Picking my annual 50 under $50 list was extremely difficult this year. There are more delicious value wines than ever from around the globe. And I should know: I sampled a couple thousand of them in 2020.
You can now find bargain bubbly from everywhere, including Greece, California, and South Africa. My fizz surprise of the year was the quality of bottles from Brazil. Add in the ever-expanding number of pétillant naturel wines now available, and you could enjoy a different—and good—fizz each day of the year. Experiment!
Sadly, it’s still difficult to find great Champagnes that cost less than $50 a bottle. Best bets, as always, are entry-level, nonvintage sparklers from the best big houses and especially from up-and-coming grower-producers.
The rules for finding the top red, white, and rosé values haven’t changed much. Riesling from everywhere is still undervalued as are wines made from esoteric grapes. Examples with turbiana (white) as well as parpato and susumaniello (both red) made my list this year.
Among my other discoveries were top wines from under-the-radar regions such as Lebanon and Portugal’s Alentejo. Italy proved to be a huge source of bargains. (They’re also exempt from the 25% tariffs the U.S. imposed on English, French, German, and Spanish wines last fall, which I hope will be rescinded next year.)
Bordeaux remains a bigger value region than most people think; look for second wines from the best estates, especially from the great 2016 vintage now on retail shelves.
Producers recommended in my previous 50 under $50 are still putting out great bargains, but as always, I’ve put the spotlight on new names. My final advice? Shop around, especially for Champagne. Retail prices can vary as much as $10 to $15 a bottle.
For top values, hunt outside Champagne and don’t forget popular pétillant naturels.
2017 Julia Bernet Cava Brut Nature Ingenius ($17)
Spanish cava gets better and better. This tasty entry-level bottling, made from organic grapes, has hints of herbs and crisp apples.
NV Graham Beck Brut Rosé ($19)
This widely available, quaffable South African fizz is pale pink and strawberry-scented, and shows lovely summer berry flavours.
NV Paula Kornell Brut ($20)
The daughter of a pioneering California fizz maker introduced her own project last year. Her basic brut is lively and crisp, with lush aromas and tiny bubbles.
For pétillant naturel lovers, this northern Italian fun fizz made from rare solaris grapes is intensely grapefruity and salty, ideal for sipping on holiday afternoons.
NV Casa Valduga DM Brut ($30)
This brand-new, limited edition Brazilian sparkling wine is direct to consumer only. It’s incredibly crisp, fresh, and bright, perfect for an easy-drinking aperitif.
Champagne lovers take note: Claire Naudin’s vivacious organic fizz from Burgundy shows the kind of complexity and perfumed aromas that most crémants don’t have.
NV J Vineyards & Winery Cuvée 20 ($38)
The first release of this cuvée celebrated the Russian River winery’s 20th anniversary. The current bottling, with its hints of green apple and ginger, is just as good.
When only Champagne will do
To find the biggest bargains, check out nonvintage, entry-level cuvées from grower-producers and the best grandes marques.
NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve ($38)
Seventh generation Mathieu Roland-Billecart took over this 200-year-old house last year. New experiments cost more than $50, but this entry-level brut shows off its classic, elegant style.
NV L. Aubry Fils Premier Cru Brut ($40)
This crowd-pleaser is medium-bodied and harmonious, with aromas of baking bread and white flowers.
NV A. Margaine Brut Le Brut ($40)
Citrusy and pure, this silky-textured cuvée made from 90% chardonnay and 10% pinot noir is a perfect aperitif.
NV La Caravelle Rosé Brut ($42)
It’s tough to find rosé Champagne for less than $50, which is why this tangy, cherry-scented one, first made for New York French restaurant La Caravelle, is a steal.
NV Christophe Mignon Brut Nature Blanc de Noirs Pur Meunier ($47)
This cuvée captures two current trends: It’s ultradry (zero dosage) and made from 100% pinot meunier, which gives it bright, intense fruit-and-floral aromas and a creamy texture.
