Lifestyle

Fifteen California Wines for Under $25


It's easy to drop three-figures on a top California pinot, but these bargain West Coast wines are almost as good—and a fraction of the price

Consumers trying to find wine values have perhaps one of the more difficult paths to success in California than in any other wine region in the world. Prices for most of the finest cabernet sauvignons, chardonnays, and pinot noirs are well north of $20 to $25, which is the break point for what I consider value vs. expensive wines. In addition, areas such as Napa and Sonoma, the Santa Cruz Mountains south of San Francisco, and even farther south, Santa Barbara, are glamour regions, and their wines fetch very high prices.

Nevertheless, California bargains still can be found, and here are some that are just too good to pass up.

87 points

2006 Beringer Chardonnay Napa

Beringer's 2006 Chardonnay Napa is a heck of a bargain. Crisp and lean, with copious amounts of lemon oil, guava, and nectarine aromas, it is a medium-weight, dry, refreshing white to enjoy over the next one to three years. $16

87 points

2006 Pavilion Winery Pinot Noir

A wonderful discovery, Pavilion appears to be making some terrific wines at incredibly low price points. It is hard to find a pinot noir equaling the quality of the 2006 from Pavilion for under $30 a bottle. Blended with 13% zinfandel from Edna Valley, the wine has briery, berry fruit, and forest floor-like characteristics that are offered in a medium-bodied, silky style to enjoy over the next one to two years. $15

87 points

2007 Round Hill Chardonnay Oak Free

The 2007 Chardonnay Oak Free, a tank-fermented and -aged offering, displays crisp orange and lemon blossom characteristics, medium body, good fruit and purity, and surprising character. It is remarkably low-priced for a wine this good. Drink it over the next 12 months. $11

88 points

2006 Beckmen Vineyards Cuvée Le Bec

An excellent source of high-quality as well as value-priced Rhône Rangers, Beckmen produces one of the wine world's finest bargains, the Cuvée Le Bec, a blend of Rhône varietals. The 2006 consists of 50% grenache, 28% syrah, and the rest mourvèdre and counoise. It is medium-bodied and soft with plenty of pepper, sweet cherry, herb, and spice characteristics. An ideal bistro red, it is a delicious, personality-filled, bargain-priced effort to enjoy over the next one to two years. $18

88 points

2007 Grayson Cellars Chardonnay

The 9,000-case cuvée of 2007 Chardonnay from Grayson Cellars exhibits elegant pear and lemon blossom characteristics, medium body, good acidity, a hint of wood, and an attractive finish. Drink it over the next several years. $10

88 points

2005 Summers Cabernet Sauvignon Andriana's Cuvee

Finding a good 100% Napa cabernet sauvignon for under $50 a bottle is no easy task. Finding an excellent one is almost impossible. But that is exactly what the elegant, tasty, black currant, cedar, licorice, and spice box-scented 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Adrianna's Cuvée delivers. Classic cabernet aromas are followed by a medium- to full-bodied wine with loads of fruit, soft tannin, and a long finish. It should drink well for five to eight years. $22

89 points

2006 Cartlidge & Browne Sauvignon Blanc Dancing Crow

One of the premium purveyors of value-priced California wines (believe me, there are not many that offer high quality at low prices), Cartlidge & Browne continues to provide rewarding and surprisingly tasty drinking. Their brilliant 2006 Sauvignon Blanc Dancing Crow is a medium-bodied white loaded with melony fruit notes, crisp acidity, freshness, and a true sauvignon character. Drink it over the next year. $12

89 points

2006 Château St. Jean Fumé Blanc (Sonoma)

Readers looking for fabulous values in dry, aromatic, crisp, fruit-dominated whites with personality and soul should check out the wines from Château St. Jean. A killer value, the 2006 Fumé Blanc exhibits beautiful melony, honeysuckle, and orange-zest aromas offered in a crisp, dry, light- to medium-bodied, tasty personality. Enjoy it over the next 12 to 18 months. $13

89 points

2007 Gallo Family Vineyards Pinot Gris Sonoma Reserve

One of the better pinot gris wines I have tasted from California, this exhibits fresh citrus, a hint of apple skin, medium body, light, dry flavors, and surprising intensity for a relatively lighter style of wine. The fruit is pure, and the wine impeccably made. Drink it over the next year. $17

89 points

2006 Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay

There are some terrific values in this portfolio, none better than the 2006 Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay. It is certainly one of the best chardonnays for the money. This wine, which all comes from coastal vineyards owned by Jackson, is 90% barrel-fermented and put through 100% malolactic fermentation—which is remarkable given the quantity of wine made. The wine is also consistent unless it is beaten up in the distribution chain or by retailers with questionable storage. Crisp orange marmalade and lemon oil notes as well as some tropical fruits and zesty acidity in a fresh, lively style always characterize this wine, which seems to show very little evidence of oak. It's a remarkable value. $15

89 points

2007 Wyatt Pinot Noir

It is virtually impossible to find a high-quality pinot noir that actually tastes like pinot noir for under $25, but wholesaler/importer Polaner Selections in New York accessed a blend of fruit mostly from Carneros with the rest from the Sonoma Coast, Russian River, Sonoma County, Mendocino, and even the Central Coast. This wine is a real winner, tasting like a delicious Côte de Beaune. Earthy, ripe currant, strawberry, and spicy notes jump from the glass of this pinot with a fragrant, sensual style. Medium-bodied, with decent acidity, ripe tannin, and a plush mouthfeel, this is a rather remarkable wine value for a pinot noir, which is always a fickle grape as well as expensive to produce. Drink it over the next two to three years and buy it by the case. $18

90 points

2007 Foxglove Chardonnay

Perhaps the great value in chardonnay in the marketplace today, this wine—made by the highly talented folks at Varner Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains—comes from fruit accessed in Edna Valley. With malolactic fermentation blocked but with lees stirring, this 25,000-case cuvée provides terrific notes of tropical fruit and poached pear in a fleshy, medium-bodied style with obvious minerality and precision. This is a remarkable effort that is fresh, lively, and best drunk over the next one to two years. $16

90 points

2006 Wyatt Cabernet Sauvignon

This super bargain wine from Polaner Selections shows impeccable attention to detail and a thorough knowledge of some admirable fruit sources. The 2006 cabernet sauvignon is a blend of 81% cabernet and 19% merlot. It is a knockout wine, deep ruby with some purple nuances, offering up loads of sweet fruit, medium body, velvety tannins, and a heady finish. This beauty should drink well for five to seven years. $13

91 points

2005 Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas

Tablas Creek's Côtes du Rhône effort is the exceptional 2005 Côtes de Tablas, a blend of 43% grenache, 24% mourvèdre, 18% syrah, and 15% counoise. There are 3,900 cases of this delicious, deep ruby/purple-hued offering. Aromas of smoke, roasted herbs, meat juices, black currants, and cherries are followed by a medium- to full-bodied wine displaying beautiful purity, fruit, and depth. Drink it over the next five to six years. $22

91 points

2006 Windsor Sonoma Vineyards Chardonnay Russian River

The 2006 Chardonnay from Windsor Sonoma Vineyards is classic Californian in its display of assorted tropical fruits, full-bodied opulence, superb purity, good acidity, and long finish. Drink it over the next one to two years. $20


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