Wine is for everyone. If you like more expensive, focused wine, awesome. If you just want some everyday bottles to have on hand, great. If your sweet spot is under $30, excellent. And if you’re looking for a good case buy, stupendous. There is so much wine on our market, and it can be difficult to find your match online or in stores.
That’s what we are here for. A couple years ago, VinePair embarked on a journey of reviewing as many wines on the market as possible. Since then, every bottle that comes our way gets a fair shot being tasted. If you see a bottle online or on a shelf, we make an effort to sip and consider it.
Wine is not always about what you can afford. It’s also about occasions and moods. Just because you can afford a $150 bottle of wine doesn’t mean that you are buying that style on the reg. Even if you are comfortable buying a weekly $30 bottle of wine, you may not be spending that on bottles for large get-togethers.
For a sliver of brightness to hold onto as we squint toward the rest of 2021, here are 30 wines to fit every budget. These are some of the bottles that really made us raise an eyebrow this year, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. With a phone in hand, you can always use our review section to see how VinePair feels about a wine you might be looking at on a shelf.
Barbera was once considered an everyday wine in Piedmont. Over the years, winemakers have leveled up the status of this grape, giving it the attention it’s due. But it can still shine on that everyday role, and this one is a clear example. Under screw cap, juicy, and with good acidity, this is a great bottle for casual weeknight pasta nights and is a definite crowd pleaser.
Sometimes, Côtes du Rhône at this price is oaked heavily, leaving little room for subtlety. This wine is not crazy complex, but it does have a nice earthy vibe and smells like blackberries right off the vine. It’s balanced, easy, and would be a fun wine to pair with a cheese board and some cured meats.
Cali pumps out a lot of cheap Cab, and it can be tough to find the diamonds in the rough. This wine is just that. It’s soft and rich (probably meaning it has a bit of Merlot in it), but it’s not overloaded with high alcohol. It smells like blackberries and soil — common characteristics when wine production ramps up to a large scale. It’s a good case buy and good for pizza night, but it will also hang with a weeknight skirt steak.
How about those walls of Argentine Malbec in wine shops? Pretty crazy, huh? It can be a bit much as you just say “screw it” and grab the coolest label. Well, if you see this wine on the shelf, grab three or four — and don’t look back. It’s one of the best-quality Malbecs in this price range in our market. It’s dark and intense, with moderate acidity lifting just enough on the palate to match a big ol’ messy burger.
This is the American go-to Cali Pinot Noir for all the things. Pizza or burger night, a hefty brunch, a casual lunch, a chill dinner, movie night, date night, watch party, relaxing after work, you name it. It’s chewy and soft, with crowd-pleasing acidity. The alcohol is just right, meaning you can pop bottles all night. Hell, buy a case.
Sicilian wine needs your attention. It’s out here being awesome and affordable, looking for love. Go get this wine. It has bursting berry fruit from wonderful acidity, making for a balanced, playful palate. It’s a red wine for hanging out early evening and swapping hot goss while snacking on whatever you have lying around. It’s that easy and delicious.
Beaujolais Nouveau gets a lot of play on our market. But the region of Beaujolais is not just young bubblegum fruit. This bottle is a good example of how the Gamay grape can go beyond punchy. It is a mouthful of juicy cherries and sandalwood, with crazy acidity and a slight earthy vibe. It’s the bottle you buy by the case for Thanksgiving.
The red blend trend has taken hold. It’s a new-ish category here in the States, used to describe mostly New World winemakers expressing themselves through untraditional grape combinations. Malbec and Cab Franc is definitely not a traditional blend, but it’s working here. You get a deep, dark concentration of fruit from the Malbec, lifted by good acidity from the Cab Franc. You’ll also get a waft of vanilla and some mocha. This is a great bottle to drink alongside a big pile of meat off the grill and a bunch of friends.
Cabernet from Chile comes in many forms — from soft and structured, to grippy, dense, and age-worthy. When done right, it can also be easy-drinking and crowd-pleasing. This is that wine. It’s not too heavy, but it still shows some depth and is ready to drink. I mean, the price is nuts for the quality. Buy it by the case in the name of spontaneity.
The Rioja region has defined a certain style of Tempranillo: soft, somewhat supple, and structured. Fortunately, that awesome profile lineup can cover all price points. If you like the feel of Pinot Noir but need a good cheap bottle for a weeknight, this is a great grab and go. It’s plush, with a nice, calm fruit core and great acidity. Cheese plates and tapas are in order.