A young woman chef de cave makes this zingy aperitif-style all-chardonnay fizz. Although some shops charge more, it can be found with a $50 price tag, and sometimes less.
From light, elegant aperitifs to lusciously rich wines for a grand dinner
2019 Enrico Serafino Gavi di Gavi Grifo del Quartaro ($15)
This clear, crisp, chalky white made from the cortese grape is evidence that this Piedmontese winery is on the verge of a renaissance.
2019 Tommasi Lugana Le Fornaci ($18)
Made from the turbiana grape, this pale, mineral-y white comes from an Italian region on the shores of Lake Garda that’s just catching global attention.
2019 Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($20)
Vivid, citrusy, and intense, this is more subtle than most New Zealand “savvies” and silkier in texture.
2019 Château Pégau Cuvée Lône Côtes du Rhône Blanc ($20)
Domaine Pégau produces expensive cult wines, but its château line includes this fresh, ripe, peach-scented white that offers a taste of the style for much less.
2017 Guido Marsella Fiano di Avellino ($23)
Fiano is one of Italy’s underrated white varieties, but it shouldn’t be. This round-textured organic bottling with juicy fruit-and-almond flavours shows why.
2017 Duchman Family Winery Roussanne Oswald Vineyard ($24)
Get ready to be wowed by the first vintage of this vibrant, savory Texas white made from a white grape popular in the Rhône Valley.
2018 Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Sauvignon Blanc ($26)
This is always one of the truly delicious wines in this region, with crushed dried herb aromas and flavours of yellow pears and a hint of grapefruit.
2018 Reyneke Old Vine Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch ($27)
South Africa is an excellent source of stunning chenin blanc. This pale, straw-coloured, biodynamic white is rich and layered, with quince and spice notes.
2018 Pieropan Soave Classico Calvarino ($28)
The dry whites from this region in the volcanic hills near Verona are being rediscovered. This exuberant example shows how deep and complex they can be.
2018 Camins 2 Dreams Grüner Veltliner Spear Vineyard ($30)
Native American Tara Gomez and her Spanish wife, Mireia Taribo Tena, started this California winery in 2017. This lime-scented white has tangy pepper and mineral flavours.
2018 Domaine de Baronarques Limoux Chardonnay ($32)
This exciting Languedoc bargain, from an outpost of Château Mouton-Rothschild’s wine empire, offers a mix of hazelnut aromas and lush, creamy richness.
2015 David & Nadia Swartland Aristargos ($36)
Virtually any wine from this talented couple is worth drinking. This South African white blend sports aromas of nectarines and flavours of spice and lemon.
2016 Domäne Wachau Ried Achleiten Riesling Smaragd ($45)
Why don’t people drink more riesling? This top-level example from Austria is both succulent and steely, ripe and juicy, fruity and mineral.
2019 Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc ($45)
I never tire of drinking this sophisticated citrus-and-mineral Napa Valley classic, which the estate has been perfecting for 35 years.
Rosé for all seasons
Full-flavoured dry pink wines for savoring alone or with food
2018 Chateau Musar Musar Jeune Rosé ($20)
This complex, mouth-filling rosé, a blend of mourvèdre and cinsault, comes from organic vineyards in Lebanon and is superb with foods such as roast turkey.
2019 Halarà Rosato ($23)
This new wine project in western Sicily aims to save a vineyard with rare local parpato vines. The rosé is a gulpable vin de soif—bright, fresh, and positively yummy.
2019 Minus Tide Carignan Rosé ($24)
Three 30-year-olds founded this winery in Mendocino in 2017, and their wines are delicious, especially this dry, salty rosé made from 112-year-old carignan vines.
2019 Vik La Piu Belle Rosé ($28)
Classy and elegant, this lavender-scented rosé from one of Chile’s top producers comes in a stunning art bottle and tastes of ripe berries, herbs, and citrus.
