Great wine doesn’t have to be expensive. Recommending affordable wines has always been part of our coverage at Wine Spectator. In each issue, we highlight wines from our recent tastings that are easy on the wallet, and our tasting reports regularly feature examples that offer bang for the buck.
It’s typically the most expensive, top-scoring bottles that hold our attention, yet bargains lead us to regions and grapes that may be new or unfamiliar, offering high quality at prices that allow for easy exploration. There are few things more exciting in the world of wine than finding an outstanding version that’s accessible at any budget.
To create this new annual feature celebrating those wines that overdeliver on quality for the price, we’ve selected our Top 10 Values of 2021, capped by our choice for Wine Value of the Year. All of the wines on this list rated 90 points or higher on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale, cost $40 or less and are made in large-enough quantities to be widely available. To make these selections, we also kept in mind the diversity of the global wine scene, looking for wines with solid track records that are good representatives of their regions. We hope you’ll find your new go-to among these options, or at least have some fun discovering new flavors.
Below our editors profile the 2 through 10 picks. Read more about the Wine Value of the Year, Allan Scott Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2021, watch our Instagram Live with winemaker Josh Scott or read the chat summary.
2. CASTELLO BANFI
Chianti Classico 2019
91 points | $17 | Italy
Iconic Montalcino producer Castello Banfi leases 42 acres in the Chianti Classico commune of Castellina in Chianti for its Fonte alla Selva label. The estate also has long-term contracts to purchase wines from three to four producers for this Chianti Classico. A selection is made between the lots for the Chianti Classico and the riserva before blending, aging and bottling in Banfi’s cellars in Montalcino. The wine is aged for a total of 12 months, seven to eight in stainless-steel tanks before racking into 6,000- to 9,000-liter oak casks. Banfi has permission to age and bottle its Chianti Classico outside the zone because former winemaker Ezio Rivella grew grapes in Chianti Classico beginning in the early 1980s. The 2019 vintage in Chianti Classico was excellent, with a very long and balanced growing season that resulted in intense wines. 40,000 cases made, 23,000 cases imported.—Bruce Sanderson
Pinot Noir Monterey-Sonoma-Santa Barbara Counties Winemaker’s Selection 2018
91 points | $25 | California
Having already made its name with sparkling wines, Sonoma County–based J Vineyards & Winery released its first still wine, a Pinot Noir, in 1994. Following its purchase by E. & J. Gallo in 2015, J has been on the march with Pinot, launching its first venture outside of Sonoma that same year, to make this multicounty blend. Grapes for the wine come from both Gallo-owned vineyards and purchased sources, combining 40% fruit from Monterey, primarily from Gallo’s Olsen Ranch in the prime Santa Lucia Highlands appellation; 37% mostly from Sonoma’s Russian River Valley; and 23% from Santa Barbara, tapping the Santa Maria Valley. This is a fine balancing act because Pinot Noir is so terroir-driven, yet winemaker Nicole Hitchcock deftly knits the characteristics of the three regions: the dark fruit flavors of Monterey, the vibrant red fruit components of Sonoma and the savory spiciness of Santa Barbara. 65,000 cases made.—Kim Marcus
4. BODEGA NUMANTHIA
Tinta de Toro Toro Termes 2017
91 points | $24 | Spain
The Numanthia estate, located northwest of Madrid in the Toro appellation, encompasses nearly 500 acres of vineyards spread among 200 parcels, with low-yielding old vines ranging from 50 years of age and up. Founded by the Eguren family of Rioja in 1998, the winery helped to put the Toro region on the map in the 2000s, promoting a suave, more modern take on the area’s formerly rustic reds. The quality of Numanthia’s three bottlings, including the more affordable Termes label, haven’t missed a beat since a change of ownership in 2008, when the estate was sold to luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Of the 15 vintages of Termes reviewed by Wine Spectator, 13 have rated 90 points or higher. This is a go-to version of Tinta de Toro (the local version of Tempranillo) for any lover of Spanish wine. 12,500 cases made, 10,000 cases imported.—Alison Napjus
Zinfandel Sonoma County Sonoma 2019
92 points | $26 | California
The history of Seghesio dates back more than a century. The winery planted its first vineyard in Sonoma County in 1895 and endured both Prohibition and the Great Depression, staking its reputation on good value reds. The brand went upscale in the mid-1990s, transforming itself from a jug-wine factory into an elite Zinfandel specialist. The Seghesio family sold the winery in 2011, yet quality remains stellar. This bottling is not only a bargain, but also a tribute to old-school Zin-based field blends, with winemaker Andy Robinson culling from vineyards in Sonoma, Russian River, Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley, including juice that didn’t make it into single-vineyard wines like Home Ranch and Montafi. About 12% of the blend is Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet and other reds. Robinson aged the wine for 10 months in a mix of mostly neutral American and French oak. 100,685 cases made.—Tim Fish
6. ALOIS LAGEDER
Pinot Grigio Vigneti delle Dolomiti Terra Alpina 2019
90 points | $16 | Italy
A leader in northern Italy’s Alto Adige region, the Alois Lageder winery was an early proponent of biodynamic farming and an explorer of the area’s local terroirs and grape varieties. With the Terra Alpina project, the brainchild of sixth-generation siblings Helena and Clemens Lageder, the wines dial in on two of the family’s passions: terroir and sustainable viticulture. But rather than focusing on the Lageders’ own vineyards in Alto Adige, Terra Alpina connects grapegrowers from throughout the larger Dolomite region, located in sites with similar character to theirs. The Lageder family not only helps and encourages these vineyard partners to convert to organic farming, but ultimately brings together the group’s efforts into two bright and well-priced bottlings—this Pinot Grigio along with a Pinot Bianco—that highlight the lively character of Alpine winemaking. 19,000 cases imported.—A.N.
