Many of us have been drinking through our cellars over the recent weeks of quarantine and might be getting to those bottles we aren’t quite ready to touch just yet. Or that aren’t quite ready for us to touch them. We decided we needed an influx of quality wines at weekday prices—$50 and under. Enter our good friends at Wally’s Wine & Spirits’ who happened to have the same thought.
Christian Navarro, president and principal, has a bead on what his clients have been looking for. “The dollar spend is about the same,” he says, “but the consumption levels have risen to meet stress levels. Right now, two bottles are better than one.”
We couldn’t agree more. So we talked to Navarro as well as few other retailers—Gary’s Marketplace and Wineaccess.com—and paged through our own notes for bottles in the sweet spot of being rated over 90 points but costing $50 or less. We’ve included the major critic who awarded the score and excerpted their praise of the wines. Scores aren’t everything, we know, but at the very least, they’re a helpful guide.
Navarro is clear about the value bottles Wally’s has on hand: “These wines we hand-selected can go toe to toe with wines three times their price,” he says. Our list can too. Check them out here.
Champagne André Chemin NV Brut Tradition
Decanter says: “Rich and intense flavors of baked apple, brioche, toast and bread crust with fresh acidity. Very complex, long finish.”
Domaine Nico Soeur et Freres 2017 La Savante Pinot Noir, Argentina
The Wine Advocate says: “I love the flinty reduction and the Chambolle-like elegance of the wine. The palate reveals tons of chalky minerality and comes through as tasty, salty, elegant, insinuating and harmonious.”
Paltrinieri Radice 2018 Lambrusco di Sorbara, Italy
From the Wine Enthusiast: “One of the best Lambruscos out there, this delicious, vibrant wine opens with enticing scents of wild red berry, yellow stone fruit, citrus blossom, and a yeasty, comforting whiff of pastry dough. The dry, delicious palate delivers pink grapefruit, crushed strawberry, and tangerine alongside crisp acidity and a saline note.” We say, if you aren’t familiar with Lambrusco, really there’s no time like the present and this sparkling red is a great introduction. It gained an unfortunate rep as junk wine decades ago and American drinkers grew wary of it. Back then, it was junk wine. But quality producers are now making it in a much more sophisticated style.
Louis M. Martini Winery 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Wine Enthusiast says: “This is a powerhouse wine, surprisingly soft and supple on the palate, with firm, integrated tannins and hearty oak. Cedar, pencil shavings, and sweet tobacco provide savory complexity on the mid-palate, accenting a core of concentrated red currant and plum.” We say, Louis M. Martini is a legend in Napa and if you haven’t tried one of its wines, this is a great place to start.
Brewer-Clifton 2017 Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills
From the Wine Enthusiast: “Aromas of candied raspberry and strawberry pair with damp sage, pine oil, and green peppercorn on the nose. The pristine palate’s crisp pomegranate and fresh raspberry flavors are instantly cut by eucalyptus and green tobacco leaf.” The Santa Rita Hills region of California’s Central Coast is gaining a great reputation for terrific Pinot Noirs. This is a fresh introduction to the AVA.
Quartz Reef Bendigo Estate 2017 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, New Zealand
Critic James Suckling says: This wine delivers “a mix of powerful fruit and a focused structure. Violets and ripe red cherries sit amid gently stony, flinty nuances, leading to a palate that has a succulent, lithe, and juicy core of vibrant cherries and chalky tannins.” New Zealand is well known for its Sauvignon Blancs, but if you haven’t explored its Pinot Noirs, you’re missing out.
Gran Moraine 2017 Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette Valley
From Wine Spectator: “Polished and elegantly complex, with expressive cherry and blueberry flavors, accented by crushed stone and black tea notes, building tension and lively acidity toward refined tannins.”
Hartford Court 2018 Four Hearts Vineyard Chardonnay, Russian River Valley
From the Wine Advocate: “Features bold baked pears, fresh Golden Delicious apples, and lemonade scents with touches of chalk dust and allspice.” Sonoma’s Russian River Valley is renowned for its beautiful Chardonnays, and as with any vineyard designated wine, this one is rich with its own character.
