A fellow beverage writer and consultant, Justin Koury of Bevfluence, put out the challenge of finding and tasting at least 5-6 wines that sell for under $13.00. This sounded like fun. So, we were definitely up for this challenge. Several other blogger friends also accepted the challenge. I was looking forward to what we each found. Each of us was assigned a different retailer that are regional or national chains. Additionally, I added a requirement to not buy national grocery store brands like Barefoot, Cupcake, Apothic, and others.
Bottles, Mount Pleasant, is a 15,000 square foot “beverage superstore.” There are two other locations include one in Summerville, SC, and one in Columbia, SC. While I have purchased wine at Bottles, Mt. Pleasant before, this is not my “go-to” retailer because I prefer the smaller independent retailers with a strong POV. That said, it definitely has a place in the shopping rotation because they carry several wines that we have had and enjoy but do not wish to “special order” as those typically case quantities.
The Basis for Selection for Wines
We used the same Euro-centric rationale for this challenge as I use when looking for wine at Trader Joe’s. I focus my search on wines primarily from France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. And then within those countries look for lesser-known varieties.
Why this theory? First, wine has been made in these countries for thousands of years and by the same families for hundreds of years. As a general rule, We posit that these families carry on with a sense of honor and tradition that wine is a fermentation process, not a chemical experiment. Even when that includes making 150,000 cases, and even if the selling price is under $13.00.
Secondly, we live in South Carolina. With wine distribution regulations being what they are, it is cheaper to import wine from Europe than from California and other western US winemaking states. Finding a small, family-run winery from any region in California, Oregon, or Washington interested in distribution will not ship a low-end, budget wine across the country. It just does not make financial sense.
Lastly, do not be afraid to ask for help from the staff at your store. I had selected five of the six wines I needed and was hoping for one more red wine so it would be balanced at three and three. Thus, we told the staff person the following criteria: Red, well made, not from USA, interesting, unique characteristics, unknown variety, etc. Also, It should stand out for its QPR (Quality to Price Ratio).
Under $13.00, The Challenge Selection
We have selected three reds and three whites. One red wine and one white wine each from France and Spain, a red wine from Italy, and a white wine from Portugal.
2018 Mont Gravet ‘Old Vine’ Carignan, IGP Pays D’ Hérault,
750ml, ABV 12.5%
Mont Gravet hails from the Hérault department within the Languedoc-Roussillon region of Southern France. Thus it is labeled as Pays d’Hérault, a designation for wines made from fruit with fewer regulations than AOC/AOP designated wines. Carignan is one of the two red varietal favorites for the area.
We had high hopes for this wine as we have enjoyed their white wine made from the Colombard grape.
The color is a bright ruby red. The nose is deceivingly fruity with bold black fruit notes including blueberry and blackberry – perhaps overly so. We appreciated that those bold and intense aromas did not maintain their boldness on the palate. Where there is a shift to milder red fruit flavors like raspberry and tart cranberry along with some baking spice. Acidity levels are middle of the road, also enhanced by the tart flavors. Tannins are hardly detectable, making for a very smooth, soft sip.
I would pour this wine for new red wine drinkers. I would also enjoy this wine with a chill on it during the summer.
This is an easy and simple drinker. Folks who enjoy light-bodied Pinot Noir, Grenache, or Sangiovese might like this wine.
Mont Gravet selects lesser-known varietal wines sourced from top vineyards in both Gascony and the Languedoc region of South West France. They are part of the Master Wine company portfolio of wines.
2019 Atance Bobal, Valencia DOP, Spain,
100% Bobal 100% Organic
750ml, ABV 14.1%
I was thrilled to stumble upon this wine as I pursued the small Spanish wine section. Not only did it fit all of the criteria, but it is also a variety that I had yet to experience. And I am so glad we did.
Bobal is native to the Utiel-Requena region in Valencia, Spain. Eighty percent of the grapes grown in this region are Bobal. For centuries it has been used to make inexpensive table wines, but some producers are stepping out and making delicious single variety wine. In this case, the vineyards are organically grown. The fruit is hand-picked from bush vines in Requena, specifically the Casa Segura estate vineyards with well-drained, sandy soils.
The 2019 Atance Bobal is 100% organic Bobal fruit.
The color is medium ruby with purple highlights. The body is medium with an enticing mouthfeel. The texture is smooth with satiny, easy tannins.
The nose is full of spice and a mixed bag of red fruit, most noticeably the cherry notes. The palate is much more defined with rich, spicy black cherry fruit and a hint of cocoa. The mid-palate offers additional herbs and spicy green peppercorns. I am usually not a fan of peppercorns in my wine, but it works in this wine, and I want more.
The finish is juicy and mouthwatering. I will definitely buy this wine again. This “under $13” is a great value with a high QPR.
2019 Vina Galana Verdejo, Chinchilla de Montearagón, Albacete, Spain,
750 ml, ABV12.5%
Verdejo is a variety of white wine grape that has long been grown in Spain’s Rueda region. While originally from North Africa, this variety is now almost exclusively grown in Spain.