Native to Spain, heavily planted in South France, brought to California before the Gold Rush, and almost erased post-Prohibition, Carigan is a survivor. When brave winemakers take on this late-ripening, high-yielding variety and successfully harness its characteristics, you’ll want to see it around more. I know I do after sipping this bottle. It has a deep, concentrated fruit core with a structured, tannic grip. This wine fills the palate, but is balanced with excellent acidity. If you are a Syrah fan, this is a must try. Steak, please!
This is a quintessential northern Italian red wine, with lively, ripe fruit and a slightly tart edge. Soft yet angular tannins give this wine a quiet structure, while moderate acidity pronounces the smells of just-crushed cherries and savory aged balsamic. It’s the kind of wine that really ties the meal together — any meal, really, though hearty pasta would be buonissimo.
Sonoma offers all types of Pinot Noir from its 18 sub-appellations. It’s a very diverse region, but there is a consistent profile that runs through the county, and this bottle defines that. Expect soft, chewy fruit, with a slight weight on the palate — just enough to let the grapes’ natural acidity lift up the aromas from the core. It has judicious oak exposure and smells like cherries and earth. It would be great with a cheese plate and some nibbles.
Here’s another well-priced Cali Cab with a little more focus. It’s big and balanced, with clear separation of character with the acidity showcasing the concentration of fruit and well-integrated oak. There is a nice, simple harmony here that makes this wine a truly awesome weeknight pairing for steak or the lean grain of a pork loin.
Say it with me, because you’re about to fall in love: Nerello Mascalese (neh-rello mah-ska-lay-zay). This amazing grape grows on slopes and surrounding hills of an active volcano in eastern Sicily. It is its own unique kind of wonderful, but if you like Pinot Noir or Sangiovese, this wine is your dinner table’s new bestie. It bursts with juicy fruit that smells like cherries and has a slight tannic edge. The balance in this wine is awesome and would even benefit from a quick chill.
This is a Sicilian double whammy! I am telling you, wine lovers: Wines from Italian island regions are some of the best everyday and communal wines. They are bright and focused, with unique aromas. Like this wine. Made from the native grapes Frappato and Nero d’Avola, it wafts with earthy strawberry and cherry aromas. The fruit is chewy but balanced by great acidity and would shine with a beef carpaccio.
This is Malbec like you’ve never had it. And from New Zealand! Buy a bunch of bottles, chill this wine down, and drink it with whatever. The savory side plays well with the fruit and will pair with all kinds of cooked meats, from skirt steak to lamb. This wine is a gem.
Yes, Bordeaux can be delicious and affordable! YESSSS! This bottle has all the things you want in a wine from this region, such as a soft fruit core balanced by moderate acidity. It also has earthy notes of dark berry fruit that bring comfort to the senses. It’s a nice weeknight red to drink with herbed buttermilk chicken or braised duck.
This wine is made on an island just north of Sicily called Sardegna. In Sardegna, they call Carignan Carignano. And here, it is softer than most other examples around the globe. It has soft, supple fruit for lovers of wines like Merlot, with a slight tannic frame for the lovers of bigger wines like Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s very versatile and will pair well with artisanal cheeses, seafood pasta dishes like lobster ravioli or, hell, the entire lobster drenched in butter.
This wine, paired with mint-flecked grilled lamb, will send you. If you like Chianti, go find this bottle, stat. It has that soft, earthy cranberry and cherry smell, with a medium depth of fruit. But the acidity is higher and really brightens up the wine. The tannins are nice, soft, and ready to please a crowd.
Hirsch Vineyards San Andreas Fault Pinot Noir 2018 ($64)
This Pinot Noir demonstrates the beauty of the coastal Sonoma macroclimate. Chewy cherry fruit wafts up into your noggin on a cloud of bracing acidity. This results in a nice, lean character that is so well balanced, it doesn’t interfere with the depth of the fruit. It’s a master class in restraint, with just the right amount of oak. If I were in Sonoma right now, I would be eating cracklins and roasted chicken in the sun — washing it all down with this bottle, slightly chilled.
