The wine was amazing, and its quality did not suffer with exposure to light after pouring, though maybe my bottle didn’t last long enough to deteriorate. At 100 euros (about $120) a bottle, available from the winery, I’m not likely to experience it again.
But I’d welcome to my dinner table any of the 12 wines featured here, in our fourth annual showcase of the year’s greatest values under $20. These are the dozen wines from the 260 I recommended in this column with the most excitement and bang for the buck. Ethereal and precious wines are wonderful, but those that bring a broader smile to our faces on a daily or weekly basis are just as important — maybe more so.
Just more than half of my recommendations this year earned the great value tag, the designation I give wines that perform above their price. They ranged from $5 to $45 for 750-milliliters. Italy surged into the lead this year with 35 great values, surpassing last year’s leader, France, with 23. That could be a reflection of the Trump administration’s tariffs on French wine affecting the market. The United States was a close third, with 22 great values. That should put an end to any argument that the United States does not make value wines.
Choosing 12 to feature here is not easy. I look for a variety of styles, grapes and regions to reflect the diversity of the market and the hard work done by winemakers, importers and retailers, especially in this most challenging year. Mostly, I chose wines that excited, surprised and delighted me. Many more could have made this list. I reluctantly crossed some off, including the Santa Julia El Burro Natural Malbec 2019 and the Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda Clasica 2019 (my top greatest value two vintages ago) from Argentina, and the Dom. Brunet Pinot Noir from southern France I recommended this month. Once chosen, I determined the rankings using a simple formula that combines price with my quality rating. So you will see a 2.5-star wine ranked above a 3-star bottle if its price is lower.
The exciting story this year: My top-ranked greatest value comes in a box. For years, I’ve looked for delicious wines in the boxed format, which is environmentally friendly as well as inexpensive. The Domaine Bousquet Natural Origins Malbec from Argentina’s Uco Valley fit the bill. Malbec can provide terrific value at both ends of the price spectrum, but its popularity means cheap versions are often unexceptional. Domaine Bousquet produces several delicious wines, and not only is Natural Origins delicious, but it’s organic. At $20 for a three-liter box — the equivalent of $5 a bottle — it’s this year’s greatest value.
There are other boxed wines I recommended this year that could also have made this list, including one from Romania called I Am Pinot Grigio and the Nik Weis Mosel Urban Riesling 2019, available in bottle for $13 or box for $35 (equivalent to $8.75 a bottle). Let’s hope we continue to find more delicious wine in boxes — as well as even more environmentally friendly cans.
As always with a year-end list, some of these wines have moved to the next vintage. Use these recommendations as a guide to look for other wines from these producers. Where possible, I have updated the store lists to reflect the distributors’ assessment of current availability.
12. Craftwork Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir 2019
Monterey County, Calif., $16
Craftwork Estate Vineyards is a label of Scheid Family Wines, a large Monterey County producer that also introduced a low-alcohol line this year called Sunny With a Chance of Flowers. This is an elegant wine with flavors of strawberries and plums, accented with spicy notes of clove and nutmeg. Since my review of the 2016 was published in May, the distributor has moved on to the 2019 vintage. Alcohol by volume: 13.5 percent.
Distributed by Artisans & Vines: Available in the District at Capitol Hill Supermarket; Chat’s Liquors, City Corner Mart, Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, Dupont Market, Each Peach Market, La Famosa, Magruder’s, Mimi’s Convenience Mart, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Beer, Wine & Co., Bradley Food & Beverage and Capital Beer & Wine in Bethesda; Bethesda Co-Op in Cabin John; Crescent Wine & Spirits and Rip’s Country Inn in Bowie; Decanter Fine Wines and Iron Bridge Wine Co. in Columbia; Dawson’s Market, Gilly’s Craft Beer & Fine Wine, Grosvenor Market and Monterey Mart & Cafe in Rockville; Dorsey’s Search Wine & Spirits and Wine Bin in Ellicott City; Eastern Discount Liquors, Wine Source and Wine Works in Baltimore; Elkridge Furnace Inn in Elkridge; Fat Boys Crab House in Crofton; Fenwick Beer & Wine, Locavino, Parkway Deli & Restaurant, Silver Branch Brewing Co., Snider’s Super Foods and Woodmoor Supermarket in Silver Spring; Franklins Restaurant, Brewery and General Store in Hyattsville; Greenbelt Co-Op in Greenbelt; Knowles Station Wine & Co. in Kensington; the Market at River Falls in Potomac; Town Center Market in Riverdale Park; Village Pump Liquors in College Park.
