10 Best Cheap Red Wines That Taste Expensive, According to Sommeliers
Red wine, for some reason, can seem a bit more daunting than cracking open an easy drinking white like sauvignon blanc, and diving into new varietals can also be tough on your wallet if you don't know what you're looking for.
Many mass-produced wines will seem attractive because of their low prices, but that savings often comes at a cost. "The more the grapes are grown industrially (using chemical inputs, treatments, and mechanical harvesting) as well as vinified industrially (handling and chemical inputs), the more inexpensive the product will be," says Bertil Jean-Chronberg, award-winning sommelier at Bonde Fine Wine Shop in Cambridge, Mass. "Unfortunately, the products at this very low price point no longer reflect the true taste of the original grape."
Instead, Jean-Chronberg suggests that you seek out independent and smaller producers who are going to give you a lot more bang for your buck.
With that in mind, we spoke with sommeliers around the U.S. to find out their picks for red wines that are a true value, and drink like you spent a lot more money. None of their picks are over the $25 mark, and some are priced around $15, which is an incredible value for a red.
Above all, you should never aim for lowest possible price, but rather the right price for a good quality wine. "We must never forget that drinking wine is not a necessity, but a moment of pleasure, and that it is not better to drink less, but to drink better," reminds Jean-Chronberg.
Joel Gott 815 California Cabernet Sauvignon
One of the most full-bodied reds from California, cabernet sauvignon is dense in color and flavor, and is best enjoyed with steak or lamb. While this popular red is often at a higher price point, there are some great blends that can be found at lower prices, like this one from Joel Gott Wines. "A blend of grapes from several wine regions in California, and seeing only 30% oak, this wine is much more approachable than most cabernets, and the price for the quality is unsurpassed," says Melissa L. Smith, founder of Enotrias Elite Sommelier Services. You can find it online for just $16.99.
Daou Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon
Smith also sings the praises of this Paso Robles cab, which is a significant value for a wine from the region. "A classic California Cabernet from Paso Robles, this wine is opulent but approachable at an early age with some decanting to help release the Mediterranean nuances of olive, fig, fennel, pomegranate, and thyme," she says. You can find this wine for $24.99.
Miguel Torres Las Mulas Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2021
While California is a renowned producer of great cabs, you can find great prices by looking farther afield. "I really enjoy the cabernet sauvignon wines from Chile, especially the wines of Miguel Torres," says Gabriel Corbett, sommelier at two Michelin-starred Jônt in Washington, D.C. You can find a bottle of this wine for just $15.99.
Bedell Cellars Merlot
Perfect with beef dishes, strong enough to pair with blue cheese, but also great with chicken, merlot is a truly versatile wine. You don't have to blow your savings on a bottle, says Scott Carney, dean of wine studies at the Institute of Culinary Education. "We need only to head out to the East End to come upon one of Long Island's benchmark producers of quality merlot: Bedell," Carney says. "Their 2020 is merlot in the flesh—blackberry with a light seasoning of spice. The wine is not trying to call attention to itself. It is perfectly scaled, conversing with a soft voice to those willing to listen." Bedell Cellars merlot retails for around $19.
Oyster River Winegrowers, American Red Merlot 2022
Another excellent bottle, this one from a small producer in Maine, comes recommended by award-winning sommelier Jean-Chronberg. "This cold-climate merlot has aromas of plum, tomatoes, and tobacco," says Jean-Chronberg. "With light tannins, a light body, and low alcohol, it's bright, fresh, and easy drinking. Its versatility will reconcile you to the pre-Sideways days of merlot." You can order this direct from the producer for just $22.
If a lush, rich merlot is calling to you right now, Smith says this well-priced Sonoma product is worth a look. She explains, "A textbook merlot from the legendary Duckhorn producers, the Decoy is made with grapes from North Coast and Central Coast, aged in 40% new French oak barrels, resulting in a wine that is lush with blackberry, black currant, black cherry, and baking spices with mild tannins." You can find this bottle for $22.99.
Gaspard Pinot Noir
This bottle, from the house label of a French importer, comes recommended by Dylan Melvin, sommelier and beverage director at Foxtrot Market in Chicago. "Gaspard is a house label from one of the best imports of French natural wine, Jenny & Francois," Melvin says. "This wine is made in the Loire valley with 60 year old vines that are sustainably farmed. The wines are fermented with native yeast and have minimal sulphur and are only lightly filtered. This wine is a steal." The medium-bodied wine is available for around $19.
Presqu'ile Winery Pinot Noir
Pinot noir is a grape that thrives in the right soil, and is commonly found in Oregon. However, if you're looking for a well priced bottle, looking elsewhere can find you something amazing for the price, says Carney. "Yes, there's Oregon, but in the cool, lateral climes of Santa Barbara County, Pinot Noir has also found a home," he explains. "The 2021 Presqu'ile Pinot is red fruit and flowers, a cherry vanilla come-on that is irresistible at $26." You can find this wine for under $25.
Erath Pinot Noir
You can find incredible values from Oregon as well. Corbett recommends Erath Winery, which has been growing grapes in the Dundee Hills since 1969. "There are so many great producers making delicious pinot noir but I particularly enjoy the old school producers like Erath," says Corbett. The winery has many price points, but this medium bodied Pinot can be found for $18.99.
Peter Lehmann Portrait Shiraz
Syrah is a popular grape that originated in France, but now flourishes in many different locations around the world. In Australia, it's called shiraz, and it's made the Land Down Under an increasingly popular producer over the past 20 years, with the Barossa Valley in southern Australia being a notable wine-making region. It's there that the Peter Lehmann Vineyards produces wines at many price points, says Corbett. "For big bold examples, go to the Barossa Valley like Peter Lehmann to provide a pleasurable drinking experience." This wine is available for around $20.