The holidays may be the most wonderful time of the year, but they can also be the most expensive. Between gift-giving, attending parties, and holiday travel, you may be relegated to subsisting on 25-cent packages of instant ramen in the new year. Both your wallet and your sodium levels will thank you if you seek out bottles that are sure to impress for $20 or less.
While it’s possible to find steals of deals in some of the world’s top wine regions, bargain bottles abound in lesser-known areas and grape varieties. A big, rich Bordeaux will cost much more than an oaky Rioja, for instance, and a quality Chardonnay will likely be pricier than a similarly styled Garganega.
Whether it’s a gift for the boss, a host or hostess, or something to pair with a holiday meal, these eight bottles taste expensive but cost less than $20. Don’t worry — we won’t tell anyone your secret.
Valdo ‘Oro Puro’ Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore NV, Veneto, Italy ($16)
There’s no shortage of budget-friendly Prosecco on wine shelves, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all good. This Oro Puro, which translates to “pure gold,” has not only drinkability but complexity, with tart lemon citrus flavors and lots of rocky minerality.
Domaine d’Orfeuilles Vouvray Brut NV, Loire Valley, France ($17)
Champagne may be the king of traditional-method, French sparkling wine, but regions like the Loire Valley offer excellent budget alternatives for bubbles fans. Chenin Blanc shares remarkable similarities to Chardonnay, Champagne’s key white grape, as seen in this dry sparkler from Vouvray, which has notes of ripe apple and rich, toasty complexity.
Inama Soave Classico 2016, Veneto, Italy ($15)
The Veneto’s Garganega-based Soave wines offer rich, round texture and ample fruit flavors without sacrificing balance or affordability. This entry-level bottling from Inama has ripe lemon and apple flavors, along with hints of white flowers, offering plenty of flavor and body without being too heavy. A true crowd-pleaser.
Château les Charmes-Godard Côtes de Bordeaux Blanc 2014, Bordeaux, France ($19)
Bordeaux is most famed for its red wines, but its white wines can be complex and interesting as well. This Sémillon-based blend combines creamy vanilla, sweet spice, and concentrated orange blossom on the nose with clean, textured lemon pith and savory cheese rind on the palate. Add to the wine’s surprising complexity the fact that it has Bordeaux name recognition and you’ve got yourself a winning white wine.
Landmark Vineyards ‘Overlook’ Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma County, California ($20)
This California Chardonnay is entirely classic, but it has more richness, complexity, and quality oak presence to firmly distinguish it from the $5 grocery store Chardonnay. Think brown sugar, apple pie, and a bright, salty lift to keep the palate from seeming sickeningly rich.
Stéphane Magnien ‘Cuvée Densité’ Bourgogne Passetoutgrain 2015, Burgundy, France ($18)
Even budget bottles from Burgundy rarely dip below the $25 to $30 mark, but this Bourgogne Passetoutgrain is an exception. Rather than being entirely comprised of Pinot Noir, a portion of Gamay is blended in this special appellation, creating an elegant, friendly wine that is delicious now but will gain secondary flavors and complexity over time.
Benziger Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Sonoma County, California ($18)
While Sonoma County now gets nearly as much recognition as Napa, it’s still much easier to find well-priced Sonoma wines from classic, international grape varieties. For instance, this Benzinger Cabernet Sauvignon has every classic marker of its variety, including black cherry, freshly cut grass, and violet, plus structure and richness.
La Rioja Alta ‘Viña Alberdi’ Rioja Reserva 2010, Rioja, Spain ($18)
Classically styled Rioja Reserva for under $20? This bottle is a ridiculously good deal. It’s full-bodied, fruit-driven, and oaky enough to please big, rich red wine lovers, with enough balance, earth, and acidity to please those who seek restraint in their wines. It already has seven years of age, which is sure to impress aficionados, but it will absolutely age for years to come. (So you might as well buy a few bottles while you’re at it.)