I like wine. In fact, I love wine, but I’m far from being a wine connoisseur, which makes my wine shopping rather haphazard. It’s overwhelming to stand in front of rows and rows of wine bottles not really knowing what makes one Cabernet better than another. So I asked Danny Brody, owner of the now defunct Stop Miami, for some down-to-earth, inexpensive wine recommendations. “Ideally these should be wines that can be bought locally,” I wrote Danny, “because I don’t like getting recommendations and then having to go hunt for the wine.”
Finding 15 good wines under $15 is not much of a challenge. The challenge comes, however, when one tries to stop at 15. There are so many good wines under $15, that one could probably make a list for every country, grape, region, and sub-region, and still have many favorites left over. I try to concentrate on wines that not only pair well with food, but also drink well by themselves, as this is often the case (at least for me…). I also like a nice label, especially if you’re bringing a gift or having company. The list has some breadth, but I’m going to keep it simple, and only include wines that I actually know are available right now in the wine store. Plus a couple of surprises.
WHITES (listed by price, producer, grape, hometown)
$5.49…Aveleda, Vinho Verde, Portugal. Vinho Verde (pronounced veen-yo ver-day) is the famed table wine from Northern Portugal. This is a beautiful slender bottle, great label, and just 10.5% alcohol (wines are usually in the 13% range, more or less). That makes it perfect for what I like to call a ‘breakfast’ wine. Good for 11 a.m. on a hot day, or at a picnic where you don’t want to lose your edge for other activities. Crisp, clean, and not much bite — great with fruit or dry sausages (linguica in Portugal).
$7.99…Indaba, Chenin Blanc, S. Africa Chenin Blanc is a South African home-grown, and sometimes has a little hint of sweetness — this is more of the apple/pear variety. If it gets a little warm, you’ll get more of the off-dry, as they call it, flavors, i.e., sweetness. I recommend throwing in an ice cube. Screwtop bottle is a plus.
$8.99…Bonny Doon Pacific Rim, Dry Riesling. California Bonny Doon is a terrific producer of inexpensive wines. This is called a ‘dry’ Riesling because they’re afraid the buyer might think it’s sweet, so they’re taking no chances. A little more complexity here, and a little more bite. Matches well with tortilla espaÃ±ola/fritatta, or shrimp and grits (there’s that ‘breakfast’ quality again). Screwtop for the corkscrew-averse.
$9.99…Naia, Verdejo, Spain. The verdejo grape usually produces a dry, minerally wine, with a nice touch of fruit on the finish. While many wines from Spain are cheap, Naia has a consistently great product, for under $10. I have seen this wine on several of the cutting-edge (read: affordable but haute) wine lists in Miami and deservedly so. Goes great with Spanish tapas — but then what wine doesn’t?
$9.99…Stump Jump, Blend, Australia. The blend here is Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, with some Marsanne thrown in for balance. I’m a big fan of blends that make good wine, and this seems to be a good trend for those who can’t make up their minds. The wine comes from d’Arenberg, which also produces some more expensive wines — always a good thing. Their best grapes may be going to another wine, but the care and know-how to produce great wines translates on down the line.
$9.99…Dom Toussat, Chenin Blanc, Vouvray. What’s a list without a token French wine or two? This is a crisp wine from the Loire that is fruity, but not sweet, and goes very well with some stinky cheese like Livarot. Might even go well a spicy seafood dish.
$4.99…Protocolo, Tempranillo, Spain Tempranillo is the signature grape of Spain, and this wine from La Mancha is as cheap as you can get and still drink bottle after bottle. This was my House Wine at Stop Miami, and I never got one complaint. Protocolo also has a crisp white, and a hearty rose. As someone once said to me, “This is a wine you go to war with.”
$6.99…Luzon, Monastrell, Spain Monastrell is native to Jumilla, an up-and-coming growing region in Spain. By up-and-coming, I mean that for many years the wine made here was not very good. Then some winemakers from Rioja realized they could get pretty cheap land here, modernize the vineyards, and make some pretty good wines. Some have even gotten very expensive. This one has not. And it is a great example of the intense grape-at 14.5% alcohol. Wash down some Serrano ham with this.
