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Posted by on Jan 28, 2016 in Blog, Essays | 8 comments

The Best Red Wines in the World for Under $10

 

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I’m about to embark on an impossible task.

Given all the tasty wine bargains nowadays, narrowing down so many wonderful choices from all parts of the world into a “Top Ten” list is sure to omit some very deserving candidates.  Nevertheless, I’ll do my best to recommend wines I deem to have been reliable for many years, and are consistently priced below what one might expect given the quality.  In particular, I’ll be seeking out wines that tend to drink into what I call a “higher class.”  In other words, in a blind taste test it’s unlikely most drinkers would be able to distinguish the affordable wine that I’ve selected from something far more expensive.

What follows is my list of favorite red wines currently which are listed at $10 per bottle or less in most stores (YMMV).  This list of red wines includes — Cabernet Sauvignon, Pino Noir, Zinfandel, Malbec, Syrah (Shiraz), Sangiovese, Barbera, and Merlot.  To no one’s surprise, not a single Merlot made my list.  Also, despite their popularity, I’m also not a fan of wines from Italy or Australia.  I tend to like full-bodied reds with lots of rich character and at least some measure of complexity.

Critics will point out this list is biased.  Well, that’s true.  It’s also heavy on California wines, with France and Argentina also getting some love.  I’m not familiar with many wines from Spain or Chile, so those weren’t listed — not because I don’t enjoy them, but simply because I have not sampled enough to form any loyalties.  By the way, wines from Uruguay are some of the most underrated in the world.  I would have included at least two Uruguayan wines on my list, but they difficult to find in most parts of the U.S.

Also, my list takes some short cuts.  I sought to list single bottles of wine, but then found it impossible to chose from among so many amazing choices from the Rhone Valley.  Moreover, I did not differentiate between products that come from certain Vineyards.  Generally, if the vintner makes a great wine of one grape varietal, the other products will be just as enjoyable.

The primary criteria used was simple:  I asked myself the following question — “Which wines have I consumed more of, over a longer period of time than any other?”  I also made a quick tour to my cellar to see which wines I have the most of, in stock.  That made the rankings much easier.  Moreover, I wish to point out that value was critical in making my selections.  It’s easy to find a great $50 bottle of wine.  It’s not so easy when hoping to spend less than $10.

I take that back.  It is easy to find a great $10 bottle of wine, if you know what to look for.

Here’s my “Top 10” list, starting with an “honorable mention” category:

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HONORABLE MENTION (listed in no particular order):

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2011-smoking-loon-viognier-2011Smoking Loon — This has become a very trendy wine, but the enthusiasm is more than justified for each of its 14 different products (both reds and whites), the most popular of which is the Cabernet.  The winemaker totally lacks pretense, opting for a fun approach to the art that doesn’t take wine too seriously.  This is the ultimate anti-wine snob selection, perhaps best illustrated by the crazy-sounding name.  But don’t let the lack of seriousness fool you — Smoking Loons are always highly drinkable, enjoyable, and surprisingly affordable, priced at about $8 a bottle.  You can’t go wrong with any of these selections.

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cellar-no-8-cabernet-sauvignonCellar #8 — Much like the preceding selection listed among my “honorable mentions,” this is a no-pretense wine which advertises itself as a “real wine made for real people.”  I like that.  The simple label, easy-to-remember name, and overall consistency makes this a solid choice for lovers of full-bodied California reds.  The Cabernet is described as a wine with a long finish, and a strong aftertaste.  Priced in the $8-$9 range, this has become one my favorites.  Probably not ideally-suited for the dinner table or to impress snooty guests, nonetheless, I enjoy Cellar #8 as much as any wine on my list.

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083_ravenswoodRavenswood — The basic “Vintner’s Blend” is one of the most reliably affordable reds on the market right now, sure to please everyone’s taste.  Priced at around $10, this is one of Sonoma’s best-sellers and it’s easy to understand why they’ve become so popular with serious wine drinkers and even casual fans.  Fruity and robust, yet not terribly overpowering, this is the perfect wine for those seeking balance.  While many of the other wines I’ve selected tend to break one way or another on the fruit and oak scale (opting for power), this is the ideal compromise candidate, without sacrificing character.  Highly recommended.

