CHEAP WINTER WINES
Winter is a time to indulge in bold wines. Flavors that seem heavy and overwhelming in warm weather, such as oak, rich spice, and jammy fruit, provide comfort on cold, snowy nights. Delicious wines for cold-weather sipping and good value include classics like pinot noir as well as more obscure varieties like saperavi. Since the availability and price of particular bottles varies greatly across the country, this list covers 10 styles of wine to look for in your local shop, with examples and their prices. These affordable wines, from velvety, full-bodied reds to rich, warming whites, will keep your glass half full and swirling for the rest of winter.
SOUTHERN ITALIAN RED
The wines of southern Italy, particularly the regions of Campania, Puglia, and Calabria, are elegantly bold in flavor, silky in texture, and floral in aroma. They deliver big flavor and bold texture while retaining finesse, making them the perfect choice for those who prefer Old World-style wines. For a great value, find a wine that falls under the Salice Salentino DOC (controlled denomination of origin) from Puglia and made from the negroamaro grape variety. Many of these plush wines can be found for less than $10 a bottle, including the 2014 Montecoco Salice Salentino from Cantine Due Palme.
Traditionally, red wines from Spain's Rioja region enjoy extended aging in American oak, resulting in velvety coconut flavors that mingle with notes of dried berries and herbs. These leathery yet smooth wines offer a nice amount of spice and woodiness for cozy nights in. The price range is wide, with value all the way up the spectrum, including bottles around $10. A tried-and-true example is the 2012 El Coto Crianza Rioja at $11.
As wine made its journey from the Black Sea region, where vitis vinifera or "common grape" is indigenous, to Western Europe, it happily passed through Hungary. While Hungary has not enjoyed the same economic stability and funding for wine development as France, the idea of certain grapes growing best in certain areas, or terroir, happened in Hungary first. This means that Hungary produces wines that easily rival the quality of top French wines, but because of international acclaim, or lack thereof, they come out at a fraction of the price. The rich, spicy, and earth-driven wines will delight any French wine drinker. Try a 2013 Vylyan Portugieser for just $12.
Red wines from Sicily are hitting the wine world in a big way. As of now, there are still many options for beautifully balanced and unique wines in the $8 to $13 range. Even the cheapest Sicilian wines offer satiny texture, ripe berry fruit, and earthy undertones. These are ideal for those who enjoy light- to medium-bodied wines and those who are searching for an all-purpose wine to pair with dinner -- from delivery pizza to homemade steak frites. Most inexpensive bottles are made from a grape called nero d'Avola, including Maravigna 2013, available in the New York metro area for about $10.
CALIFORNIA PINOT NOIR
If there was ever an appropriate time to indulge in a big, rich California pinot noir, winter is it. Significantly fruitier, heavier, and bolder than European pinot noir, Cali pinot offers big warm flavors that pair perfectly with snowdrifts and chilly wind gusts. While pinot noir is generally a grape variety that warrants a higher budget, there are some low-priced exceptions. To keep costs efficient, wineries often include a percentage of other grapes in the blend; up to 25 percent of bottled wine can be made from grapes other than the variety listed on the label. A strong example of an inexpensive Central Coast pinot noir is the 2014 Sterling Vintner's Collection starting at just $9.
There's no better time to rekindle or discover a love for Madeira. This fortified wine shares a name with the island where it is made, off the coast of Portugal. At 15 to 20 percent alcohol by volume, it is a strong wine with intense nutty and dried-fruit flavors, with a balance of sweet tang on the finish. Paired with a bowl of roasted nuts and a fireplace, it is sure to melt away any trace of the winter blues. While the most expensive bottles can easily cost $1,000 or more, there are excellent Madeiras to be had for low prices. Because fortified wine is strong, it is often served in smaller amounts and sold in smaller bottles, resulting in a better price per serving than unfortified wine. An excellent place to start a love affair with Madeira is the charming and inexpensive Broadbent Rainwater, available for just $11.
This unusual wine is intense in every way: inky black color, dark red fruit flavors, tannic structure, and robust body. While still fairly unknown in the U.S., wines from the Republic of Georgia carry with them some of the oldest winemaking traditions. As the country's wine scene experiences a rebirth, international interest is piquing. Wines made from the saperavi grape suit those who love intense cabernet, Bordeaux, and zippy Chilean wines. Because saperavi is lesser known, despite its 9,000-year history, value favors the consumer, with bottles such as the 2013 Marani Saperavi at $12 offering quality that would otherwise cost much more.
There is a time, place, and occasion for every wine, and no better excuse to indulge in a rich, round, oaky chardonnay than in the freeze of winter. As industry leader Lettie Teague explains in The Wall Street Journal, the qualities that compel people to shy away from this style normally are the same ones that position them perfectly for cold-weather sipping. Soft and buttery, the toasted wood notes of oaky chardonnay conjure feelings of warmth and comfort. This ubiquitous style is an easy one to find for super-low prices. Various vintages of Pine Post Chardonnay from Washington state start at just $6.
Intensely perfumed and floral wines can be too sweet-smelling and overwhelming at times, coming off as cloying just from their aroma. When balanced by crisp acidity and chilly temperatures, these same attributes seem to warm wine drinkers' mouths and noses. The heavier body of off-dry rieslings and oily gewürztraminers makes them ideal whites for cooler temperatures and provides a lively counterpoint to traditional heavy winter food such as stews, soups, and roasts. Try enjoying the wines closer to room temperature to let their full essence bloom and fill the glass. A standout example for value is the 2014 Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling starting at just $9.
While red wines are made from dark-skinned grapes plus their skins, white wines are made from any color of grapes without the skin. When a light-colored grape is made into wine with its skins, it is classified as orange, amber, or skin-macerated, essentially a white wine made like a red wine. These unusual wines vary in color from "regular" white to deep orange, with flavors of both white and red wines and some tannin. Because amber wines are so complex, they are packed with interesting layers of flavor and pair easily with many cuisines. This geeky style is becoming more and more popular and can be expensive, with many wines starting at upward of $50. However, one of the best and most internationally acclaimed producers of amber wines regularly offers examples for less than $20, such as the 2011 Kabaj Ravan.