[I wrote this piece for my column in The Virginian-Pilot newspaper but apparently there was a mixup (confusion on my part… maybe) and this piece will not run.]

Unlike the price of eggs, fuel and other consumer goods, the price of wine hasn’t skyrocketed.  That’s good news for many of us who appreciate a glass of wine with dinner.  

Though the wines prices haven’t skyrocketed, our favorite bottles are slightly more expensive today than a year or two ago.  

With inflation and economic uncertainty leaving less money for wine, many readers have contacted me about reasonably-priced bottles that offer great value.

Sarah, an educator from Virginia Beach, told me via email that her family budget is tightening so she and her husband are looking to get more wine bang for their buck.  They’ve tried many cheap bottles but most were not drinkable. 

Good news — there are plenty of compelling wines at reasonable prices available in local shops and restaurants. 

This column is the first in a new series where I report on the results of tasting wines with a group of local wine pros and consumers.  

For each installment of this new tasting series, I’ll be joined by a rotating group of local wine friends including winemakers, sommeliers, distributors, restaurant team members and consumers.  

At each monthly gathering, we’ll taste about 20 wines based on a pre-selected theme. Some months we’ll focus on wines made from specific grape varieties like Nebbiolo, Riesling or Cabernet Franc.  Other months, we’ll focus on a particular region like the Loire valley of France, Portugal’s Alentejo and other exciting, lesser-known areas.

This month’s theme is value wines — delicious and compelling wines under $25/bottle that punch above their price.

In early January I gathered with five wine friends — two local wine pros and three avid consumers — to taste a diverse range of wines from around the world priced under $25.  

Fifteen of the 40 wines we tasted were under $10/bottle, fifteen were priced between $11-20 and the remaining 10 were $21 – 25 per bottle.  The bottles $10 and under were the most challenging, most were one-dimensional, over-oaked or overly sweet.  

Our group was most pleasantly surprised with the quality of wines priced between $15-20 was the most surprising.  The group’s consensus on bottles priced between $21 – $25 was divided. There were some nice wines but we all expected more quality at this price point.

The following nine bottles from seven countries, made from a range of grape varieties, were some of the group’s favorites (listed in order by price):

Borsao 2021 Garnacha (Spain)
Spain is always a go to source for delicious wines that punch above their price. Made from Garnacha (Grenache) grapes grown in the historic Campo de Borja region in northern Spain. This Garnacha is dark and concentrated with notes of blackberries, licorice and hints of coffee and violet.  (Wegmans, $8.49)

Dibon Cava Brut Sparkling Reserve (Spain)
A standout Cava at a great price, this was the tasting panel’s favorite wine from the $10 and under group.  Fresh and lively, this fizz is loaded with fresh green apple, brioche and lemon zest notes. (~ $10, widely available)  For domestic sparkling options, Gruet Winery based in New Mexico offers the best values in American fizz in my opinion. The fruity and zingy Blanc de Noir made from Pinot Noir is my favorite ($16, widely available)

Quinta dos Grilos Red Blend (Portugal)
For those who prefer bold reds, consider this red blend from three indigenous grapes grown in the Dão region of Portugal. It’s intensely aromatic and flavorful with notes of dark fruits, licorice, savory dried herbs and a toasty oak finish.  ($10.25, Great Bottles)

Sant’ Evasio Barbera d’Asti (Italy)
One of the most planted grapes in Italy, wines made from Barbara are food-friendly, light-bodied and easy drinking.  This wine is a medley of bright red and dark berries and spicy notes.  ($13.99, TRIO Restaurant & Market, Outer Banks)

A.A. Badenhorst Secateurs 2021 Chenin Blanc (South Africa)
This was one of the highest scoring wines of the tasting panel. A.A. Badenhorst Family Wines is a historic producer located in the Swartland region of South Africa. The Secateurs refers to the small shears used for pruning grape vines. This Chenin Blanc is medium-bodied, dry and complex, this wine is bursting with peach, honey and beeswax notes. Zesty acidity gives the wine vibrancy. This wine is even better paired with light cheeses and grilled seafood. ($16.99, Whole Foods).  

Mary Taylor Costieres de Nimes 2020 (France)
Mary Taylor and team source grapes from small growers in villages across France, Italy and Spain ‘who produce exceptional, regionally-distinctive wines at extremely accessible prices.’  All Mary Taylor labels focus on geography, listing the place the wine was made instead of the grape variety as is common for so many wines sold in the U.S. This red wine is medium-bodied, made from a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre grapes grown in Costières de Nîmes, a southern appellation of France’s Rhône wine region. It’s fruity and smooth with notes of ripe black cherry, plum and baking spice.  ($19, all eight TASTE locations)

Nico Lazaridi Queen of Hearts White (Greece)
Wines from Greece are among the most underrated but thanks to Dionysos Imports, some of the best are available at shops throughout Tidewater.  This wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Assyrtiko (the white grape indigenous to the island of Santorini) with a splash of three other grapes. It’s light-bodied and dry with notes of fresh yellow apple and spring flowers. A refreshing wine to drink as an aperitif or with seafood.  ($20, Tinto Wine & Cheese)

Kiona Vineyards Columbia Valley 2021 Riesling (Washington State)
Riesling is always a great choice!  One of my favorite recent finds is from Kiona Vineyards in Washington state. Made from Riesling grapes grown in the Columbia Valley, situated in the eastern side of the state, this wine is crisp, refreshing with a touch of sweetness. It offers classic Riesling notes of lime, green apple and stone fruit, with a hint of honey. This wine is great with spicy dishes, light seafood, or as an aperitif. ($22, Pendulum Fine Meats)

Eschol 2020 Red Blend (Napa Valley, CA)
A Bordeaux-style red blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with a splash of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. An excellent choice for those who like full-bodied reds with plenty of juicy dark fruit notes and a touch of oak.  ($24, The Cheese Shop, Williamsburg)

These are just a few of the many wines that punch above their price that are available locally. Want to see your favorite grape or region explored by the tasting table group?  Let me know.