20 Wines Under $20: For When the Weather Is Sultry

Posted on Posted in Cava Recaredo, Villa Sant’Anna, Wine Press
The needs are different when it’s hot and sticky: Lighter-bodied wines, more whites and rosés than reds, refreshment rather than solidity.
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

By Eric Asimov
Aug. 19, 2021

Few things influence the choice of wine as much as the weather.

Food is one, of course, if you think of wine primarily as an accompaniment to meals, as I do. But what you choose to eat often depends on what’s happening atmospherically, barometrically and meteorologically — that is, the weather partly determines what sort of thing you want to eat, and therefore indirectly what you drink.

It’s not as simple as whites in the summer and reds in the winter, although the balance ultimately tilts in that direction. Many people are still eating foods that call for reds in the summer, but fewer, and eating a greater variety of fresh vegetables and other lighter dishes that will go better with whites and rosés.

More important than the color of the wine is its weight. Regardless of red or white, I’m looking for lighter-bodied wines, just as the heavier stews and casseroles have been set aside for now in favor of lighter preparations. Wine is food, too.

That is why, when I went wine shopping in New York for a late-summer edition of 20 under $20, I ended up with 14 whites and rosés, and just six reds. That felt seasonally proportional, at least for me.

The bottles I found came from nine countries. I could have added more, as I also tried delicious wines from Armenia, Cyprus, Croatia, Austria, Argentina and Australia. I didn’t include those bottles because they seemed to be available only in New York City, but I mention them as an indication of how the wealth of wonderful wine options continues to expand.

Not that all the wines I am recommending will be available everywhere. Most of these wines are produced in small quantities, and because of the fragmented nature of America’s distribution system for alcoholic beverages, some will be available in some parts of the country, and others elsewhere.

Regardless of whether you can find these particular bottles, you will give yourself the best chance of finding equally satisfying wines if you do two things:

First, you need to find the best wine shop in your area. It may be less convenient than a trip to the supermarket. But you will be rewarded by a far better selection of bottles, chosen by people who care about wine, rather than shelves stocked largely with processed wines and other mass-market products.

Second, as I have argued for many years, the best values in wine are in the range of $15 to $25. You can certainly find good wines for under $15, but they are far fewer, and often less inspirational, though certainly enjoyable.

Many people have taken issue with me, asserting that they are perfectly happy with the wines they buy for less than $10, even less than $5. To which I say, that’s great. If you are happy, that’s all that matters. But we have the same kind of choice we do when shopping for food: spending less for industrially raised meats and chemically farmed produce, or paying a little more for ingredients that were grown or raised conscientiously, and with more flavor and texture.

These are individual choices, often a matter of priorities and budgets. I choose to spend a little more if it gives me a better chance of drinking wine that expresses a place and a culture, made from grapes farmed in a sustainable manner by people who are treated well. Spending $20 won’t guarantee a bottle that meets those goals. But spending $5 pretty well assures bottles that will not.

Many of these 20 bottles are new to me. A few are old friends that I’ve written about before but that still fit into that $15-to-$20 range. Here they are in no particular order, along with the price I paid for them.

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Celler Credo Penedès Miranius 2019 $18.99

Speaking of xarello, Recaredo, in addition to being one of the top cava producers in Catalonia, dedicated to conscientious, biodynamic farming and meticulous production, is also an ardent proponent of xarello, perhaps the key component of the best cavas. Under the Celler Credo label, Recaredo makes a series of still wines that show off the subtle qualities of the xarello grape. Miranius is the entry-level bottle. It’s brisk and fresh, yet richly textured, with dry, stony, lightly honeyed flavors, and it’s just 11.5 percent alcohol. “Even we don’t know the limits of this grape,” Ton Mata, whose family owns Recaredo, told me in 2014. (Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York)

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Villa Sant’Anna Chianti Colli Senesi 2017 $18.96

I’ve been focused on Chianti Classico the last few years, and it’s easy sometimes to forget that the Classico zone is just part of the greater Chianti region. The wines from outside Classico vary widely, but sometimes you find a gem, like this bottle from Chianti Colli Senesi, south of Classico between the towns of Siena and Montepulciano. It has typical cherry flavors, with bright acidity. Wines like this need food, whether red meat or pasta with tomato sauce. Villa Sant’Anna is part of a larger farming operation run by Simona Ruggeri Fabroni and two daughters. (Rosenthal Wine Merchant)

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