20 Under $20: Beckoning Bottles in the Dead of Winter

Posted on Posted in Domaine Faillenc Sainte Marie, Petit Thouars, Wine Press

These 20 wines are not from the most famous regions. But they are great values and, most important, delicious.

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

By Eric Asimov
Jan. 13, 2022

It’s a bleak, cold January day, and as I look out the window at a solitary, huddled figure waiting for a city bus, I want nothing more than the hot split pea soup simmering on my stove and a good bottle of wine to go with it.

“Good” is the operative word. As the Australian wine impresario Len Evans put it eloquently in what he called his “Theory of Capacity,” life is too short to waste it on inferior bottles. That is true no matter the price.

While good, distinctive wines can be found at every price, the odds of finding great values in everyday wines are most in your favor if you commit to spending $15 to $25 a bottle.

Fascinating bottles abound, and if you find one not to your taste, perhaps it can be chalked up to experience.

Recently I went on a digital shopping spree at New York wine shops, looking for great values under $20. These 20 bottles are not from the most heralded appellations, and some are made with wholly obscure grapes. The best values come from discoveries rather than from pursuing the tried-and-true.

Given the fragmented nature of American wine distribution, you will not find these 20 bottles in any single store, and probably not in any other city. But you should be able to find some of them and plenty of substitutes for those you can’t find.

Consult past 20 Under $20 columns, or ask for advice at the best wine shop near you. Good merchants can rise to the challenge of offering a good Bourgueil other than the one I suggest, or another sub-$20 California cabernet. If there’s a bottle you’ve got your heart set on and it’s gone, well, another vintage will be coming up.

This column includes the alcohol content. It can be useful, giving clues about the style of the wine, whether it may contain residual sugar, taste ripe and fruity or fall more on the austere side.

Some people, including me, consider the amount of alcohol in deciding which wine to open. A bottle at 15 percent contains 20 percent more alcohol than a bottle at 12.5 percent. As someone who likes to drink without governing sips, that’s important. And, as someone who has long advocated ingredients and processes labeling for wine, it only seemed right to offer available facts.

This list is slightly weighted toward reds, but over time I’ve found myself drinking more whites, regardless of the season, simply because of what I cook. Whoever said the first duty of a wine was to be red didn’t know what he was talking about.

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Château du Petit Thouars Chinon Les Georges 2019, 13.5 percent, $16.99

Loire reds are perennially among the best values in wine, even as other reliable bottles, like cru Beaujolais, creep up in price. This Chinon is a little more structured than the Bourgueil, with discernible chalky tannins. Yet it’s immensely likable, with earthy aromas and flavors of flowers, herbs and red fruits. (Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York)

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Domaine Faillenc Sainte Marie Corbières 2019, 14 percent, $16

Some of my favorite wines from the Languedoc region of southern France have a sort of wild, rustic quality that contrasts with the often overly polished nature of many modern wines. This Corbières is a good example of what I mean. It’s made of equal parts syrah, grenache and cinsault, a typical regional combination, and it’s lively, fruity and floral, with clear herbal notes and just enough tannins to offer a friendly bite. Perfect for a beef stew or a hearty soup. (Rosenthal Wine Merchant)

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