22 Great Wines for $12 or Less

The holidays call for flexible wines that can move and groove at the table, and ride the roller coaster of textures and flavors.

The market is loaded with terrific wines to fit any budget, yet I continue to be impressed with the quality and value of many wines that are 12 bucks or less.

Here are 22 of my favorites from 2013:


Lively & Fruity – Light with an extra dose of fruit and acidity

Joseph Drouhin, Beaujolais-Villages, France ($12)

Georges Duboeuf, Beaujolais-Villages, France ($10)


Smooth & Juicy – Mid-weight with soft tannins 

Vientos del Sur, Malbec, Argentina ($11)

Trivento, “Reserve” Malbec, Argentina ($11)

Columbia Crest, Grand Estates Merlot, Washington ($12)

Snoqualmie, Merlot, Washington, ($11)

Cortijo, Tinto, Rioja, Spain ($10)

Torremoron, Tempranillo, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($12)


Big & Juicy –  Hefty minus the tongue-lashing tannins

Cline, Zinfandel, California ($10)

Four Vines, Old Vine Cuvée Zinfandel, California ($10)



Crisp & Off-Dry – Mid-weight with a touch of sweetness

Charles Smith Wines, Kung Fu Girl, Riesling, Washington ($12)

Chateau Ste. Michelle, Riesling, Washington  ($10)

Pacific Rim, Riesling, Washington  ($10)

Snoqualmie, Naked Riesling, Washington ($12)


Crisp & Fruity – Dry and mid-weight with rich fruit and plenty of acidity

King Estate, Acrobat Pinot Gris, Oregon ($12)

The Great Oregon Wine Company, “Rascal” Pinot Gris, Oregon ($11)

H & M Hofer, Grüner Veltliner, Austria ($13/1 Liter bottle)

Berger, Grüner Veltliner, Austria  ($14/1 Liter bottle)

Alexander Valley Vineyards, Gewurz, California ($10)

P. J. Valckenberg, Gewürztraminer, Germany ($12)


Soft & Weighty – Hefty with ripe fruit and a touch of oak

Viña Cono Sur, Chardonnay, Chile ($11)

Veramonte, Reserva Chardonnay ($12)


Serving Temperature — What’s Best?

White wines should be served between 58˚ to 62˚.  There’s a tendency to serve whites ice-cold.  Avoid this mistake.  Too cold and the wine tastes flat and lifeless.  Champagne and sparkling wine, on the other hand, are the exception—they’re best served well-chilled at around 45˚.  In fact, one of the best ways to spot an under-chilled bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine is when the frothy mousse bubbles over when the cork is popped.  No bueno.

Most reds are best served between 62˚ to 65˚, so don’t be afraid to stick a bottle in the refrigerator for 20 or 30 minutes before opening, especially when serving medium-bodied reds, such as pinot noir and barbera.  Beaujolais, the smooth drinking, fruity holiday favorite from France, is actually made to be served slightly chilled at around 58˚.  Conversely, chilling full-bodied reds, such as cabernet sauvignon, syrah, or shiraz for more than 30 minutes plays up the tannins resulting in an unpleasant astringency.

What’s The Right Glass?

 A basic white wine glass has a tulip shape, while a glass for red wine has a larger balloon shape.  For the vast majority of wine drinkers, however, one thin, clear, all-purpose wine glass (whether tulip- or balloon-shaped) with a capacity of about 10 to 12 ounces will do.  The one exception is the Champagne flute.  The narrow shape concentrates the wine’s bubbles and bouquet, and helps it stay cold.  When serving wine, only fill the glass about half-way.  The remaining space allows for swirling and the development of the wine’s bouquet.