Sangiovese is a great red.
The red Tuscan grape behind Italian-restaurant staples like Chianti and Brunello, Sangiovese produces wines with pointed acidity and ripe fruit flavor that pair beautifully with an giant bowl of pasta. Of course, these well-established wines often come at a steep price. According to Benjamin Appleby, sommelier at Abe & Louie’s in Boston, name recognition does a lot to inflate these bottle prices:
“In Tuscany, Brunello di Montalcino is king, and the price tag reflects that renown,” Appleby told INSIDER. “However, there are many lesser known, and therefore less expensive, Sangiovese based wines from Tuscany and the surrounding regions that are absolutely delicious.”
But no need to worry: if you’re planning a romantic “Lady and the Tramp”-style spaghetti dinner (or just want something nice to drink with your delivery pizza), you can get in on the Sangiovese action without shelling out for high-end Super Tuscan.
Wanna try a Tuscan Sangiovese for less than a twenty? Try Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino ($18.99), a particular favorite of Appleby’s. He calls it “complex but very approachable, with more fruit and less mustiness than its “big brother” Brunello. Rosso is intended to be a more casual drinking experience. It’s fresher, needs less aging, and doesn’t require a long time in a decanter to open up.”
Xinomavro might be a new favorite for you.
If you like the taste of Italian reds but want to try something a bit more under-the-radar, Xinomavro, a popular grape in Greece and Macedonia, may be just the thing for you. “If you like Nebbiolo, but you don’t feel like springing for a bottle of Barolo or Barbaresco, I recommend checking out Greece’s native Xinomavro. Greek wines are experiencing a renaissance of quality, and Xinomavro is a big part of the reason why. Medium in body, it still has a wonderful, mouth-watering acidity and plenty of tannic structure, making it a great food wine,” raves Greg DeForest Campbell, wine server at Corkbuzz in New York City.
If you want to take Xinomavro for a trial run, its low price makes that an easy endeavor. DeForest Campbell suggests Thymiopoulos Young Vines Xinomavro Naoussa ($14.99), a well-balanced red with pointed acidity that pairs beautifully with late-summer BBQ eats.
Gamay is a light red.
A lightweight red varietal from the Burgundy region of France, Gamay is often compared to Pinot Noir both because they’re grown in similar areas and because they’re relatively-delicate red wines that pair equally well with a juicy lamb chop or a grilled fish. According to sommelier Tim Wallace of Stowe Mountain Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, you can find affordable bottles of Gamay from its home country of France or from newer plantings in the United States.
“Gamay is the grape that I want to drink every day. The style of the wine can vary wildly, there are bright, light, fun, gluggable (or ‘glou glou’ in French slang) options all the way up to serious, single vineyard Cru options with everything delicious in between. Traditionally hailing from Burgundy, Gamay is starting to see a surge of plantings in America with exciting results. When it comes to a fun, easy-drinking yet affordable everyday wine, you just can’t go wrong with Gamay,” Wallace explained.
Wallace considers Gamay grown in the Willamette Valley a particularly solid buy, and he’s partial to the Bow & Arrow Gamay ($18.99). “I absolutely love everything that winemaker Scott Frank makes, but I just keep reaching for another bottle of this beautiful wine time after time. Everything Mr. Frank does is sourced from small, sustainably grown vineyards in the blue collar Willamette Valley. The liveliness in this bottle that comes from bright, mineral acidity and notes of bright berries lends itself to anything from slices of watermelon on the beach to my dad’s famous barbecue grilled chicken. When it’s 100 degrees outside, go ahead and drink it chilled and it’s as refreshing as your favorite rose,” Wallace told INSIDER.
Syrah is a common, budget-friendly wine.
If you’re a fan of big, in-your-face, budget-friendly Australian reds, you’re probably familiar with the Shiraz grape. When this varietal is planted in France, it’s known as Syrah, and the wines made from it come out lighter, more nuanced, and more subtle than their down-under counterparts. Sommelier Corey Burke of Aureole in New York City recommends Syrah for its flexible nature: “I believe that Syrah is a very versatile grape. It can be represented in light, medium, and heavy styles while also being fruit/earth-driven, depending on country of origin. It is a great grape to start with in terms of learning.”
Burke especially likes Paul Jaboulet ‘Parallele 45’ Cotes du Rhone Rouge ($8.99/half-bottle), a Syrah blend with a hint of Grenache grape from the Cotes du Rhone region of France. Rich with red fruit and herbal notes, this wine delivers a lot of flavor for not-too-much money. “Parallele 45 was one of the first wines that I was bought to learn about the Rhone Valley specifically, and at the time I was amazed that there could be great wine to drink at such a low price,” Burke told INSIDER.
Zinfandel is a classic.
One of the signature red grapes of the California wine country, Zinfandel produces a relatively light-bodied wine with dark fruit flavors, a vibrant deep-red hue, and relatively-high tannins (compounds inside grape skins that add structure and complexity to wine). California Zins can cost a pretty penny, but it’s definitely possible to find a tasty bottle for under $20.
Reed Robertson, the general manager of Shearwater Tavern in Maui, has an emotional attachment to Edmeades Mendocino Zinfandel ($17.99), a fruit-forward red with cinnamon and clove notes from the Northern California coast.
