The good news is that it can be done. Good wine doesn't have to be expensive, a fact that was driven home once again at the recent Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition. The evaluations performed by an elite team of professional winemakers revealed that good wine is made at all price points.
The best-of-class awards this year produced a number of outstanding wines that retail between $11 and $18. My ten personal favorites from that group are as follows:
Caposaldo 2015 Pinot Grigio, Delle Venezie, Italy ($11) -- This wine has found its way to my table many times over the past several vintages. It is clean, fresh and inviting, and a good example of the quality now coming out of this region in northeastern Italy.
Colome 2014 Torrontes, Valle Calchaqui, Chile ($16) -- This aromatic white wine offers a floral note that is seductive and delicious. It is the quintessential aperitif or tapas wine. Colome is one of the finest producers of this unique wine.
Dr. Konstantin Frank 2014 Gruner Veltliner, Finger Lakes ($15) -- This wine is hard to find outside of New York, but it's worth the effort. The native Austrian grape variety is not widely planted in the U.S., but seems to do well in the Finger Lakes region, and Frank's is a superb example.
Dr. Konstantin Frank 2014 Riesling, Semi-Dry, Finger Lakes ($15) -- Riesling has long been the benchmark wine at Dr. Frank's, and the semi-dry bottling has the backbone to make its off-dry style appealing to the masses. That this wine only retails for $15 is a reflection of the fact that wines from the Finger Lakes in upstate New York have not been marketed as effectively as they should be.
La Gioiosa Prosecco Superiore, Valdobbiadene DOCG, Italy ($19) -- Every larder should be stocked with a good bubbly that doesn't break the bank, and this prosecco from Italy's finest prosecco district is an excellent option. Fresh, clean and dry, it offers aromas of peach and pear, with persistence in the finish that puts many other proseccos to shame.
Sobon 2013 Barbera, Amador County ($16) -- Whether you're ramping up for the grilling season or whipping up a tomato-based pasta dish, the Sobon Barbera is a beautiful match for either. This high acid, low tannin grape variety produces outstanding food wine. Even a spicy pizza works here.
Sobon 2013 Syrah, Amador County ($16) -- This juicy syrah from the Sierra Foothills delivers savory notes and fresh fruit purity, with a spice back note. At this price, it should be on everyone's short list of go-to red wines for dinner.
Tangent 2014 Albarino, Paragon Vineyard, Edna Valley ($17) -- This wine grape of Spanish heritage thrives in the cool Edna Valley that lies along the California coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It is hands-down the finest Albarino in America.
True Myth 2014 Chardonnay, Paragon Vineyard, Edna Valley ($18) -- Winemaker Christian Roguenant, who also makes the Tangent Albarino, is a wizard with chardonnay. Imagine that, a vineyard-designate California chardonnay for less than $20, made by one of the best in the biz.
Wakefield 2015 Merlot, South Australia ($18) -- A yummy, approachable merlot from Australia at a reasonable price can complement my grilled lamb chops anytime. This one is fresh and juicy, with soft tannins and excellent flavor intensity.