Wine column | Wine Culture

On the cheap: Wines under $10 or thereabouts

If your budget for a bottle of wine tops out at ten dollars, you needn’t be too distressed about a gazillion choices at the store. Usually with no clerk to guide you in the supers (chain markets), you are left to buy a bottle based on the label. Thankfully we’ve left the critter phase. Now we’re into explosive graphics.

Let me share with you some of my recent discoveries, all less or in the neighborhood of 10 buckeroos:

Camelot Wines: This California brand is a $7 line from O’Neill Vintners in California’s Central Valley. Varieties include a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. They all have merits, many from the Lodi area. The Cab is pure fruit, with no time in oak, a nice complement of cherries, with berries and crushed herbs. The Merlot sees time in wood and has soft dark berry, cherry, plum flavors. The big surprise, however, is the complexity of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for the price. Time spent on the lees in French and American oak gives a creamy, broader mouthfeel and adds to the complexity of the Chardonnay. It’s quite nice. The Pinot Noir way overdelivers for the price, seeing some aging in French and American oak. It is true to varietal character and brimming with red cherry, plum and cola notes. Some stores to find them: Champane’s Wine Cellars, Warren; Northville Gourmet & Wine, Northville; Beverage Warehouse, Franklin; Kelly’s Liquor, Troy.

At Costco: Look for Kirkland Sonoma County Chardonnay and Castle Rock Pinot Noir from Mendocino County — they are not part of the fancy display. It’s nice for a change to see an appellation more specific than the big “California” umbrella for inexpensive wines. The Chardonnay is an approachable style that delivers nice dry flavors with good varietal character from Sonoma. The Castle Rock Pinot Noir packs luscious cherry-berry-cola flavors. The color is deep enough to give you zombie teeth. It’s delightful. Costco wine buyers do their homework.

(Image courtesy of Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi)

(Image courtesy of Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi)

Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi: This is a reliable label that runs about $8 — including, if you are lucky, the Brut Sparkling Wine. Here’s where to head for a dry bubbly on the cheap. It has nice packaging and it delivers a stream of tiny bubbles, lovely toast, mushroom, lime and tangerine notes, and finishes dry. Compare it to Italian Prosecco — only it costs less. The Woodbridge Pinot Noir surprises the palate too — and oddly, the second day it is open, it is even more delicious — perhaps the addition of oxygen to the bottle the first time you open it helps it knit and relax the flavors. Lesson: Uncork the bottle and let it sit for a bit.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Coastal Crush Red:  SRP is $11, but I’ll bet you find it for less for an introductory offer. It’s a Syrah-driven blend with Merlot and Malbec that gives yet another twist to the the Red Wine blend trend. It has a touch of residual sugar, which makes it all the more approachable, and enjoys some oak aging. Again — this is a wine for new palates exploring the boundaries of red. It has a catchy name and appealing label, and the brand’s credibility behind it.

19 Crimes Red Wine Victoria Australia: This new red blend with the eye-catching name and label may be on store shelves at the introductory price of $9.99. It’s another in a wave of “Red Wine” blends, this one based on Shiraz unlike all the Zinfandel-based wines in California. Like the “trend,” it’s on the sweet side — or is that just a ton of spicy, berried Shiraz fruit. It’s highly approachable, actually quite delicious, especially for wine drinkers still cautious about dry red wine. The label commemorates the fact that in Britain in the late 1700s, there were 19 crimes that could earn you a ticket on a ship to a penal colony in Australia.

Gnarly Head Pinot Grigio: Tart-crisp-dry, with nice balance and a personality of lime, apricot, nectarine and minerality. The brand is a hit with critics and consumers. Try the Zinandel too. It’s the first brand launched by Chris Indelicato for his famous family’s DFV Wines when he was named president and CEO. Fairly new to the brand is the Gnarly Head Authentic Red, a robust Zinfandel-based blend. It’ll cost you a little more than 10 bucks. The brand is sprinkled all over Metro Detroit.


Estancia Pinot Noir Pinnacles Ranches Monterey County 2011, $16. Bold cherrry, raspberry, vanilla and dark chocolate aromas tease the nostrils. In the mouth, it’s like homemade cherry pie with cola and baking spices in the midpalate and a blast of cherry and spice on the finish. It’s Pinot Noir with personality plus. Estancia — think impeccable winemaking and growing. This is affordable premium wine. It comes off this magnificent vineyard that reaps the rewards of the air off the cool Monterey Bay that provides a long, cool growing season ideal for Pinot Noir. Pair it up with baked ham, roasted poultry and lamb chops. Check out the Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay too.