Light, rich reds
From fruity examples ideal for chilling to serious grand dinner bottles
2018 Tenuta San’Antonio Familia Castagnedi Nanfrè Valpolicella ($15)
This young Valpolicella from an Amarone producer is everything you want in a daily quaffer: It’s bright, fresh, fruity, and just plain yummy.
2017 Herdade de Coelheiros Coelheiros ($16)
With its smoky richness, this silky-textured alicante bouschet-aragonez blend is flat-out delicious. Wines like this are why Portugal’s Alentejo region is hot.
2018 Schiava Abbazia di Novacella ($19)
Soft, light reds that can be chilled are having a moment. This Italian bottling is delicate and juicy, with hints of alpine herbs.
2018 Masseria Li Veli Salento Susumaniello Rosso ($22)
A top winery in Puglia overdelivers in this lovely, dry, juicy red from an ancient grape. It’s loaded with mouth-filling dark cherry flavours.
2017 Bodegas Caro Amancaya Reserve Red Blend ($24)
This widely available smooth and juicy blend of malbec and cabernet sauvignon from Argentina is a joint venture of Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Bodega Catena Zapata.
2011 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Cubillo Tinto Crianza ($26)
This revered Rioja estate’s traditionalist wines include this undervalued lively and subtle tempranillo-based red.
2017 Moric Blaufränkisch ($29)
Winemaker Roland Velich is the Austrian maestro for the blaufränkisch grape, and his savory entry-level bottling serves up a lot of elegance for the price.
2018 Château Moulin-à-Vent Couvent des Thorins ($30)
Sadly, Beaujolais wines are not as cheap as they once were. This one is completely satisfying, smooth, and serious—it just says, “Drink me.”
2017 David Duband Hautes Cotes de Nuits Rouge Louis Auguste ($33)
Burgundy is expensive, so it pays to look in the “outer boroughs.” This ripe, crushed-berry red has some of the top bottles’ famous silky texture.
2019 Zuccardi Concreto ($34)
This violet-scented, plummy, concentrated red is a fine example of a new style of higher altitude Argentine malbecs. It’s fermented and aged in concrete tanks.
2018 Tablas Creek Vineyard Grenache ($35)
Soft and generous, with exuberant fruit, this red from California’s underappreciated Paso Robles is ideal with grilled meat.
2016 Château Siran ($45)
This up-and-coming Bordeaux château in the Margaux appellation produced an intense, sensual wine with velvety tannins in this great vintage.
2018 The Hilt Estate Pinot Noir ($45)
This is a luscious style of California pinot noir that explodes with red berry flavours and has a long, lingering finish. (To purchase, you have to sign on to the mailing list.)
2018 Virgen del Galir A Villeira As Ermitas ($50)
The first vintage of a serious Spanish red is from a grand cru-quality vineyard in Valdeorras. With notes of wild herbs, flowers, licorice, and smoke, it’s a stunner right at our price limit.
2017 Quinta de la Rosa La Rosa ($50)
Concentrated and structured, this intense, powerful Douro red is made with traditional varieties used in vintage port. It’s a collectible to age. And worth bending the rules slightly on this list.
When you want something cutting-edge and unusual
2018 Montinore Estate L’Orange ($35)
Intriguing orange zest and apricot flavours make this biodynamic skin-fermented blend from Oregon’s Willamette Valley an easy intro to orange wines.
2018 Cambridge Road Vineyard Naturalist Pétillant Naturel ($25)
I discovered this natural-wine producer on a trip to New Zealand, and at last the wines are in the U.S. This subtle cider-y sparkler is a must for fans of orange wines.
Ideal after-dinner sipping during the holidays—or whenever
This second wine of Château Suduiraut, famous for honey-sweet Sauternes, is designed to woo drinkers with a lighter but still luscious drink-me-now style.
Even the brilliant amber colour of this sweet wine from Tuscany makes you want to get out the biscotti for dipping. Think candied apricots and figs and a texture like warm honey.
*Prices have been kept in USD since article is based on American sources.