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img_7716Chateau Roche Columbe — This is a family-owned and operated vineyard located in Bourg-Saint-Andéol, France.  I’m giving it special mention among the Rhones because they’re sold in large quantities at Trader Joe’s and are as good as any French wines on the market for the money.  I should note these types of wines will appeal more widely to experienced wine drinkers.  They are not as fruity as some of the other selections, mostly from California.  Chateau Roche Columbe is priced at $8-$11 most of the time I’ve seen them on display.  A niche wine.

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malbec-wine-glass-grapesMost Argentine Malbecs — Malbecs, which are the staple of wine production in Argentina, can be either hit or miss.  The great Malbecs are really good, especially when paired with the right foods.  No surprise, Argentine wines go very well with steaks and spicy meats as they’re powerful enough to compliment the flavor.  Try the Trivento Reserve ($9) or the Graffigna Centenario Estate Bottled Reserve ($10) — both are highly recommended.  However, wines which are mass produced tend to be less enjoyable, given my personal experience and repeated tastings.  I’ve even poured some down the drain that were chalky and had no character whatsoever.  Some Malbecs should be avoided at any cost (stay away from anything made by either Norton or Finca Flichman).  Otherwise, give Malbecs from Argentina a try.  Very different taste and experience.

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TOP TEN

halloween-wine-7-deadly-zins10.  7 Deadly Zins — This is everything that a reliably affordable wine should be — enjoyable, memorable, and a daily “go to” staple for just about any social occasion, or no occasion at all.  Made by the Michael Phillips Winery, 7 Deadly Zins has been graded as a “staggering value” by Robert Parker.  Priced at between $8 and $10 most places, this wine is loaded in fruit and alcohol content (14.9 percent).  It’s marketed as an “Old Vines”-style wine, which give it just a hint more sophistication and added flavor than many other very drinkable Zinfandels.  Indeed, it’s hard to go wrong with any Zin from California nowadays, especially if you love powerful reds as I do.  This is no exception.  However, it gets singled out as one of the very best due to its low price and consistency.  More about 7 Deadly Zins HERE.

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P205389.  Bogle — The Bogle Family makes several exceptional wines with range from light and enjoyable to luscious full-bodied fruit bombs that blow away the palate.  I’ve never had a Bogle that wasn’t fantastic.  Had I discovered this winery somewhat sooner (I’ve only been drinking them for a few years), I might have even ranked it higher on the list (I’d like more time to consider the consistency).  Bogle Vineyards is located in Clarksburg, CA, which is just south of Sacramento.  They offer tours and tastings and obviously put lots of love into their products.  I expect this family-owned winery to continue gaining in popularity as more drinkers make their discovery.  The basic Cabernet Sauvignon is priced at about $9.  Read more about Bogle Vineyards HERE.

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1582388.  Rosenblum Cellars — This has been another one of my favorite “go to” wines for more than a decade.  Rosenblum has expanded into a major commercial enterprise, with about 50 different varietals which are now produced.  I’m pleased to report that even with the growing popularity of these wines (a tasting room recently opened up in Oakland!), overall quality has not been sacrificed.  Prices vary widely, even for the staple products — which includes the basic Cabernet and Zinfandel.  I’ve seen these bottles priced anywhere from $7-15.  However, you can find them on sale frequently, due in part to the large volume that’s produced.  They often receive prominent placing in stores with significant distribution (because the big chains buy in bulk, they can sell them cheaper).  Admittedly, I tend to avoid “wine factories” (Coppola also comes to mind), but when the products are every bit as good as the smaller boutique wineries, that merits praise.  You can’t go wrong with anything made by Rosenblum and they deserve a place on the table of every California wine lover.  Visit the Rosenblum Cellars website HERE.

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IMG_70137.  Anything from Coppola Vineyards — I hesitate including another huge wine producer in the Top Ten.  Then again, why should an exceptionally drinkable collection of wonderful wines be penalized simply for being so successful and commercial?  I’ll admit to some strong bias here, since I’ve visited the Coppola vineyard and toured the factory, which is located in Geyserville, CA (highly recommended).  Movie director Francis Ford Coppola has created a masterpiece for the palate with his collection of wines, for just about any taste and occasion.  His best products include the Diamond Series Black Label Claret ($17) and the more exclusive Director’s Cut Cinema Red Blend ($35).  Yet, his much cheaper Rosso (and sister white wine known as Bianco) is almost every bit as delicious and is priced at only $8 a bottle.  A particular favorite is the Rosso Pino Grigio which I’ve seen as low as $7.  Here’s another wine you can purchase by the case (usually an additional 10 percent off), and enjoy for years.  Indeed, Coppola made me an offer I can’t refuse.  Read more about Coppola wines HERE.