“When I think of wines that I personally love, it’s usually because they’re not only delicious, but they remind me of great times. Edmeades Zinfandel is the very definition of that for me. It’s what my friends and I would drink after work at our group table [when we were] coming up in the restaurant industry. I remember that the restaurant I worked at at the time was going to switch over to a different Zinfandel, and all the servers bought the remaining bottles [of Edmeades] and kept them in our lockers so that we could continue to have them at our after-work family meals. Sharing a great wine was what it was all about!” Robertson explained.
Fiano is a romantic wine.
When it comes to Italian whites, Pinot Grigio, the super-crushable wine beloved by wedding guests and Real Housewives across the nation, reigns supreme in the US market. For an Italian white wine with all the easy-drinking appeal of Pinot Grigio and a more unique flavor personality (including tastes of ripe summer fruits and hazelnuts), try Fiano, an grape varietal from the Campania region of Italy. Justin Evelyn, sommelier at Bagby Beer Company in Oceanside, CA, loves Fiano for its ancient heritage and gentle prices.
“Fiano di Avellino is a DOCG that lies within Campania region of Italy. It is named after the white Fiano grape, a variety which dates back more than 2000 years. Its name comes from , meaning “vine beloved of bees”. The bees were overpowered by the sweet, alluring character of the grapes,” Evelyn told INSIDER.
With floral hints and fresh minerality, Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino ($19.99) makes for an awesome intro to this particular varietal. It’s a favorite of Evelyn, who says that “Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino is an exceptional value and a opportunity to explore the versatility that Italy has to offer white wine enthusiasts.”
Chenin Blanc is a light wine.
Originally hailing from the Loire Valley in France, the Chenin Blanc grape produces a white wine with high acidity and crisp fruit flavors. It’s a popular varietal in New World wine regions like South Africa, where it’s known as “Steen.”
Sommelier Miguel de Leon of Pinch Chinese in NYC counts Chenin Blanc among his most frequently-recommended types of wine: “Talk to any sommelier and this variety will surely pop up quickly because of its unparalleled versatility. A darling on wine lists because of its potential with food, Chenin Blanc can be a chameleon depending on where it comes from, though usually it has a beautiful texture, complexity for days, and a bright, juicy freshness complemented with a mineral underpinning. ”
For his part, de Leon especially enjoys South African Chenin Blancs, like the affordable and versatile Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc ($13.99). “South Africa’s Mulderbosch winery is an iconic producer of this variety, and because of the influence of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, the fruit becomes slightly more tropical, leaning to pineapple and mango notes along with classic Chenin Blanc flavors of quince, green apple, and light flowers. Can’t decide on what to bring to a dinner party, or unsure what others are bringing to a potluck? This wine can handle it all!” de Leon told INSIDER.
Muscadet is great for a hot day.
On a hot day, there’s nothing more refreshing than a light and dry white wine with citrus notes and an appealing tang. Muscadet, a varietal from France’s Loire Valley, delivers all of these characteristics and more.
Jon Bonné, wine expert for JetBlue Mint, calls out Muscadet as a perfect budget buy for the summer: “Profound, complex white wine from a historic region, all for less than 20 bucks? That’s the magic of Muscadet, which has become so much more than the simple ‘oyster wine’ it used to be.”
Domaine Luneau-Papin Clos des Allées Muscadet Sèvre & Maine Sur Lie ($15.99) stands out to Bonné as a particularly excellent deal, as this wine comes from grapes “from a single vineyard of organically farmed old vines.”
Riesling is a slightly sweet, but drinkable, wine.
The German Riesling grape gets a bad rap, as many drinkers associate it with overly-sweet wines. In truth, however, Riesling can result in beautiful, drinkable, and multifaceted bottles with just a subtle hint of sweetness. You can find solid examples from Germany and Austria, but to get more bang for your buck, seek out domestically-grown Rieslings from the Pacific Northwest.
General manager Michelle Szot of Split-Rail in Chicago loves the Teutonic Riesling ($20) from Willamette Valley, calling it “an incredibly beautiful German-style Riesling from Willamette. It packs a punch of pear and acid while still being totally drinkable and perfect for summer.”
Sparkling Rosé is a festive treat.
Because it can be made from a variety of different grapes, rosé is style of wine rather than a varietal. But it’s incredibly on-trend and will be flooding your Insta feed come Labor Day Weekend, so it’s good to know about the especially festive sparkling version of this must-have wine. However, sparkling rosé often comes with steep mark-ups.
“I’m crazy for sparkling rosés, [but it] so often lands outside of a tighter budget,” laments bartender Mikey Diehl of Drexler’s in NYC.
Fortunately, Diehl has a go-to recommendation for an inexpensive sparkling rosé with plenty of stage presence: “Gruet Winery has a fantastic [non-vintage] Rosé Brut ($16.99) coming out of New Mexico [made of] 100% Pinot Noir grapes, and it really threw me for a loop when I first tried it. Gruet quickly turned me on to great wines coming out of the Southwest, and it made me take note of how non-vintage [wines] can hold up as quality examples of a winery’s style (and can be a bargain-hunters best friend). The strawberry, cherry, and plum notes play forward to fairly light floral aromas. Acidity is low, and the minerality is exactly how I like it: light, crisp, and refreshing like spring water. We’re in the dog days of July right now, so sparkling rosé is a perfect way to step up your game from the run of the mill ‘summer water.’”