Novelist Robert Louis Stevenson wrote that “wine is bottled poetry.” That may be so—but it is bottled history, too. I became interested in wine in 1997 when I returned to my alma mater, the University of California at Davis, to take up a position in the History Department. While in Davis, I was close to great wine regions such as Napa and Sonoma and had a chance to learn from some of the university’s world-famous wine faculty.
By 2006 I was living in Los Angeles, and missing the many conversations about wine that I used to have with friends and colleagues in northern California. When a colleague needed help setting up a blog, I volunteered to test out what this new world was all about. I gave the blog a name—Good Wine Under $20 —that reflected my wine priorities, and wrote up a post detailing a shopping trip to my local wine store. Four years later, I’m still looking for great values in wine and writing about my adventures. During this time I’ve received accolades for my wine writing including American Wine Blogging Awards (for best single-subject blog and best wine review blog), “the best of 2010” wine blog from saveur.com, and positive mentions in Food & Wine magazine and Wine & Spirits magazine. From June 2008 to October 2009 I wrote for Serious Eats, the New York based online food magazine, contributing to their column “Serious Grape.” I have also contributed to Wine & Spirits magazine.
Unfortunately, my teaching and the responsibilities associated with the All Souls Trilogy have made it difficult to keep up with my wine blogging. Hopefully I will return to it one day. In the meantime, here are some perennial suggestions for good value wines that you can find for reasonable prices in a shop near you.
Prosecco: If you enjoy sparkling wine, but can’t afford Champagne regularly, try this great Italian wine. It’s frothy and effervescent, and for me it always conjures up memories of summer time. Good bottles can be found for under $20 in most markets.
Cotes du Rhone: These earthy, rich red wines are blended from Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignane, Counoise, and Mourvedre grapes. They should have a lush, fruity taste with notes of herbs. Keen tasters might detect rustic notes of dust and soil. Expect to pay between $10 and $20 for a good bottle. You can find excellent US wines from Paso Robles and California’s central coast that use these grapes, as well as wines from Australia. They can’t be labeled Cotes du Rhone, but the flavor profiles will be similar.
Riesling: This is a noble, ancient, and underappreciated grape. Fresh, fruity, and a bit floral at times this is the perfect wine for serving chilled with spicy food–especially Asian food. It can be made in a sweet style, or in a dry style. I prefer the dry style, as even that has an impression of sweetness because of the glorious fruit-forward tastes. Don’t worry if you get a whiff of petrol or gasoline in the aromas or flavors. That’s completely normal for this grape. Great bottles come from Germany, the Alsace region of France, Australia, New Zealand, and the Finger Lakes region of the United States. You should be able to find a great bottle for $10-$20.