Best Budget Wines for Under $20


When I walk into a wine shop or liquor store, I’m immediately hit with what I call bottle shock. There are so many rows and aisles of wine bottles, in various hues and sizes, with simple or eyecatching labels. There are signs marking each section of wine, by variety and world region. This is not a paradise for the indecisive. Luckily, there are some individuals willing to narrow down my options for me, and right now I’m seeking the best wines under $20.

Neil Loomis, of Fine Dining Restaurant Group, is the wine and beverage director. Called the Dr. Of All Things Liquid, this means he is responsible for overseeing all wine and beverage services for the company’s numerous restaurants. After becoming a sommelier in 2006, Loomis has continued his vintner education in California, Oregon, Washington, Italy, France, Spain, Chile, Argentina, and New Zealand. He keeps things simple by offering the following budget wine selections:

  • Patient Cottat Grand Caillou sauvignon blanc. From the Loire Valley, Loomis says it has some nice Sancerre characteristics at half the price. Find this bottle for $17.
  • Casa Silva Cuvee Colchagua carmenere. Also at $17, “this ripe expression brings out the best of the grape and has a balanced bell pepper undertone.”
  • Frico Rosso Sangiovese Blend from Tuscany. At just $15, this style has lots of cherry, with a bit of rustic Italian feel.

dornan's wine shopThe wine shop at Dornan’s is well-known to have an incredible selection and variety of wine. Jennifer Stumpner, manager at Dornan’s Wine Shop, lent some suggestions for selecting an international budget wine before narrowing it down to her top picks.

Stumpner suggests looking at old producers. She says, “it seems that older producers are able to provide consistent wines because there is a wealth of knowledge on how to deal with differences in vintages.” She also likes labels that she doesn’t recognize as a large brand, but always goes local when traveling. Still unsure, usually a manager or team member at a wine shop will have the knowledge to point you in the right direction, or help you try something new.

Stumpner’s five favorites for under $20:

  • 2013 Melini Chianti Riserva DOCG (Italy), $15.10 at Dornan’s
  • 2016 Nec-Otium pinot grigio (Italy), $16.95
  • 2015 Villa Wolf Dry riesling (Germany), $15.75
  • 2014 Ferraton Pere & Fils Cotes du Rhone “Samorens” (France), $14.95
  • 2015 Dehesa Gago tempranillo (Spain), $19.05

Finally, we also got in touch with the folks at The Liquor Store. Kevin McNamara, the wine department manager, had this to say about choosing a budget wine:

“When I think of great value in wine, I look first to Argentina. We carry a line of wines at TLS called Ocaso that represent amazing value for the customer. Argentinian Malbec is well known as a bold, spicy red that over-delivers on flavor. Ocaso’s Malbec Reserva ($14.49) is aged in oak barrels for a period of eight months, which yields a wine of greater structure and flavor. Most wines under $15 do not receive the benefit of oak aging, especially domestic offerings. Argentina’s wine country offers amazing growing conditions for red wines, with endless sunshine, high altitude vineyard sites, and interesting soil composition, all of which contribute to a wine’s ‘terroir’ or sense of place. Argentina is also fortunate in the sense that they rarely suffer from poor vintages. As a general rule of thumb, vintage or the year a wine’s grapes were grown, is not as important in Argentinian Malbec as it is in say French Burgundy. When it comes to big flavor without the price tag, Ocaso Malbec Reserva is a home run. Another excellent Malbec that I’ve discovered is Llama Malbec ($13.99) from Belasco de Bacquedano, a winery in Mendoza.”

Considering that the holidays are approaching, sparkling wines will become more prevalent at social gatherings. As prosecco rises in popularity and price,McNamara let us know that Spain produces a sparkling wine known as cava that is a less of expensive alternative. Cava offers delicious flavors similar to Italy’s prosecco and France’s Champagne at a quarter of the price. TLS carries the Casa Dora Cava for just $10.49. McNamara warns that some inexpensive sparkling wines are made with a method known as Charmat, which results in larger bubbles and wines that go flat quicker. Casa Dora, on the other hand, sticks to the traditional method, with smaller bubbles and a wine that holds its pressure longer. “The process also imparts a yeasty flavor which adds complexity to the wine,” McNamara said, “And in my opinion, makes it taste much better.”

To learn more, you can check out McNamara’s blog posts on the TLS blog at: Better yet, stop by one of TLS’s wine tastings. Held from 4 to 7 p.m. every Thursday, McNamara is there to show off new items, personal favorites, and great deals.

westside wine

When you find yourself on the west bank this winter, swing into Westside Wine for your wine fix. Dave Erickson, the Westside Wine and Spirits manager and sommelier, passed along his selections for high value wines under $20.

  • Franco Serra Langhe Nebbiolo (Italy), just $15 per bottle
  • Viu Manent Gran Reserva cabernet sauvignon (Chile), $16
  • Mattes-Sabran Corbieres Rouge (France), $18
  • Cuvee Clemence Entre-Deux-Mers 2015 (France), $14
  • Dama del Rovere Soave Classico (Italy), $18

About Author

Raised in the land of casseroles and deep fried cheese curds, Sam Simma left rural Wisconsin for the mountains of Wyoming in summer 2012. Her appetite for adventure is the only thing that rivals her passion for food. She has always used writing to document and critique her travel and dining experiences. Her warmest memories among family and friends have been associated with the food that was at the center of the occasion. From staging cooking shows with siblings to perfecting turtle brownies with her dad, today Sam enjoys connecting people over food by hosting cookie decorating parties, wine pairing nights, and Midwest-inspired potlucks. A dessert fanatic, she has come to impress friends and family with key lime pies, Oreo bon bons, and Snickers ice cream cakes that are far simpler than they could ever imagine. Shhh! Don’t tell.

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