Conventional wisdom says this wine is most similar to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. It should be light, herbaceous with high acidity. This is not at all what we experienced with this bottle, and I could not be more pleased. In a blind tasting, this wine would mess with people’s minds and totally trip them up.
There is a lot of medium in this “light” white wine. The color is medium gold. The body is medium, as is the acidity.
There was nothing medium about the nose. It is intense and full of honey and overly ripe Red Delicious apple. Honey is the most intense.
The palate was much lighter than the nose or any other feature of this wine. Even so, the palate was more bitter tropical fruit than what we expected, including notes of star fruit and unripe pineapple and green papaya. Bitterness did mellow, but the flavors lingered. Check out more info about Vina Galana.
Side Note: What Does Non-Vintage Mean?
Non-vintage wine is made by blending wine from previous vintages to the current vintage to achieve a consistent style/profile. This is a common practice when making non-vintage champagne and sparkling wine. But it is also done to create a budget wine with a consistent house style year after year. The following two wines below are non-vintage.
Trevini Sangiovese, NV, Rubicone IGT, Trevini, Italy,
750 ml, ABV12.5%
This wine was a real surprise and was picked out by the wine manager at Bottles. We needed one more red, and I asked him to choose. He immediately grabbed this $7.99 bottle and said, “Do not let the low price scare you.” So we didn’t. And what a surprise.
This wine reminds me of any traditional red table wine one might find in an everyday restaurant in Italy. It is simple in structure and flavor but does so with enough balance and interest to be a crowd-pleaser for the masses. I will keep this wine on hand for those that think of wine as a simple beverage to eat with pizza or pasta.
The nose is at first a bit dusty as well as tart. Rhubarb comes to mind. With a few more swirls comes candied cherry and a distant herbal back note. Then comes a hint of earthiness.
The mouthfeel is smooth and easy. The body is middle of the road. And the palate flavors are classic Sangiovese with cherry, fresh-picked thyme, and oregano. It is fruitful but not jammy with modest tannins. The herbs and the earthiness offer a bit of old school style. The acidity is cleansing, and the finish hangs on as long as you wish.
This is a great example of how using juice from previous vintages can make classically consistent table wine.
At $7.99 (that is $5.00 under $13.00 ) giving this wine an outstanding QPR. I suggest you grab this bottle for your next pasta night with your extended family.
Broadbent Vinho Verde Sunflower, NV, Portugal
50% Loureiro, 40% Trajadura, & 10% Pedernã
750 ml, ABV 9%
Vinho Verde is traditionally non-vintage and consumed quickly, so the wine on the shelf will always be a fresh bottling. The way to make a proper Vinho Verde is to suppress the malolactic fermentation and inject carbon dioxide at bottling to give the wine its characteristic spritz. There are six different white varieties used in Vinho Verde. This bottling includes just three of the six possible. 50% Loureiro, 40% Trajadura, & 10% Pedernã (aka Arinto)
I think of white Vinho Verde as the perfect porch pounder during the summer months. It is crisp, clean, very low alcohol, and with a spritz that reminds me of wine coolers of days gone by.
The aromas of this wine include grapefruit, lemon, and tart green apple.
Floral notes, more apple, and lemon/lime follow to the palate. This is a super easy, chuggable wine, so be careful because it goes down easy. Simplistically, it reminded our friend, Craig, who also samples this bottle of hard cider.
I look forward to this summer as I eat ceviche and drink ice cold Vinho Verde.
Under $13 – The Sixth Wine
The sixth wine I purchased expressed significant faults that did meet the quality standards we set for publication. It was a white blend from the Côte du Rhône in France. Frankly, I was surprised to find a white Rhône blend for under $13.00. Finding it only created high hopes for me because white Rhône blends of which I am familiar start in the $30s and continues upward. I may try another bottle at a later date. Keeping my dream alive.
And So Filling in for Number Six…
Moulin de Gassac Guilheim Rosé 2019,
40% Grenache, 40% Cinsault, 20% Carignan.
IGP Pays d’Hérault, Languedoc, France
750 ML, ABV13%
Retail $10.99 – $12.99
Because the sixth wine I purchased did not make it on this list, I offer this wine that we drink season after season. It is always excellent.
It was not part of the “challenge” purchase, but it fits the criteria, and it is our “go-to” $10.99 rosé. Some days we start with this wine, and somedays this wine becomes our second (or third) bottle when the first is more expensive.
The color is pale to mid pink with salmon highlights. The nose is both floral and citrus. The palate expresses mineral notes, red currants, and tart raspberry. The finish is long and mouthwatering. Overall, this wine has great balance and a freshness that is required for a Languedoc rosé.
This wine is sold at several local wine stores and sells at three different prices (all of which meet the under $13.00 price threshold). If I had purchased this wine at Bottles, it would have been $10.99. I have also purchased it at two other retailers for both $11.99 and $12.99.
You can also read more about this wine in this previous post.