AKA: It’s about f#@ing time!
After eight months full of distractions and mind-altering/elevating substances, it’s high time to land this 30 under $30 Series with ten wines flying under the radar that will allow even the most common peasant to drink like a king. Here we go!
Some disclaimers: The wines presented are the ones I found most exciting and have incredible QPR (quality-to-price ratio). The selections are based on my palate. If you get one of these wines and don’t like it, at least you didn’t spend more than $30.
Prices are all based on the WineSearcher average, so these wines may be more affordable or more expensive depending on your market.
Arnaud Lambert Cremant de Loire
Price $23 [WineSearcher]
Let’s start this list strong, with bubbles from a producer emerging as one of the brightest stars of the Loire Valley. Arnaud, who took over his father’s domaine after his unfortunate passing in 2011, has crafted some truly precise Chenin Blancs from the terroir of Brézé, a vineyard of immense quality known for crafting phenomenal wines (also farmed by the iconic Clos Rougeard).
The ideal viticultural excellence of Brézé and the winemaking of Arnaud Lambert may still be flying under the radar, but that is for the best, as you can procure these wines at a reasonable price.
The blend for this wine is predominantly Chenin Blanc, with occasionally some Chardonnay blended in some bottlings. The grapes are grown in the vineyard of Breze, one of the most esteemed terroirs in Samur. The wine experiences a 24-month lees aging regimen, followed by a dosage of 5 g/L
Herdade do Rocim Amphora Branco
Price: $18 [WineSearcher]
If you enjoy white wines with texture- some real crunchy and rich presence- at a great price, then Herade do Rocim’s amphora cuvee is your Tuesday night wine. The profile of this wine is not your typical summer fruit-basket white; it is somewhat smoky, flinty, earthy, and herbal, much like an Assyrtiko. The palate of this amphora-based wine is something to be savored: dry, salty, savory, and weighty. So pick up some oysters from your favorite fishmonger, drop $18 on a bottle, and prepare for an experience.
In classic Portuguese tradition, this wine blends indigenous Portuguese varieties: Antão Vaz, Perrum, and Rabo de Ovelha. Farmed from organic vineyards of Alentejo, close to the Spanish border in South-eastern Portugal. Fermented and aged in Amphora on skins for about six months. Unfiltered.
Domaine des Ardoisieres Silice Blanc, Vin de Allobroges
Price: $ 26 [WineSearcher]
In wine circles, there is often a discussion about purity vs complexity. Throughout my studies, I have noted that the wines perceived as high-quality tend to demonstrate pronounced flavors and intensity. Yet, upon escaping from the various “grids” provided to “systematically evaluate wine” (which is not to say that these grids weren’t immensely helpful at the beginning), I discovered that some of my favorite white wines exhibit this crystalline purity. The 100% Jacquere-based wine from Ardoisieres is a perfect example of this style. Though this wine is “natural,” [in the best way] eschewing the excessive use of sulfur, there are no flaws. At the same time, there is a slight rocky texture, adding a bit of weight to an essentially weightless, pristine wine. Seek out this wine to pair with delicate dishes; light in intensity but incredibly complex and nuanced.
Grapes come from the vineyards in the shadow of Mount Grenier in Apremont, Savoie. The vines grow on schistous ardoise (hard black shist native to the region). Vitrification is executed mainly in stainless steel tanks, but 1/3rd of the must is fermented and aged in neutral oak barrels.
Chateau Grand Village Blanc
Price: $26 [WineSearcher]
Admittedly, I haven’t always gotten the best of Sauvignon Blanc, or- for that matter- of Bordeaux. Both the grape and region have their proponents, but they always felt a bit commercial to me. With Bordeaux, much of the wine is mass-produced and released to grocery stores to ride out the namesake of its more famous Grand Cru Classe sites at a $15 price point. However, I have since learned that grand generalizations in wine are counterproductive and detrimental, as the quality of region and variety varies by producer more than by region. Enter Chateau Grand Village Blanc, an entry-level wine from Societe Civile de Chateau Lafleur. Unlike some Bordeaux Blancs tasted- which focus more on texture than freshness- the Blanc from Lafleur captures the perfect balance between palate-gripping tension and roundness.
The wine is a blend led by Sauvignon Blanc (70%+) and complemented by Semillon, a classic combination of grapes in Bordeaux Blanc. The wine is aged mainly in stainless steel, but smaller fractions are aged in new and one-year-old barrels.
Julian Haart, J.J. Riesling Kabinett, Mosel
Price: $30 [WineSearcher]
Much like the Ardoisieres Silice, this fresh Riesling from a new school German icon is the epitome of precision and purity. Riesling allocations for Julan Haart wines are incredibly sought after and can be rare to procure, but they are not expensive. So, if you can buy this wine and are a fan of Riesling with incredible purity and finesse, you need to pick up a bottle (or a case) now before it runs out. Julian’s experience working with Egon Muler and Klaus-Peter Keller further indicates that there is no ceiling to the quality of these wines.
Grapes grow on the steep slopes of Goldtröpfchen, one of Mosel’s highest-quality vineyards, and Falkenberg behind Piedsport in Mittelmosel. The wine has no oak character, so I assume it is stainless steel fermentation and aging. Residual sugar is around 46 g/L, though well balanced with the searing high acid.
