10 Tasty Wines Under $12 to Try This Spring
As winter's chill gives way to spring's warm breezes, the urge for heavy food and wine starts to give way to lighter, less filling choices. Cool evenings still thirst for full-bodied and rich reds, while warm afternoons are well matched with crisp whites and rosé. Spring is a season of diversity and changing temperatures, which means it's important to have a variety of different styles on hand. With access to wines from all over the world, it's easy to find any style of wine on a budget that fits your lifestyle. Looking to the Loire Valley of France for bright whites and tangy reds, Spain for muscular wines, and South Africa for warm and robust varieties ensures a complete spectrum of wine for spring's many flavors.
This sauvignon blanc-esque white wine grape variety grows mostly in the northwest region of Spain known as Rueda. The wines are bright and tangy with undertones of stone fruit and grassy earthiness, coming off very clean on the palate. They are excellent to drink alone or paired with light springtime meals such as pasta primavera or salads with grilled fish. The prices range from inexpensive to moderate, with plenty of examples around $10, such as a 2014 Marqués de Cáceres Rueda Verdejo starting at $8.
The grapes that make this mineral-rich white wine are grown on the western coast of France's Loire Valley in soil composed of ancient marine life (think crustaceans and seashells). The wines are chalky and bright, making an easy pairing with seafood, warm afternoons, and lightly grilled meats. Although more expensive and complex versions are becoming more available, muscadet is known as cheap and cheerful. It's not hard to find a bottle well within reach, such as a 2014 Château de la Chesnaie for $10 or a 2014 Domaine du Montru for $8.
Wine drinkers looking for a robust white will delight in the discovery of chenin blanc from South Africa. Round, full, and soft, these wines are reminiscent of California chardonnay, with an extra layer of aromatic complexity. Aromas of flowers mix with flavors of stone fruit and ripe tropical fruit to create a strong impression. Because South Africa is still very much developing its wine scene, inexpensive bottles are the norm, including an easy-to-find 2014 Indaba Chenin Blanc for $7.
With the world of rosé continuing to expand, there's never been a better time to sink into American pink wine. New York state's wine industry has enjoyed exponential growth in quality, with rosé as one of the most successful varieties. Because there's more flexibility in the blending of rosé, the style can often be found for a better price than a label's other selections, for example a rosé blend from Hermann J. Wiemer at $11.
The barbera grape makes juicy red wines that are medium in body and easy to love. Most of the producers in the Piedmont region of northern Italy make the big bucks on high-end barolo and barbaresco, leaving barbera in the background. High-quality wines for low prices are the result. Pair this variety with pastas, red sauce, meats, and cheeses. A great example of a consistently cheap and delicious bottle is a 2014 Fratelli Levis available for $8.
For those who love hearty reds, the warmer climate of South Africa produces wines with considerable depth and boldness. Something like a 2014 Goats Do Roam Red (starting at $8) blends together multiple grape varieties to ensure a smooth, easy-drinking experience. This could easily be a house table wine for dinner, providing a seamless pairing with steaks as well as casual cheese plates and breezy evenings.
Côtes du Rhône wines are infamous for pairing well with every mood, climate, and meal. Their medium body, which offers fruit, spice, earthiness, and smooth balance, ensures that they are enjoyable to a wide range of palates. When in doubt, these wines are well suited to spring's unpredictable weather. Inexpensive bottles under $10 are easy to come by, and wines like a 2014 Domaine Pélaquié for $10 and a 2013 Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles, also starting at $10, offer substantial quality.
While whites such as Sancerre and Vouvray may be better known, the reds of France's Loire Valley are noteworthy. Often light, they retain a firm structure and intense earthiness, making them equally appealing to lovers of pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon. Less intense in body and alcohol, they are great on their own in warm weather, served with a slight chill alongside light snacks. Their strong tannin and herbal quality ensure they will be just as good with a meal or to warm up an evening outdoors. Experts know that the Loire Valley is home to some of the best values in the wine world, such as a 2014 Saumur Rouge Reserve des Vignerons for $8.
There's no more cheerful way to celebrate the rebirth of spring than with pink bubbly. Cava, the national sparkling wine of Spain, delivers champagne-like bubbles and flavors of crisp citrus, with light toastiness reminiscent of brioche and fresh bread. The rosé version adds a touch of roundness and complexity, while also creating a stunning pink hue. Surprisingly, these elegant and festive wines are easy to find for $10 or less, including a Castell d'Or Cossetània Brut for $10 and a well-distributed Cristalino Brut starting at $7.
Sherry comes in many styles and colors, and each has an appropriate time and place. Manzanilla from Sanlúcar de Barrameda in the southwestern tip of Spain is the lightest and driest expression of sherry. With flavors like almonds, sea spray, white flowers, and brine, it's a wine that offers delicate complexity in each sip. It's fortified, which means it has higher alcohol content and is served in smaller portions, making a bottle of sherry one of the top values of the wine world. Enjoy it well-chilled before dinner or with light snacks. High-quality bottles under $10 include a tried-and-true classic from La Guita for $9.