by Eric Asimov
Wine comes in seemingly endless varieties, from a growing number of places and in countless styles. While the choise may sometimes seem overwhelming, they also present a wonderful opportunity for pleasure and experimentation.
On a recent expedition through a handful of Manhattan shops, I found these 20 excellent bottles, all under $20. They come from eight different countries, and even more regions. Most of these are red, in deference to the season, when most people gravitate toward heartier dishes. But in winter I still eat foods that call for white wines, and I always like sparkling wines, so both are represented as well.
The $20 price is crucial. Budget-minded shoppers may recoil, believing they can find plenty of bottles under $10. That’s true, and most of those wines will be technically sound. They will also be boring, the scourge of mass-market wines today.
By contrast, most of these are from small producers who work traditionally and sometimes iconoclastically. Wines like these cost a little more, from $15 to $25, but for that price, the level of interest and pleasure in the wines increases exponentially.
Among these selections are merlot and chardonnay, seemingly the most mundane of wines, but delicious when carefully and conscientiously produced. Alongside are rarities, made from grapes like vespolina, xinomavro, vernatsch and persan, which have long local histories but are largely unknown in the United States. Why not give them a try?
These 20 bottles were the top results from my own shopping. Invariably, different stores in other parts of the country will have entirely different inventories and selections. If you cannot find any of these bottles, ask a good local wine shop what their best values are for around $20, specifying any broad preferences you may have, like red or white.
It’s possible that some merchants will simply try to unload bottles they cannot otherwise sell. The best stores will not want to saddle you with rejects. They will honor your request and give you what they think is best for the price. That’s how you get customers to return.
Here are the 20 bottles, in no particular order.
Cerasuolo di Vittoria is one of the great wines of Sicily, made in the Vittoria region in the southeastern part of the island. This refreshing bottle from Valle dell’Acate is a fantastic value, earthy and lightly tannic, with rippling acidity and aromas of red and dark fruit. The high notes come from the frappato grape, the baritone from nero d’Avola. (Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, N.Y.)