled red.
120 Chardonnay ($8)
Made mostly in stainless steel vats (only 10 percent of the grapes are aged in oak), it’s a clean, bright white with just a touch of oak-derived richness.
Oak Cask Malbec ($10)
Two years ago, it released an impressive collection of single-vineyard Malbecs; even so, Trapiche’s peppery Oak Cask Malbec offers equal insight into winemaker Daniel Pi’s skill with this variety.
Paul Jaboulet Aîné
Côtes-du-Rhône Parallèle "45" ($12)
The firm’s laserlike focus on quality carries across the whole line.
Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge ($12)
Its typically Syrah-based Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge is full-bodied and compellingly aromatic.
Moulin-à-Vent "Flower Label" ($15)
Many are good, but his ageworthy, blackberry- rich Moulin-à-Vent "Flower Label," from Beaujolais’s most distinguished village, may be the star of the portfolio.
Hugel et Fils
Hugel’s modern version, introduced in 1992, combines Sylvaner with Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Muscat to create a lithe, dry white with stone-fruit and floral aromas.
Crémant de Loire Brut NV ($22)
A blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc, it ages for 24 months on its lees (the yeast cells left over after fermentation) rather than the nine months typical of most Crémants, which helps give it unusual lushness and depth.
The firm of Louis Jadot is a rare thing: a large-scale Burgundy négociant whose reputation nevertheless hovers at the same level as many smaller, more rarefied domaines. This is in part thanks to the sure hand of Jacques Lardière, technical director at Jadot for 27 years, but partly it’s because of the inarguable quality of the com
pany’s fruit—found even in basic bottlings like Jadot’s crisp, floral, lime-inflected Mâcon-Villages.
St-Véran les Deux Moulins ($15)
Its marzipan-and-apple-scented St-Véran Les Deux Moulins, from the more affordable Mâconnais region, is a superb introduction to the Latour style.
Côtes-du-Rhône Belleruche Rouge ($11)
Basic Côtes-du-Rhône Belleruche Rouge, with its Grenache-based spicy, cherry flavors, remains one of his most impressively consistent bottlings.
It took a winemaker from California, Mark Shannon, to put Primitivo from Puglia on supermarket shelves in the United States. His bright cherry-flavored A-Mano Primitivo (an Italian grape that’s genetically identical to Zinfandel) is made from ancient vines in this up-and-coming region of Southern Italy.
Santa Cristina ($12)
There is no more famous name in Italian winemaking than Antinori. Under patriarch Piero Antinori, this noble family makes an enormous range of wines all over Italy, but one of its year-in, year-out values is the berry-bright, straightforward Santa Cristina Sangiovese from Tuscany.
Now, with 2,400 acres of vineyards in Montalcino, the brothers produce excellent Tuscan reds under the Castello Banfi brand, including Centine, an earthy blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot.
Pinot Grigio ($8)
The company produces a truly delicious Pinot Grigio that’s marked by mouthwatering acidity and bright green-apple flavors. And a note on that Folonari Soave: It’s gotten a lot better.
Castiglioni Chianti ($13)
The Frescobaldi clan currently claims nine Tuscan estates, including Castiglioni, where the label’s basic Chianti offers a taste of ripe Frescobaldi fruit for a very small price.
Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Frizzante ($11)
The Mionetto family, which is based there, makes a consistently good Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Frizzante, a softly sparkling wine with a bright lime flavor.
Owned by the Folonari family since 1913 and overseen by brothers Adolfo and Luigi, the winery also turns out a simple Chianti that delivers the earthy notes of a good Tuscan red.
Cordon Negro Brut ($10)
A crisp, dry sparkling wine with charming citrus notes and a touch of classic cava earthiness, it’s always reliable and a pleasure to drink.
Cristalino Brut ($9)
The company, founded in 1943 by winemaker Jaume Serra Guell, is now owned by the Carrión family, but it still makes wine in the caves under its winery in the coastal town of Villanueva y Geltrú.
Marqués de Cáceres
Rioja Crianza ($13)
Its ruby-colored crianza (in Rioja, a term for reds that are aged at least a year in barrel and not sold for a minimum of three years after the vintage) is aged in French oak rather than the traditional American but still has all the balance and elegance of old-style Rioja crianzas.
Marqués de Riscal
Rioja Reserva ($19)
A long-aging Gran Reserva and this focused Reserva, with its classically Riojan notes of red cherries and vanilla.
Solaz Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon ($9)
A brilliant example of its success is its fruit-driven, spicy Osborne Solaz Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon.