After a long day in the cellar, winemakers don’t sit around drinking white-whale Merlots and vintage champagnes. Often, they unwind with a beer, or a budget-friendly, everyday bottle of wine that hits the spot without breaking the bank.
To find out what what they’re drinking when they’re off the clock, we asked a dozen industry pros across the country to fess up to a value wine—under $20—that offers more than its price tag.
While we won’t judge you for filling a trash can with two-buck Chuck instead, these bottles are right in the sweet spot that can be so hard to nail at the wine shop: cheap enough to justify on a treat-yourself type of night, but also high-quality enough to bring to a party or give as a gift—especially when you can say it was recommended by a real wine pro.
Here are a dozen wines to add to your roster of stellar, budget-friendly bottles.
Gabrielle Shaffer and Adam McClary
Winemaker and barrel rider, respectively, at Gamling & McDuck (Napa Valley, CA)
Recommendation: Vivier Sonoma Coast Rosé of Pinot Noir, 2013 ($19)
Shaffer and McClary say: The 2013 Vivier Rosé of Pinot Noir fulfills two of our mantras: Buy local, but drink French. Stephané Vivier hails from Burgundy and makes his wine in Napa. This wine is traditionally light and focused with pretty, fresh berry favors. It’s perfect all summer long, but you’ll need to act fast as it has quite a following with those in the know.
Winemaker at Macari Vineyards (Long Island, NY)
Recommendation: The People’s Viognier, Salem Ranch, 2012 ($14)
Urbanik says: This wine delivers so much for the price—the aromatics are beautiful and inviting, the palate is balanced, and it finishes clean and crisp. Matt Reid and Marcy Webb are doing great things with their People’s Wine Revolution project.
Winemaker at Ruth Lewandowski Wines (Salt Lake City, UT)
Recommendation: Petit Jo from Domaine La Roche Buissiere, 2012 or 2013($15)
Lewandowsky says: I’d murder to get a well-made petillant naturel in my face under 20 bucks a bottle. I’ve damn near wrecked my truck just thinking about Christian Binner’s Riesling Katz’en Bulles. But that’s not what you’re after, so I’ll shut up. I have a weakness for bright, fresh red wines that teeter on the border of what a lot of people would find a bit too funky. Petit Jo is this strawberry/leafy/spicy/peppery/earthy/juicy Grenache/Syrah from the Rhone that’s so damn funky fresh it could pass as an early-’90s rapper. Ugh, now I’m thirsty—and looking up DJ Jazzy Jeff on Spotify.
Winemaker at Brooklyn Winery
Recommendation: Boundary Breaks Dry Riesling, 2012 ($20)
McCormack says: This wine is relatively new to the scene in the Finger Lakes, but already impressing everyone. Their focus is not only on single-vineyard Rieslings, but also on single-clonal selection, which is really exciting. A very well made wine and a great example of the kind of classically styled dry Rieslings that are coming out of the Finger Lakes.
Winemaker at Kinero Cellars and Denner (Paso Robles, CA)
Recommendation: Saint Cosme, Cotes du Rhone Rouge, 2012 ($13)
Yount says: This is a silly good bottle of wine. It has everything you want in a midweek bottle: the weight, texture, and pure sexiness of a wine three times its price point. Sometimes I forget that it’s Tuesday and finish the whole bottle.
Sommelier and winemaker at Sandhi and Domaine de la Cote (Lompoc, CA)
Recommendation: Leitz Riesling “Dragonstone,” Rheingau, Germany 2013 ($18)
Parr says: Josie Leitz is a dear friend and one of the greatest winemakers in the world. These grapes are from a historic vineyard on the steep slopes of Rudesheim (in the Rheingau).
Winemaker at Covenant Wines (St. Helena, CA)
Recommendation: Bodegas Muga Rioja Rosado, 2012 or 2013 ($12)
Morgan says: The best deals happening today might be in rosé (and maybe some dry chenin blancs from California’s Central Valley). In a pinch, I’ll go for a bottle of dry Muga Rioja rosé from Spain. It might set you back $15 or less, and it goes with just about anything you could possibly want to eat (except maybe dessert). Perfect for the warm weather now in the works, too!
Winemaker at Adelaida Cellars (Paso Robles, CA)
Recommendation: Palacios Remondo Rioja La Montesa, 2009 ($17)
Weintraub says: I don’t hesitate to open Beaujolais from Morgon any night of the week, but recently I’ve been enjoying La Montesa, a Rioja from Palacios Remondo. It doesn’t lead to any naval gazing, but it’s surprisingly complex for the price.
Winemaker at Pott Wine and consulting winemaker at Blackbird (Napa Valley, CA)
Recommendation: 2012 Dönnhoff Estate Riesling ($20)
Pott says: I love this wine for its characteristics of wet stone, cedar, peaches, pineapple, orange blossom, lemon, bright acidity, and nice stone fruits. It’s got a long finish, plus beautiful sweetness and balance. Grace Kelly in a bottle.
Winemaker at Terry Hoage Vineyards (Paso Robles, CA)
Recommendation: St. Cosme Little James Basket Press White ($13)
Hoage says: I love this Viognier-based blend because it has everything you need for those hot Paso Robles summer days—freshness and acidity on one side, and ripeness and depth on the other. You can’t go wrong with Vio from France; for the price, it is simply amazing.
Winemaker at Enfield Wine (Napa Valley, CA)
Recommendation: Edmund St. John “Bone Jolly” Gamay ($18)
Lockwood says: It’s been around for years but it’s still flying under the radar. It has everything you want from Cali wine: fruit, energy and minerality.
Winemaker for Dirty And Rowdy Family Winery (Calistoga, CA)
Recommendation: No matter how many times I asked Hardy for a wine under $20, all I got was beer-soaked breath and the mention of one bottle: Montebruno Crawford Beck Pinot Noir, 2010 ($50).
Wallace says: Soul wine made by an awesome guy. Floral and as if straight from the garden of Eden. If this doesn’t put a smile on your face, we need to check your trunk for bodies.