11. Rough Day Unoaked Chardonnay 2019
Thracian Valley, Bulgaria, $12
This certainly seems like a wine made for guzzling during a pandemic. Mouth-filling and brimming with green apples and Asian pear, each sip ends in a soft, clean and slyly sweet finish that leaves you ready for more. More of what? Anything that brightens your rough day, such as almonds, a slightly funky brie or another glass of wine. The importer has launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #roughdayathome to try to spread some of the comic relief that was behind the label idea. There is also a nice Rough Day cabernet sauvignon, but it’s this chardonnay that is the standout of the line. ABV: 13 percent.
Imported by G&B, distributed by Global Wines Maryland: Available in the District at Cordial Craft Wine, Beer & Spirits at the Wharf, Streets Market & Cafe (various locations), Union Kitchen Grocery (various locations). Available in Maryland at 5 O’Clock Wines & Spirits in Owings Mills; Cindy’s Spirits in Elkridge; Crescent Wine & Spirits in Bowie; Dawson’s Market and Village Beer & Fine Wine in Rockville; Dorsey’s Search Wine & Spirits in Columbia; Downtown Crown Wine and Beer and Finewine.com in Gaithersburg; Maple Lawn Wine & Spirits in Fulton; the Market at River Falls in Potomac; Old Town Market in Kensington; River Hill Wine & Spirits in Clarksville. Available in Virginia at select Giant and Safeway stores; Screwtop Wine Bar & Cheese Shop in Arlington; Streets Market & Cafe (various locations); Maggio’s in Alexandria.
10. Tommaso Gambino, Gambino Cuvée Brut Sparkling Wine
Make all the Mafia jokes you want, the upshot here (sorry, not sorry) is this is darn good fizz for just $10. The company is from Sicily, but the wine hails from the Treviso area in northern Italy, the land of prosecco. Rich with ripe peaches and star fruit, slightly herbaceous and a tad off-dry, the bubbly is great on its own or as a base for a mimosa or bellini. Need to buy cases of bubbly for a wedding? Be sure to try this. ABV: 12 percent.
Imported by GV Liquid Group, distributed by Impero: Available in the District at A. Litteri, Batch 13, Imperial Wine & Spirits, Rodman’s, Salumeria 2703. Available in Maryland at Crescent Wine & Spirits in Bowie; Dawson’s Market in Rockville; Di Pasquale’s Marketplace and Wine Source in Baltimore; Downtown Crown Wine and Beer, Finewine.com and Gemelli’s Italian Market in Gaithersburg; Edgewater Liquors in Edgewater; Fishpaws Marketplace in Arnold; Frederick Wine House, Old Farm Liquors and Orion Wine & Spirits in Frederick; Old Town Market in Kensington; Giolitti Delicatessen and the Italian Market in Annapolis; Rodman’s (White Flint); Snider’s Super Foods in Silver Spring. Available in Virginia at Bombolini Pasta, Branch & Vine and Oxford Cellars in Richmond; City Vino in Fredericksburg; Crystal Palate in Norfolk; Dolce Vita Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar in Fairfax; the Italian Store (Lyon Village, Westover) and Sense of Place Cafe in Arlington; Marchese Italian Market, Rigoletto Italian Bakery and Yiannis Wine Shop in Virginia Beach; Market 2 Market in Alexandria; Puck’s Market in Henrico; Vienna Vintner in Vienna; Wine Attic in Clifton; WineStyles (Montclair).
9. Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc+Viognier 2019/2020
This wine is an old standby. Pine Ridge has been making it for years, and it is always delicious. While the price has crept up, the wine is often on sale for less. Chenin blanc is extremely food-friendly, making this a versatile pairing for a complex holiday menu. Viognier adds some jasmine and honeysuckle to the chenin’s apple and pear. After my review in November, the distributor sold out of the 2019 and is now selling the 2020. ABV: 12.5 percent.
Distributed by Winebow: Available in the District at Ace Beverage, Cairo Wine & Liquor, Calvert Woodley, MacArthur Beverages, Magruder’s, Morris Miller Wine & Liquor, Pearson’s, Rodman’s, Schneider’s of Capitol Hill, Trader Joe’s (Capitol Hill, Florida Avenue), Whole Foods Market (H Street, P Street, Tenleytown), Yes! Organic Market (Georgia Avenue). Available in Maryland at Balducci’s, Beer, Wine & Co., Bethesda Market, Bradley Food & Beverage, Cork 57 Beer and Wine, Lance’s Beer & Wine in Bethesda; Beers & Cheers Too, Downtown Crown Wine and Beer and Finewine.com in Gaithersburg; Bel Pre Beer & Wine, Parkway Deli & Restaurant and Woodmoor Supermarket in Silver Spring; the Bottle Shop in Potomac; Canton Crossing Wine + Spirits, Wells Discount Liquors and Wine Source in Baltimore; Cranbrook Liquors in Cockeysville; Grosvenor Market and King’s Craft Beer, Wine & Deli in Rockville; Jason’s Wine & Spirits and Pine Orchard Liquors in Ellicott City; Knowles Station Wine & Co. and Old Town Market in Kensington; Rodman’s (Wheaton, White Flint), Wine Cellars of Annapolis. Available in Virginia at Balducci’s (Alexandria, McLean); Safeway and Whole Foods Market in Alexandria; Total Wine & More (various locations); Wegmans (Alexandria, Chantilly, Dulles, Fairfax).