$9.99…Snoqualmie, Cab/Merlot Blend, Washington State. This is actually called “Whistle Stop Red,” which I’m not too crazy about, but the wine is as serious as the name is silly. Snoqualmie makes several great wines, most notably its tremendous organic Riesling, but this blend takes the combination of Cabernet and Merlot and produces a wine that is both fruity and chocolaty, and can stand up to a medium-rare steak. Adorable label — bring it as a gift.
$9.99…Mas de Guiot, Grenache/Syrah, Rhone. Another French wine. Actually this blend of two Rhone varietals is a very pleasant introduction to the soft tannins (silky mouth-feel) often found in unfiltered bottlings. A nice change from New World wines that pairs well with slow-cooked stews and braised meats. I like to call it chewy.
$11.99…Jekel, Cabernet, California. You’ve heard of Napa, you’ve heard of Sonoma. You’ve heard of Monterey. You’ve….wait. You’ve never heard of Monterey? It’s part of the vast Central Coast of California — lots of production coming out of here. I chose Jekel because they produce inexpensive and consistently decent California Cabernet. Nothing more, nothing less. It is also available at the supermarket. Please try not to buy your wines at the supermarket. But if you must, here it is. +Supermarket buying tip: make sure the bottle isn’t warm, and always save your receipts.+
$12.29…Queen of Hearts, Pinot Noir, California. There are Pinot Noirs for twice the price. There are Pinot Noirs for 4 times the price, and more. And they are good. They are great. But for 13 freakin dollars, this is a wine that will never disappoint. You can drink it slightly chilled at a hot Sunday afternoon BBQ, and it will go with hamburgers, chicken, fish, or almost anything else (no hot dogs, please). Or bring it to your Mom and Dad’s for your big ethnic mashup (you know what I mean). It’s that versatile. And the playing card label is smart and cute.
$9.99…Francois Montand Brut (also Rose if available). It’s not Champagne, but it’s French. Small bubbles, dry taste, serve well-chilled. Great way to start the day! Hands down my favorite with BBQ.
$9.99…Alvear Spanish Sherries. You have to be a little adventurous here. The idea is that Sherry is the perfect complement to Spanish Tapas. Fino is light and dry, like an odd combination of olives and almonds. Amontillado is darker and stronger, a little nutty with a hint of raisins-I recommend starting here. Cream sherry is sweet, but not cloying, and is the perfect opposite to a good blue cheese. Think of that sweet fortified wine and Stilton or Point Reyes. Makes no sense until you try it and then it’s too late. You’re hooked. These sherries are 16%, 17%, and 18% alcohol. Be adventurous.
10.49…Momokawa Sake, US. They say revenge is a dish best eaten cold. Sake is also only enjoyed to its fullest when well-chilled. Unfortunately, most Japanese Sakes are very expensive, and probably best saved for a special occasion. These are two low-priced Sakes that are made in Oregon — one is Pearl, an unfiltered and somewhat sweet-tasing 18% hand grenade that goes great with any kind of spicy Asian food (also works with/for dessert); the other is Diamond, a 14.8% Junmai Ginjo (high quality) that tastes like tropical fruits and spices. Always great to have on hand for that Sunday night sushi delivery.
Just remember, the two largest selling wines by far in the United States come in huge jugs and boxes(!). It’s time to upgrade America.
Danny Brody is a journalist, foodie and wine lover. He and his wife, Alex, will soon be taking Stop Miami’s iconic wine bar to the Bakehouse Art Complex, where they will promote the gallery’s artists “through the distribution of fermented beverages.” Danny can currently be spotted eating at “the BBQ guy in the parking lot on NE 79th St east of NE 2nd Av, and the great Souse truck parked outside of Take One, also on 79th.”
Total Wine & More
14750 Biscayne Blvd.
North Miami Beach
Crown Wine & Spirits
ABC Fine Wine & Spirits
[tags] wine, sherry, sake, wine stores, shopping, Stop Miami, Bakehouse Art Complex [/tags]