They Go High We Go Low

A sommelier approaches, a wine bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag in her left hand. Scotch tape secures the bag around the bottle’s neck, swirls around its cylinder middle and grips the bottom. There is no chance of seeing the label, the foil or any other identifying parts. The sommelier flashes a Cheschire cat grin. 

She raises the bottle above her head, revealing the natural cork jutting out an eighth of an inch from the bottle’s opening. It’s not a sparkling wine bottle. This can be easily deduced. If your blood pressure is rising from the excitement of reading this blog, you’ve probably played a blind tasting game before. Adrenaline rushes and questions begin to fill your mind; did the somm bottle open to let the wine breath? It could be left over from last night’s dinner… What can this wine be?

We have your attention. Game on. 

Tasting without sight

Blind tasting is not all fun and games. It’s a tasting method where all recognizable markers (the wine label, bottle shape or even color) of a wine are hidden so that it can be identified or judged without clues or prejudice. The wine is revealed only when the taster has used all of her senses and knowledge to deduct as much information as she can about the wine; place of origin, variety, vintage and producer. 

Most sommelier certifications beyond level one includes a grueling blind tasting component. Once the tests are over, we retain this practice to sharpen our tasting skills, stump our friends and to share new finds. When one of my sommelier friends  approaches with a wide grin and a brown bagged wine the wines are as likely to be rare as they are what my friend Cornelius Lee calls a “cheap and cheery.” One of the sommelier’s superpowers is the ability to find delicious wines at any budget. We know the way to impress our guests, friends and clients is to help them stretch their dollars while pleasing their palates. 

I have been introduced to many budget- wines via a sommelier blind tasting challenges. When you taste blind, you are tasting without prejudice, and thus can fully judge a wine. If an inexpensive but well-made wine comes your way, you can judge it on its inherent qualities, not on its label or perceived value.This is how I have amassed many of my  wallet-friendly wine recommendations. Here are five budget -friendly wines that taste like you broke the piggy bank. 

Five Budget -Friendly Wines That Taste Like You Broke the Piggy Bank. 

NV Pierre DELIZE Blanc de Blanc Brut, France – My friend Cornelius Lee, who holds the WSET III, put me up on this sparkling wine from France. This blanc de blanc (made from white grapes) tastes like a chilled apple compote. Fresh, tasty and simple, this wine will satisfy a bubbly craving without busting the budget. Cornelius says, “I’m a bubbles everyday kind of guy, but I’m also on a budget. So, this simple yet delicious Blanc de Blanc checks the boxes for my pocketbook and my palate. It’s my go to sip while I’m cooking, the perfect beach drink with some ice and Italian soda, and a great bottle to bring to a cookout.” $10

2022 CHATEAU ST. MICHELLE Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley, WA – Winemaker David Cho and his business partner and  wife Lois Cho of Cho Wines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley schooled me on the Chateau St. Michelle Dry Riesling. This wine is clean with notes of apples, peaches and lemon. “We used to drink that Chateau St Michelle Dry Riesling as our table wine while Dave was attending Oregon State during his winemaking studies. Such a steal!” Says Lois Cho. Shake out your coin purse and treat yourself to this  $10 delight!

2019 CANTELE PRIMITIVO, Salento, IGTA budget friendly region discovered during my empire building state, is Puglia in Southern Italy. Made of primitivo grape, which has been confirmed as identical to American Zinfandel and the Croatian variety Crljenak Kasteljanski. Primitivo is less jammy than typical American Zinfandels and less costly, two characteristics that I appreciate. From one of the most celebrated wineries in the region, the Cantele primitivo  is fresh and gentle with pretty red fruit, soft tannis and the flexibility to pair with a salad, burger or a cool evening.  $13

2020 ALTOS DE LUZÓN  Jumilla, Spain – I have always had champagne taste, but while building my business I was on a beer budget. Watching every penny led me to the wines of Jumilla, Spain. There are many delicious bargain priced wines to choose from. One of my long time favorites is the Altos de Luzon. This wine is made from organic monastrell grapes. The color is a gorgeous deep ruby red. The palate is fresh, medium bodied, with notes of lucious red and black berries, 70% chocolate and cinnamon. $18 

2020 CAN BLAU MONTSANT, SPAIN.  I don’t believe I have ever missed tasting a vintage of this wine since I discovered it circa 2012. From the Monsant D.O. region of Spain, known for its famed llicorella (slate soil) mixed with limestone and clay, this wine offers richness and complexity at a great value. This wine is a blend of 40% Mazuelo (Carignan), 40% Syrah and 20% Garnacha. The wine is full bodied, with black berries, black cherries, lavender, herbs and pepper. $16