Raphaelle Guyot Les Hates Pinot Noir, Yonne VDP
One of my recent discoveries is this perfect Pinot Noir from the Northern Bourgogne Department of Yonne, not too far from Chablis. Raphaelle is a newcomer to the pantheon of Burgundy producers. However, her northern location makes her styles closer to the wines of Sancerre than to the notable Grands Crus of Cote d’Or [not even mentioning the price]. Les Hates is a small vineyard planted in the early 2000s on a limestone plateau and, since forgotten, overgrown with brambles and weeds. Raphaelle re-discovered the vineyard and revived it to produce this incredibly juicy, fresh, bright wine. The wine exudes berry flavors; wild brambles, raspberries, strawberry jam, juicy red cherry, redcurrant, and blackcurrant make this wine an absolute pleasure. The slight herbal, stemmy quality and fresh acid add another layer of complexity.
100% whole cluster maceration and fermentation. The wine spends a short stint in neutral oak barrels.
Sindicat La Figuera Montsant Vi Sec
Price: $17 [WineSearcher]
I was introduced to this enigma of a wine while accidentally stumbling into a standard in-store tasting. And though there was no proper glassware, with an enthusiastic sales representative pouring the wine into a tiny plastic cup, the finesse of this wine was unmistakable. This Grenache exuded rich red fruit, soft but refined tannins, and elevated acid. The finish was long, persistent, silky, and spicy. Sindicat La Figuera was a wine of unbelievable elegance, and I had to know more about the vignerons who made it.
The story goes that a great storm devastated the town of La Figuera and its vineyards. Afterward, a few dedicated vignerons replanted and revived the town’s Granatxa vineyards, continuing the local tradition. Their efforts soon caught the attention of René Barbier, an iconic producer of $100+ wines of Clos Mogador and one of the pioneers of Priorat. Their united efforts increased the quality, bringing attention to La Figura’s soils and wines.
I was not shocked that this Grenache exhibited higher acidity levels (though the varietal tends to have a lower potential for acid). Nor was I surprised that Spanish wines (especially ones with Rene Barbier’s handprints) could achieve such levels of quality. Yet, when I learned that the wine retailed at just under $17, my jaw dropped. This incredible discovery is far too good not to share.
From the vignerons of the co-op in the village of La Figuera, at elevations between 400 and 600 m, the highest peaks in the Priorat/Montsant area. The 80-year-old bush vines grow on limestone-rich soils—the colder climate crafts wines of sublime acidity, elegance, and structure.
Thymiopoulos Vineyards Young Vines Xinomavro, Naoussa
Price $16 [WineSearcher]
Speaking of Catalunya, it was during my visit here that I first tasted the Greek wines of Apostolos Thymioupolos. Upon returning to the States, I was saddened to see that the specific wine I tasted there [Alta Naoussa] was unavailable. However, remembering the producer’s name, I quickly picked up his “Young Vines” blend, and it headlined my exploration of the Greek varietals. The flavor profile was approachable, herbal, floral, and red-fruited. To no one’s surprise, this wine was pure delectability. The powerhouse Xinomavro grape here, professed more restrainedly, felt like a perfect fit for a dinner table full of Greek meats and stuffed grape leaves.
From high altitude parcels around the village of Fytia at about 500 m and warmer, lower elevation vineyards of Trifolos village at 200 m. Vines are grown in dry-farmed schist, granite, and limestone soils—natural fermentation in stainless steel tanks, followed by eight months in concrete.
Douloufakis ‘Dafnios’ Liatiko, Dafnes
Price: $17 [WineSearcher]
Continuing my exploration of unique Greek wines, I was drawn to this indigenous variety from the island of Crete. I had never experienced this variety and was astounded by the wine’s brilliance and elegance upon first taste. This wine transcends boundaries between a Pinot Noir, a lighter style Nebbiolo, and a Sangiovese. That is to say, it is beautifully aromatic, herbal, a little earthy and leathery, and has plenty of savory notes to savor.
The wine spends up to 12 months in French oak barrels, both large 500L puncheons and smaller 225L barriques.
Envinate’ Albahra’ VDM [Almansa]
Price: $26 [WineSearcher]
I have long admired the Envinate project, envisioned by Laura Ramos, Jose Martinez, Roberto Santano, and Alfonso Torrente. The four friends met while studying oenology in Alicante. Since then, they have built a wine company that is the trendsetter for the Spanish wine future. Their raison d’etre is elevating single vineyard sites and reviving unique viticultural regions across Spain using traditional winemaking methods to produce wines full of depth and complexity.
The Envinate “empire” now includes four projects in Ribeira Sacra [North-Eastern Spain], Tenerife [Canary Islands], Almansa, and Extremadura. However, I chose the wine from where it all started, a vineyard just under an hour’s drive from the university where they all met.
The first thing I noticed about this wine was its incredible juiciness, freshness of fruit, and almost effortless weightiness.
You feel the texture, but it’s unimposing and unobtrusive. Then, a wave of acidity and minerality evolves on your palate as you taste. It is a delicious, perfectly balanced wine that is easy to pair and sip.
From vineyards 800 m in elevation in the Almansa region [South-Eestern part of Castilla-La Mancha, central Spain]. Garnacha Tintorera, a teinturier grape, dominates the blend, but with Moravia Agria- a rare indigenous variety- lifting acidity. The must is fermented with half of the stems included in 4500 L cement vats. The wine spends eight months in the same concrete vats.
If there is one common thread across these wines (aside from their price point being below $30 and all of the wines listed punch way above their $$ weight), it is their drinkability. In conversations with many a connoisseur, I often climb atop the soapbox and preach that wines are to be consumed, not idolized. Yet, at ever-growing prices, many consumers are turned off from having a glass of wine on a Tuesday instead of reaching for a can of beer or a [pre-made] cocktail/Selzer.
I wish to give those people a diverse selection of wines that are not “special occasion wines” but rather “wines of everyday enjoyment.”
So… let’s drink!