Columbia Crest Two Vines Cabernet Sauvignon hails from Washington state and starts at $9.
By Kara Reinhardt, Cheapism.com
From awkward office parties to convivial Christmas dinners, wine permeates the holiday season. Guests arrive bearing gift bags specifically sized to hold wine bottles and hosts agonize over which varietals to serve. Some oenophiles might suggest that all cheap bottles resemble the contents of a spittoon, but if holiday shopping has left you with a limited budget, there’s no need to splurge on expensive wine. Cheapism has updated its wine buying guides with top picks under $10, and you won’t find a Franzia or “Two-Buck Chuck” in the bunch.
First, the reds:
- Columbia Crest Two Vines Cabernet Sauvignon (starting at $8) comes from Washington and radiates with berry aromas. The 2009 vintage earned a score of 90 from Wine & Spirits magazine, which ranks it as exceptional.
- Meleni Chianti Borghi d'Elsa (starting at $8) is a Tuscan blend with a bold, fruity flavor. Reviewers have favored vintages including the 2008 and 2010.
- Dancing Bull Zinfandel (starting at $8) pairs well with a winter meal, according to one connoisseur. It’s a full-bodied California wine that combines flavors of sweet fruit and spice.
- Mirassou Pinot Noir (starting at $8) is a lighter California red -- a value-priced version of a crowd-pleasing varietal. The 2010 vintage seems to come in for the most praise.
Moving on to the whites:
- Dr. Loosen Red Slate Riesling (starting at $10) is a medium-bodied German wine with a pleasing acidity. This is a dry Riesling, not a sweet one. Tasters detect notes of pear and peach.
- Bodini Chardonnay (starting at $9), which hails from Argentina, is a crisp wine with a depth of flavor that belies its budget price. Wine Advocate and International Wine Cellar both award the 2011 vintage high marks.
- Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc (starting at $8) is a light Washington wine with apple and citrus-fruit flavors and a bit of acidity. The 2011 has won accolades from Wine Spectator.
A cheap, mass-produced wine may not have the unique character and quality of a meticulously crafted vintage with a high-end pedigree. However, many of the wines above are notable for their consistency -- an important consideration when you’re stocking up for a party, rather than taking a chance on a single bottle.
If you feel uncomfortable serving inexpensive wine, consider that blind taste tests suggest most people have trouble telling when they’re drinking a cheap bottle. According to one study, wine drinkers without professional training actually rate inexpensive bottles slightly higher on average than pricey ones. Expectation appears to play a key role in our enjoyment of wine: Tasters are primed to admire a wine when told it’s expensive and turn up their noses when it’s labeled cheap. Try serving an affordable red from a decanter or a chilled white with a cloth napkin wrapped around the label. Odds are no one will be the wiser.
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