8. Tortoise Creek Pinot Noir "Mission Grove" 2018
I felt like the world had shifted on its axis when I found a second California pinot noir under $20 that delivered such quality. Bright and on the fruity side of pinot noir, with a hint of Bing cherry and blackberry, it offers complexity and depth. The distributor tells me “Mission Grove” has been removed from the label. To be honest, wine this good does not need a made-up name to bolster its image. ABV: 13.5 percent.
Distributed by Winebow: Available in the District at Cairo Wine & Liquor, Calvert Woodley, Cordial Craft Wine, Beer & Spirits at the Wharf, Lion’s Fine Wine & Spirits, Martin’s Wine & Spirits, Rodman’s, Sheffield Wine & Liquor Shoppe. Available in Maryland at 7 Summers Liquors in Upper Marlboro; Balducci’s, Beer, Wine & Co., Bradley Food & Beverage, Capital Beer & Wine, Georgetown Square Wine and Beer, Lance’s Beer & Wine and Shuvam Beer and Wine in Bethesda; Belby Discount Beer & Wine, Montgomery County Wine & Liquor Stores (Fallsgrove) and Potomac Beer & Wine in Rockville; Bel Pre Beer & Wine and Woodmoor Supermarket in Silver Spring; Crescent Wine & Spirits in Bowie; Diamond Square Beer & Wine, Downtown Crown Wine and Beer, Finewine.com and Grape Expectations in Gaithersburg; Odenton Liquors in Odenton; Pine Orchard Liquors in Ellicott City; Rodman’s in Kensington; Snider’s Super Foods in Silver Spring; Wauga Chapel Wine & Spirits in Gambrills. Available in Virginia at Balducci’s (Alexandria, McLean); Dominion Beer and Wine in Falls Church; Wegmans (Falls Church).
7. Villamedoro Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2018
This wine sports a sticker of Tre Bicchieri, the top rating from Gambero Rosso, Italy’s premier wine magazine. It’s easy to see why — from the first sniff, the wine promises complexity and personality, and it delivers more with every sip. The wine starts off simple and fruity, but develops woodsy, floral and spice notes with time in the glass. A terrific bargain for the price. ABV: 13.5 percent.
Imported by Banville, distributed in the District and Virginia by Banville, in Maryland by Artisans & Vines: Available in the District at A. Litteri, the Bottle Shop, Calvert Woodley, Magruder’s, Metro Wine & Spirits, Paul’s of Chevy Chase, Radici Market, Rodman’s, Whole Foods Market (H Street, P Street, South Capitol). Available in Maryland at Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda; Crescent Wine & Spirits in Bowie; Decanter Fine Wines and Iron Bridge Wine Co. in Columbia; Di Pasquale’s Marketplace and Wine Source in Baltimore; Downtown Crown Wine and Beer in Gaithersburg; Fairgrounds Discount Beverages in Timonium; Fenwick Beer & Wine in Silver Spring; Franklins Restaurant, Brewery and General Store in Hyattsville; Fulton Wine & Spirits in Fulton; Greenbelt Co-Op in Greenbelt. Available in Virginia at Arrowine and Cheese and the Italian Store (Lyon Village, Westover) in Arlington; Dal Grano in McLean; Whole Foods Market (Alexandria, Arlington, Ashburn, Fairfax, Reston, Richmond, Pentagon City).
6. McPherson Cellars EVS Windblown 2017
Texas High Plains, Tex., $19
A greatest value from Texas? Wait until you taste it. Better yet, don’t wait! EVS stands for Earth Vine Sky, winemaker Kim McPherson’s mnemonic for evoking the terroir of the Texas High Plains, near Lubbock. This is a Rhone-style red blend of mourvèdre, petite sirah, carignan, cinsault and grenache. The EVS Windblown speaks more of the sky, while its French counterparts dig into the earth. But that’s fine — this wine is elegant and electric. It benefits from sitting open an hour or two. McPherson makes a wide variety of high-quality wines at affordable prices. ABV: 13.8 percent.