Schramsberg 2015 Crémant Demi-Sec, North Coast
Wine Enthusiast says: “There’s an intentional sweetness to the wine that makes it off-dry in peach, pineapple and honey. Lively acidity keeps it balanced with a lift and energy in between the welcome richness.” Crémants are a kind of sparkling wine that have been made for centuries but are seeing a bit of a renaissance around the world. As Schramsberg is one of California’s great sparkling wine producers, trust them to make this interesting.
Amici Cellars 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
James Suckling says: “Depth and power, with blueberry, blackberry and currant character. Full body, racy tannins and a flavorful finish.” Amici is one our favorites also. Two thumbs up for this wine.
Kumeu River 2018 Estate Chardonnay, Kumeu, New Zealand
Wine Enthusiast says: “Exceptionally food-friendly, with upfront appeal in the form of bright citrus and pear fruit, white spice, and honey. The palate stars in the show, with texture and acidity striking a graceful balancing act, and with oak taking a back seat.”
Argyle 2017 Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley
James Suckling says: “A gently brambly nose with forest wood and leaves, cast across spiced red-cherry notes. The palate has vibrant acidity and a fresh, fleshy, and smooth-honed core of silky tannin.” Oregon’s Willamette Valley produces great Pinots, this is Argyle’s reserve one, so you can bet it will be delicious.
Stonestreet Estate 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley
From the Wine Advocate: This Cabernet “bursts from the glass with vivacious cassis, black cherry preserves, and wild blueberries with hints of chocolate box, dried mint, and black loam plus a waft of tapenade.” Alexander Valley has become a bit of a secret weapon for winemakers. Some very beautiful fruit is being grown there and consumers are just waking up to it.
Domaine de Beaurenard Rasteau 2017 Les Argiles Bleues, Cotes du Rhone
From Wine Spectator: “This wine gushes with dark plum and boysenberry compote flavors, backed by a light graphite edge and gently singed mulling spice accents on the fleshy finish.”
Cuvaison 2017 Estate Pinot Noir Napa Valley, Los Carneros
From James Suckling: “The appealing red-cherry and lemon-peel aromas, and only a whisker of toasty oak on the nose, pull you into this very attractive Pinot Noir. Many will find the crisp tannins and liveliness surprising for a Napa Valley red.”
Château du Moulin-a-Vent 2016 Moulin-a-Vent, Burgundy
Moulin-a-Vent was one of the first appellations in Burgundy, but this isn’t a Pinot Noir, as most Burgundian wines are. This is a Gamay Noir, the varietal used in a Beaujoulais. But here the grape’s expression is more layered and complex than its lighter cousins just to the south. Vinous says: “Brilliant violet color. Pungent, spice-accented red/blue fruit and floral scents are lifted by a smoky mineral nuance that gains strength with air. Offers palate-staining black raspberry, boysenberry and mocha flavors that show excellent clarity and back-end thrust. Finishes sappy, sweet and impressively long, with a repeating floral note and smooth, well-judged tannins.”
Elvio Cogno 2017 Bricco dei Merli Barbera d’Alba DOC, Italy
From Wine Spectator: “Vanilla, blackberry, plum, and earth flavors ply the dense, burly profile of this powerful red. Comes together nicely on the finish, where a floral element emerges.”
Chappellet 2017 Mountain Cuvée, Napa Valley
From Wine & Spirits magazine: “A delicious, finessed expression of place, it has blue-sky flavors of ripe berries, with a little thunder of volatility in the tannins. Give it plenty of time in the decanter, and the storms settle into an elegant, open, and airy red.”
Château de Laurets 2015 Puisseguin Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux
This Bordeaux—an 80/20 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc—is from an estate built in the 1800s, but one that has gained fresh momentum in the new millenium, when Baron Benjamin de Rothschild (yes, those Rothschilds, wine-family royalty of Chateau Lafite fame) acquired it in 2008. James Suckling calls it: “A red with pretty berry, chocolate and hazelnut character. Medium body, tight and dense fruit and polished and nicely chewy tannins. A minerally undertone.”