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0145m7xhx001l_375x5006.  Dancing Bull — These are wines that are powerful, full of intense flavors.  The Zinfandel was first introduced in 2002, which is one reason they may not have caught in yet with many wine drinkers.  Once the discovery is made, a love affair begins.  Robert Parker, considered the gold standard in grading wines, previously called Dancing Bull “the best buy in Zinfandel.”  Priced at just $9 a bottle, expect flavors to explode and then dance in your mouth.  While known primarily for Zinfandel, which is its best-seller, the lesser-known Cabernet is equally as delicious.  This choice is the only wine on my list which doesn’t use a specific appellation.  The grapes that go into producing Dancing Bull products are collected from multiple regions throughout California and blended together (which is increasingly common in wine production, today).  There’s no specific vineyard that one can visit nor much of a family history with these vintages.  Yet, the wine has exploded onto the popular scene and merits our curiosity as a remarkably drinkable product at an affordable price.  Hence, I decided not to penalize their lack of a specific vineyard because Dancing Bulls continues to be reliable.  Let’s see if this level of consistency continues.

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xe8b9iYBT8aT2UcM8Qe9Ig5.  El Cotes du Paso Robles — Rated “exceptional” by Wine Spectator, this is a hidden gem which deserves far greater popularity.  So, I’ll do my part to help spread the word.  A dark ruby color, with hints of cherry and pepper, this is wine sure to please just about any connoisseur.  Wines from the Paso Robles region are usually described as “big and bold,” and this is no exception.  One of the best values for the money in the country, it’s priced at only $8.  That makes El Cotes du Paso Robles a wine worthy of stocking up on, since they can be enjoyed for years ahead.  I’ve only recently discovered the robust wines from the Paso Robles area and look forward to making a special visit to this region someone in the near future.  This was a marvelous discovery and will be one of the first vineyards on my list to enjoy.  In the meantime, I’ll continue to engage in some unpaid “quality control” for these talented winemakers.  More about El Cotes du Paso Robles HERE.

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Toasted-Head-Cabernet-Sauvignon-2009-Label4.  R.H. Phillips / Toasted Head —
 The thoroughly enjoyable and underrated R.H. Phillips winery was closed in 2009 and then taken over by Toasted Head.  So, where does the strange name come from?  From their website:  Noted for the traditional practice of toasting barrel heads and staves to impart a mellow, toasted flavor to barrel-aged wines, Toasted Head began making hand-crafted wines at our vineyards in the Dunnigan Hills of Yolo County, California in 1995.  Indeed, these are wines full of oak with a hint of smoke, which has a distinct characteristic in taste.  They produce only four wines, and are best known for the Cabernet and Chardonnay (both at about $9 a bottle).  I miss R.H. Phillips (you can still find some on the market) but Toasted Head is every bit as drinkable and also has the subtlety of tasting just a little different from the other wines on this list.  Read more about Toasted Head Winery HERE.

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1565903.  Mark West — Okay, so the name is pretty simple, but it’s sure easy to remember.  That’s a good thing.  Mark West wines are a gem.  Everything they produce is stellar, and it’s hard to believe these wines are priced so inexpensively.  Best known for their Pino Noir, and marketed with the tagline “we didn’t chose Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir chose us,” this is a remarkably sophisticated red with multiple palate sensations.  Mark West is one of the hottest wines on the market right now, and the price will likely increase as their prestige and reputation expands.  Still, you can find these priced as low was $9 (I bought a case when I saw that price at a local grocer — again, making it closer to $8 after my 10 percent buy-the-case discount).  More commonly, they run for around $12 a bottle.  The “Black” Pino Noir is even better, but costs a bit more.  This is as solid as red wine you will find from California.  It’s not as robust as some of the other powerful wines I’ve listed.  Based just north of Santa Rosa, CA in Sonoma, it’s one of the few wines from this region which drinks close to the subtle nuances that are so characteristic of great wines made in France.  Read more about the Mark West Winery HERE.