Distributed by Siema: Available in the District at Ace Beverage, Batch 13, Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, Cork & Fork, the Imperial, Uptown Market, Wagshal’s (New Mexico Avenue), Yes! Organic Market (14th Street). Available in Maryland at Aida Bistro & Wine Bar in Columbia; Apple Greene Wine & Spirits and Dunkirk Wine & Spirits in Dunkirk; Maximon at the Four Seasons Hotel and Wine Source in Baltimore; Old Farm Liquors in Frederick. Available in Virginia at Planet Wine & Gourmet and Unwined (King Street and Belleview) in Alexandria; Hunt Room at the Cavalier hotel in Virginia Beach; Screwtop Wine Bar & Cheese Shop in Arlington; Whole Foods Market (Newport News).
5. Las Casas de Vaqueria Corral A18 Reserva Carmenere 2019
Maule Valley, Chile, $12
Carmenere could be Chile’s signature grape, if winemakers there didn’t also do such a good job with cabernet sauvignon. This carmenere is impeccably balanced, with savory notes of tobacco leaf, black olives, dark cherry and spice. It shows exceptional elegance for the price and will partner well with grilled meats, though I would be tempted to hide some away for sipping alone after dinner. Lovely, and a tremendous value. ABV: 13.5 percent.
Imported and distributed by Elite: Available in the District at 13th Street Market, Chat’s Liquors, Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits, District Liquors, Downtown Liquors, Irving Wine & Spirits, Lion’s Fine Wine & Spirits, Metro Supermarket, Odd Provisions, Rodman’s, Sportsman’s Wine & Liquors, Wardman Wines. Available in Maryland at Bethesda Co-Op in Cabin John; Bin 201 Wine Sellers in Annapolis; Bin 604 Wine Sellers, Bo Brooks Lighthouse Liquors, Canton Crossing Wine + Spirits and Wine Source in Baltimore; the Breadery in Catonsville; Fine Wine of Wheaton in Wheaton; Hillandale Beer & Wine and Utopia Beer & Wine in Silver Spring; Kenilworth Wine & Spirits in Towson; Monterey Mart & Cafe in Rockville; Wine Bin in Ellicott City; Woodmont Market in Bethesda. Available in Virginia at Arrowine and Cheese, K-1 Beer and Wine and Streets Market in Arlington; City Vino in Fredericksburg; Once Upon a Vine and Tugwells Market in Richmond, Wine Guild of Charlottesville and Wine Warehouse in Charlottesville.
4. Claude Vialade Carignan Premium Vieilles Vignes 2018
Cotes Catalanes, France, $12
Here’s a wine I recommend decanting, or maybe even opening Thursday to drink Saturday. I liked it immediately, but by the second and even the third evening I was in love. An initial hint of green herbaceousness transformed into violets and wild herbs that suggest the garrigue flavors of southern France. There’s also a hint of wood smoke, as if a distant fire beckons you home for dinner. This is not a profound wine — it will not change your life — but it is an honest one, and it can carry a good conversation with your palate and your imagination. ABV: 13.5 percent.
Imported and distributed by Bacchus: Available in the District at Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits, Grape Intentions, Hill Spirits Unlimited, Paul’s of Chevy Chase, Rodman’s, Sherry’s Fine Wine & Spirits. Available in Maryland at Angel’s Share Wine & Spirits in Gambrills; Choice Wine & Beer in Wheaton; Eastport Liquors in Annapolis; Fairwood Cafe Wine & Spirits in Bowie; Goska’s Liquors in Severna Park; Liberty Discount Liquors in Cumberland; Red Brick Station in White Marsh; Wine Source and Wine Works in Baltimore; Rodman’s (White Flint); Vintage 414 in Cambridge; Wine & Liquor Depot in Brandywine. Available in Virginia at Department of Beer and Wine in Alexandria; Lake Anne Coffee House in Reston; Northside Social in Arlington; Oakton Wine Shop in Oakton.
3. Il Casato Pinot Grigio Valdadige 2019
Racy and refreshing, with a sense of energy that awakens the palate, this juicy wine is an ideal partner for salads, seafood dishes, or even that lazy quarantine lunch of canned sardines on crackers. I discovered by accident that the wine remains fresh and delicious for weeks, even left unopened at room temperature. That’s a sign of well-made vino. ABV: 13 percent.