Massolino Barolo DOCG 2016 ($57)
No list would be complete without a wine from the beautiful region of Barolo tucked in the rolling Langhe hills of southern Piedmont in northern Italy. It’s a magical place. Sipping this bottle will take you there. It’s powerful and elegant at the same time. The tannins are grippy, as the wine continues to age, but it’s drinking well now. It’s a wonderful mouthful of balanced cherry fruit, with whispers of where it’s headed in the form of a whiff of leather and rose petals. Guys, this wine is awesome. Stuffed ravioli with a dense, meaty red sauce or a hearty mushroom risotto are in order.
Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2015 ($72)
When Amarone della Valpolicella is truly balanced, it’s an event. Your eyes widen at the calm depth of fruit and hardworking acidity. Your brain reels at the comfy aromas of dark chocolate and cherry liquor, and you’re slapped in the face as the braised meats and stinky cheeses you pair with it harmonize on your palate. That is this wine.
Dutton-Goldfield Russian River Valley Zinfandel 2018 ($50)
Napa and Sonoma were once the lands of Zinfandel before other varieties like Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon gained in popularity and took the lion’s share of land. It’s actually still the land of delicious Zinfandel — just less of it is made. So when you find one, grab it. This bottle is an excellent example of how this grape can thrive here. It’s tart and savory — smelling like blackberries and balsamic. It has excellent acidity, demonstrating a texture similar to that of Sangiovese. This wine, paired with a brisket, will make you fall in love. Hoping for more Sonoma Zins in the future.
Early Mountain Eluvium 2017 ($55)
When we are on the other side of this national health crisis, go to Virginia. Stay in the beautiful Shenandoah, tucked into the Blue Mountains. Hike and paddle during the day, eat venison and local cheeses as the sun sets, and sip some of the most exciting wine in the country. Wines from these hills are bright and balanced, even when brooding. This wine defines that. Dark, supple fruit, with high acidity and satisfying tannins, make for a unique American wine experience.
Denner Vineyards Dirt Worshipper 2018 ($80)
Ever been to Paso Robles? Like Virginia, this is another wine region to run to posthaste after this craziness is behind us. Paso Robles celebrates grape diversity, while still making popular California varieties like Cab. This bottle shows that California is more than the norm. So much more. It’s so expressive, with dark, concentrated fruit and that Paso acidity that brightens the deepest of wines. It smells like cooking herbs (rosemary, oregano, tarragon) and a quiet layer of black pepper. Another awesome American wine experience.
Freemark Abbey Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($146)
I can feel American wine diversifying by the year. More innovation and focus on soil and variety relationships are driving a bright diverse future. But we can’t forget how this all came to be. Founded by Josephine Tychson in the late 19th century, Freemark Abbey survived disease and Prohibition, entering both the red and white categories in the 1976 Judgement of Paris. Dark and brooding, this wine is deserving of aromatic descriptors such as mocha, blackberries, and hints of white and cracked black pepper. It’s still aging with a rustic edge, but is a pleasure to drink now. In a few years, it’ll soften into the legacy it holds.
Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($59)
Chateau Montelena was not only an entry into the Judgement of Paris, its 1973 Chardonnay came in first place for white wine. That finesse the judges fell for in 1976 can also be found in the winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon to this day. The elegance lives in the vibrant acidity winding through this wine, casually pronouncing a whiff of plum and blackberry mingling with cracked black pepper. It all comes together on the palate, with an added cassis vibe and well-woven tannins calling from the edge of your palate. This is a special wine.
Gary Farrell Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($50)
If you were to ask, “What is it about Russian River Pinot Noir that sets it apart from the rest of the Pinot on the planet?” I would shove this wine in your face, then take it away and drink it myself. Just kidding, I’d share … think. Cherries, cinnamon, and earthy mushrooms rush up and into your senses, leaving you all swoon-y before you sip. On the palate, the wine is dense, crushed velvet, with supple, chewy fruit that soaks into your palate. It would jive with some legit cheeses, but you might find me just sipping it at cellar temp with just a glass and a sunset.
Tenuta Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2015 ($56)
In Tuscany, Sangiovese shows itself in many forms, as well as names. Brunello is what they call Sangiovese in the dry, bright region of Montalcino. Here, this grape gains power from the sun — concentrating itself, with skilled hands, into one of the most age-worthy wines on the globe. The nose is cherries cooked into a sweet balsamic reduction and an earthy whiff of the sloping hills this grape grows on. It’s still aging — wow, can these wines age — but it is ready now for a splurgy night complete with a big ol’ steak or a bowl of heavy pasta.