Eric Asimov, writing for The New York Times, argues that a wine bottle that comes in at $20 hits the “sweet spot”:
I want wine that excites me, that feels so good to drink that one sip urges on the next and the next after that. I want a wine that tells a story of a place and a people and a culture, that is not the predictable equivalent of a franchise restaurant but more like a little mom-and-pop’s, where you’re not always sure what you’ll find but you know it can have the capacity to inspire.
You might be able to find a bottle like that for $10. But it’s rarer than you think. At $15 to $25, though, the odds swing decidedly in your favor. With a little experience, you can find dozens of joyous bottles, plucked carefully from the ranks of the routine.
To that end, he lists twenty bottles of wine that cost $20 (in Manhattan, so you may be able to find it cheaper in your area):
François Pinon Vouvray Brut NV
A richer sparkling wine that is nonetheless dry, snappy, pure and precise with an undertone of honey, the gorgeous signature of the chenin blanc grape. François Pinon, one of my favorite Vouvray producers, has a knack for coaxing the perfect combination of voluptuous body and laserlike focus from chenin blanc.
Domaine de l’Octavin Arbois The Péteux NV
This frothy sparkling chardonnay from the Jura is exuberant and floral yet dry, steely and absolutely delicious, perfect for a lunch outdoors. Octavin is a small, rather new estate started by a young couple, Alice Bouvot and Charles Dagand. They are devoted to natural winemaking, and the Péteux is a pétillant naturel. Rather than bottling finished wine with yeast and sugar in the manner of Champagne, which induces a second fermentation to produce bubbles, a pétillant naturel is bottled before the first fermentation is complete, producing a softer fizz.
La Clarine Farm Sierra Foothills Rosé 2011
This is not one of those onion-skin-colored rosés from Provence, which epitomize the Mediterranean style. It’s darker, a pale ruby blend of syrah and mourvèdre grown in the Sierra Foothills, most often the source of bold, powerful zinfandels. This wine is a lesson in balance and elegance, dry and mineral, light enough for an aperitif yet substantial enough to drink throughout a meal.
Dönnhoff Nahe Estate Riesling 2011
Dönnhoff is one of the great riesling producers. The estate riesling is a blend of grapes from several different sites and offers more than initially meets the eye. Poured directly from a chilled bottle, it seems gently pleasant and lightly sweet at first. But as the wine warms up, its elegant nature becomes apparent, and a richness and rocky minerality emerge.
See the entire list here.
Any oenophiles among the readers here? What do you think of that $20 wine list?