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2010courdechaule2.  Just About Anything from the Cotes du Rhone Region (France) — I’m reluctant to include such a broad category of wines when the mission is to narrow down the selection to specific vineyards.  That said, just about every Cotes du Rhone wine is a special occasion for celebration.  This region produces reds, whites, and roses.  However, it’s unique characteristic is the dominance of the Grenache grape variety, used in reds.  This is a type of grape which tends to be very low in tannin (which sometimes overwhelms Italian wines, in my view making them undrinkable) and doesn’t even have much color.  This is a part of the world which has been making wines since the days of the Roman Empire.  I’m far more enthusiastic about Rhone wines than those from the Beaujolais region, which are more famous and more widely produced.  One of the best known wines from the Rhone Valley is Chaeauneuf-du-Pape.  However, you won’t fine a decent one of these for less than about $25.  As for the affordable Rhone wines priced under $10, try these — Montirious ($8), Parellele 45 by Paul Jaboulet ($9), or Famille Perrin Reserve ($10).  For arguably the world’s best bargain, try Caves du Fournalet, which costs around $5 at Trader Joe’s (a great place for bargain wines, by the way) and is distinctive because of it’s portly-shaped bottle.  Warning:  These drink as very dry wines and are not considered “fruity.”  Read more about Cotes du Rhone wines HERE.

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cline.av.zinfandel.091.  Cline Vineyards — Anything from the Cline Cellars is outstanding.  Located in Sonoma (Oakley, CA), this family-owned winery has been around only since 1983.  However, it consistently produces sophisticated Rhone-style wines that drink for triple the price.  Just about everything in stock that I’ve enjoyed ranges from $6 to $15.  I first became aware of Cline about 20 years ago after taking an advanced wine course when we were living in Washington, DC.  The instructor allowed us to sample the Cline Cabernet, and the Dalla Family has been hooked ever since.  Back around 1995 when we first began drinking Cline regularly, it was priced at just $5.50 a bottle.  It’s a bit more expensive now, but still a bargain.  This was our first true romance when it came to enjoying wine.  Over the course of two decades since that love affair began, I estimate we’ve consumed 30-40 cases.  Everything in the Cline stock is fabulous.  The Zinfandel and “Old Vines” Zinfandel (a bit more expensive — around $14) is a blow your ass away “fruit bomb.”  Mark my words — these wines are an oak-addicts delight.  Admittedly, I have swayed somewhat from these California powerhouses in recent years, opting for the subtlety of French wines.  That said, nothing compares to the consistently quality and affordability of these outstanding wines that deserve far more adoration among wine drinkers.  This should be in everyone’s cellar, and if not, on everyone’s list next time you visit the wine market.  Read more about Cline Cellars HERE.

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Coming soon in a later column, I’ll list my “Top 20” affordable white wines.  I will also list a “Fine Wine Hall of Fame,” which will be my list of great wines for special occasions, priced between $25-$200.

So readers — what did I miss here?  Care to share your favorite red wine that I should try?

 

Disclaimer:  I’ve certainly overlooked some wines that belong.  Help me out, readers.

 

8 Comments

  1. I find Colmbia Crest wines to be delicious and very affordable. I would rate them ahead of Bogle for sure.

  2. Why do you hate Merlot, Nollan? I`m no expert in wines or passing any judgment, just curious about what is that you don`t like about Merlot? Thanks, always enjoying your blog posts.

  3. I’ve tasted about half of your list, and all I can say is that you have excellent taste in wine, Nolan. My experience with Coppola wasn’t as good as yours, but that may be an outlier.

    For a short time, Costco had Valley of the Moon cabernet on sale for around $12 or $14, and I must say that it blew away all the others on the list that I’ve tasted. Fruity and full bodied. Unfortunately, their stock went quickly and I haven’t seen it back. The wine retails for about $30, so at retail is way beyond your criteria.

    We also like Unruly. Surprisingly good for the price.

    Bob

  4. You up for some fun?

    I’m going to buy some of your picks and review your review.

    Oh. Your constant hatred for Merlot wines is silly.

  5. McManis…

  6. I will cherish this list forever, Nolan. Finally something we can share.

  7. Challenging (but possible) to find below the $10 mark – Dynamite Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

    • As I said, Unruly is surprisingly good for the price. When Bevmo has it on the 5 cent sale, it works out to $6.50 per bottle.

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