Anyone who's ventured down the wine aisle at Whole Foods can attest that selecting the right bottle involves navigating dozens of seemingly similar options. It's a minefield of varietals, labels, and price tags, which is made all the more daunting when you scarcely know your reds from your whites or you're on a tight budget. Thankfully, and contrary to popular belief, a great-tasting bottle of wine doesn't necessarily need to be procured at an eye-watering price.
To learn a thing or two about stocking our bar cart on a budget, we asked sommeliers and wine directors to weigh in on the best cheap wines that taste expensive. Ahead, the pros recommend palate-pleading bottles ranging from a full-bodied jammy red that pairs well with stews to a sweet, dry Chenin blanc ideal for sipping when it's 72-and-sunny outside. If you have Champagne taste but you're on a sparkling wine budget, we recommend bookmarking this article stat—because each bottle costs just $15 or less.
"In the right hands, chenin blanc can be made into world-class wine," explains sommelier Jeremy Allen of MiniBar in Hollywood. "Outside of France, it's made into extremely delicious and inexpensive wine. It's the most planted varietal in South Africa, and between South Africa and California, there are chenins made for chugging AND chenins made for pairing and pondering."
Chenin blanc "has enough body and sweetness to pair with spice and enough acidity to drink on its own when it's hot out," according to Allen. This bottle (and the Dry Creek Vineyard one above) has enough "versatility to please a range of discerning palates—unique enough to impress and approachable enough to please a crowd," the sommelier adds.
"For those seeking a full-bodied red wine with more earth and muscle than soft fruit and a 'jammy' character, meet this delicious Aglianico from southern Italy," says sommelier Claire Coppi of Mirabelle Wine Bar in Los Angeles. "On the nose, the ripe dark fruits and a hint of orange are balanced by notes of pipe tobacco, leather, spice, and cedar. The velvety tannins make this an excellent wine to pair with hearty stews, game, brisket, or aged cheeses. And for $15 a bottle, this Aglianico is a real bargain!"
"Spain has a wealth of native varietals that are not known to most wine consumers, and the quality to price ratio is off the charts compared to most traditional winemaking countries," offers Ben Teig, wine director at Redbird in downtown Los Angeles. "Bobal is a grape that is native to Spain and Bodegas Mustiguillo specializes in this grape. The winery is part of the Pago DO, which means they are outside of the traditional appellation laws but have been recognized as having exceptional quality and all of the fruit is estate grown.
This wine is very flexible when pairing with food, pairing with a myriad of different dishes or just as an aperitif as well."
"We've all heard of the great Spanish red and white wines of Rioja but right next door in Catatyud D.O., Bodegas Breca is producing wine of exceptional quality from the oldest clones of garnacha in the world," says Bill Giering, wine director at The Rose Venice in Venice, California. "Called garnacha de Aragon, it is harvested from ninety-year-old vines planted on hillside quartz and slate dominant vineyards 900 feet above sea level to produce its impressive Garnacha de Fuego 2016. It's a wine whose deep purple color adds to an initial experience of black currants and plum which is only to be balanced by full-bodied notes of black licorice and dark smoky earth."
"This wine is great any time of year," recommends Amy Racine, wine director for The Loyal in Manhattan's West Village. "It goes really well with BBQ in the summer and roasted veggies during the winter. It's a fun spicy grape (carmenere) that cabernet sauvignon lovers would really enjoy if looking to try something different. The vineyard also invests in sustainable winemaking and farming, resulting in a very low carbon footprint."
"I had the opportunity to meet with George Skouras, the winemaker and owner of Domaine Skouras while in Greece, and fell in love with his Moscofilero," confesses Jessica Altieri, wine and water sommelier at the Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach. "This is an aromatic white grape varietal from the Peloponnese with beautiful white floral, honeysuckle, and citrus aromas and flavors. This elegant wine is a fantastic value and has a crisp, refreshing finish that would be a perfect pairing with the octopus."
Up next: A wine expert spills—this is exactly what to pair with sauvignon blanc.