Imported by Tri-Vin, distributed by DMV: Available in the District at Magruder’s, Paul’s of Chevy Chase, Riggs Liquor, Rodman’s, Yes! Organic Market (various locations). Available in Maryland at A&A Wine & Spirits in Gambrills; ABD Liquor in Prince Frederick; Bethesda Co-Op in Cabin John; Blue Wind Gourmet in Lexington Park; Bradley Food & Beverage and Georgetown Square Wine and Beer in Bethesda; Chesapeake Wine Co. and Pratt Liquors in Baltimore; Country Place Liquor in Bryans Road; Crescent Wine & Spirits in Bowie; Dawson’s Liquors in Severna Park; Dunkirk Wine & Spirits in Dunkirk; Eastport Liquors and the Italian Market in Annapolis; Edgewater Liquors in Edgewater; Fairgrounds Discount Beverages in Timonium; Fishpaws Marketplace in Arnold; Frederick Wine House in Frederick; Hermanville C-Store in Lexington Park; Hops & Vines in Odenton; Hunt Valley Wine, Liquor & Beer in Cockeysville; JNK Beer and Wine in Aspen Hill; Kensington Pizza and Kabob and Old Town Market in Kensington; Liberty Wine & Liquors in LaVale; Liquor Locker in Hagerstown; McHenry Beverage Shoppe in McHenry; Parkway Deli & Restaurant and Snider’s Super Foods in Silver Spring; the Perfect Pour in Elkridge; Pine Liquors in Fort Washington; Town Center Market in Riverdale Park; Vintage 414 in Cambridge; Wine Bin in Ellicott City. Available in Virginia at Wegmans (various locations).
2. Broadbent Douro Red 2019
Douro Valley, Portugal, $12
Longtime readers of this column will know that I’m a big fan of the Douro Valley and its wines. This vibrant, juicy red anchors a new line of Portuguese wines from importer Bartholomew Broadbent. The line includes an excellent Douro Reserve for just a few dollars more and some outstanding new ports, a white port and 10-, 20- and 30-year-old tawnies. The Douro Red is an amazing value for the price; its verve and tension are stimulating, and its flavors of plums and red berries, seasoned with some wood spice and earth, can match bold foods. If you open this to sip while cooking, have a second bottle on hand for dinner. You will need it. ABV: 13 percent.
Imported by Broadbent Selections, distributed by Winebow: Available in the District at Cairo Wine & Liquors, Calvert Woodley, Cork & Fork, Morris Miller Wine & Liquor, Potomac Wine & Spirits, Rodman’s, Schneider’s of Capitol Hill, Sherry’s Fine Wine & Spirits. Available in Maryland at Bel Pre Beer & Wine in Silver Spring; Balducci’s and Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda; Dawson’s Market in Rockville; Downtown Crown Wine and Beer and Finewine.com in Gaithersburg; Fulton Wine & Spirits in Fulton; Takoma Beverage Co. in Takoma Park; Wine Bin in Ellicott City; Wine Source in Baltimore. Available in Virginia at Chain Bridge Cellars in McLean; Cheesetique (Alexandria, Shirlington), Dominion Wine and Beer in Falls Church; Norm’s Beer & Wine in Vienna; Unwined (Bradley, Belleview) in Alexandria.
1. Domaine Bousquet Natural Origins Malbec
Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina, $20/3-liter box
Domaine Bousquet is known for high-quality wines made from organic grapes, so when I learned they were introducing a line of boxed wines called Natural Origins, I was eager to try them. And wow. In addition to this tasty, gulpable malbec, the line includes a cabernet sauvignon and a chardonnay. I’ve tried both reds, and they are outstanding. Do I really need to describe how they taste, at the equivalent of $5 a bottle? They are freaking delicious. By most accounts, Americans have increased their spending — and of course consumption — on wine this year, but here’s a way to reduce at least the spending. And good news at year’s end: The Virginia distributor has recently received the wine and should be getting it into stores soon. ABV: 14.1 percent.
Imported by WISD, distributed in the District and Maryland by Opici, in Virginia by Virginia Imports. Available in the District at Yes! Organic Markets (various locations). Available in Maryland at Beers & Cheers Too, Downtown Crown Wine and Beer and Finewine.com in Gaithersburg; the Bottle Shop in Potomac; Canton Crossing Wine + Spirits and Wine Source in Baltimore; Kenilworth Wine & Spirits in Towson; Dawson’s Market, King’s Craft Beer Wine and Deli and On the Vine Craft Beer & Wine in Rockville; Old Town Market in Kensington; Takoma Park-Silver Spring Co-Op in Takoma Park.
Availability information is based on distributor records. Wines might not be in stock at every listed store and might be sold at additional stores. Prices are approximate. Check Winesearcher.com to verify availability, or ask a favorite wine store to order through a distributor.
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