7. DRY CREEK
Fumé Blanc Sonoma County 2020
92 points | $16 | California
Dry Creek Vineyard founder David Stare insisted on planting Sauvignon Blanc when he founded his Sonoma winery in 1972. He wasn’t following any trends, but doing his best to imitate his favorite white wines, which came from France’s Loire Valley. Now with his daughter Kim Stare Wallace in charge, the family has maintained its commitment to this bottling. It will always be called Fumé Blanc (even though other wineries have long since abandoned the term); it will always be bone-dry, showing flavors of citrus along with herb and grass notes; and it will always be fermented in stainless steel, without any oak influence. Stare Wallace has been putting more focus and energy on the Sauvignon Blanc program of late, and the results have been impressive. “Dad lucked out that he planted what he liked to drink,” Stare Wallace says, and Sauvignon Blanc lovers have lucked out that Dry Creek continues to produce this outstanding wine. 29,000 cases made.—MaryAnn Worobiec
8. STAG’S LEAP WINE CELLARS
Chardonnay Napa Valley Karia 2019
91 points | $34 | California
Many leading producers of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon also make Chardonnay, and one of the best of the pack comes from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. Winemaker Marcus Notaro blends fruit from vineyards in southern Napa Valley to make this voluptuously juicy-tasting version that stays fresh with rich acidity. It’s been his goal over the past few years with Karia (the ancient Greek word for “graceful”) to align the winemaking more tightly to the vineyard. From Oak Knoll and Atlas Peak, where he thinks the Chardonnay fruit is richer, Notaro taps more new wood for barrel-fermenting and aging. With fruit from the cooler Coombsville and Carneros appellations, he doesn’t use malolactic fermentation, thus preserving the natural acidity that malo softens. Notaro also relies on more native yeast for the fermentations to add complexity. He then balances the lots together, accentuating the best characteristics of each in the final blend. 26,400 cases made.—K.M.
9. FREI BROTHERS
Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Sonoma Reserve 2018
90 points | $27 | California
Located just north of the town of Healdsburg, Sonoma’s Alexander Valley has long been the source of some of the best deals in California Cabernet Sauvignon. The region’s hillsides along the Mayacamas mountain range are particularly desirable for vineyards, with additional sun exposure to complement the area’s warm days and cool nights. The Frei name has long been associated with quality Sonoma wines, with the family first establishing vineyards here in 1890, selling grapes to local vintners. When the second generation of Freis retired in the 1970s, the Gallo family purchased Frei Ranch and took over the label, keeping the brand focused on affordable Sonoma wines that overdeliver on quality. The grapes for this bottling were destemmed but not fully crushed to leave whole berries for fermentation, with skin contact for eight to 10 days to extract color and flavor. A small amount of Petite Sirah and Merlot were added in for complexity. 40,000 cases made.—M.W.
Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley Katherine’s Vineyard 2019
91 points | $22 | California
This is the one of the best and most consistent Golden State Chardonnays for the price these days, from a winery owned by the Jackson family, of Kendall-Jackson fame. Made in a plush, creamy and well-spiced style, this bottling is sourced from a large single-vineyard site in northern Santa Barbara County that is rich with ancient marine sediments and dominated by vines first planted in the 1970s. Despite its southerly location, the Santa Maria Valley is kept cool by its close proximity to the Pacific, whose summer fogs and breezes help provide a backbone of acidity to the area’s wines. The grapes for the Katherine’s Vineyard were whole-cluster pressed, and winemaker Jill Russell barrel-fermented 75% of the wine, with the rest in stainless steel. It was aged for nine months, with 20% new French oak barrels in the mix. 52,000 cases made.—K.M.