Posted by bruce-bradley on February 26, 2015 at 8:45 AM

WINES UNDER $15.00...

You know, life really is funny sometimes. When your job title is “Winemaker” you mostly don’t have to pay for wine. Free wine (as long as you don’t abuse the privilege) is one of the perks. When you do pay for wine, you get it for half price. Other wineries will usually sell you their wines for 30% - 50% off—or will trade it with you, bottle for bottle, so it’s still free or close to it.  And if you’re a Napa Valley winemaker with wines regularly scoring in the mid-nineties, like I was, the wines you drink are usually pretty stellar.


Then, one day, things change. You leave the business, maybe move to another area where you’re not known.  And free wine is no longer a part of your life.   Especially, really good free wine. Suddenly, you have to pay—


You want how much for that?


I’ll be honest with you.  Even when I was making the stuff I couldn’t have afforded to drink wines I made on a regular basis if I had to pay for them.  As winemaker for Wm. Harrison Winery in St. Helena, CA, the wines I made averaged $45.00 – $75.00 a bottle—and they are well worth it.  However, popping for one of those wines every night was never in my budget.  Now that I’m retired from the wine industry altogether, I’ve had to lower my standards a bit.


I decided to go in search of a good, inexpensive bottle of red wine, never expecting to really find one.  Many wines in the under – $15.00 range are barely worth tasting.  I’ve found a number of them that taste like dry, acidic Kool Aid.  A few are okay.   A good number of them are all right if you don’t think of them as wine; just something to wash your dinner down with. Of course, I can also think of a few high-end wines I’ve had that would also fall into that category.  A high price does not always equal excellence.


With that in mind, I’ve decided to start rating the wines I try out. Now, I’ve never been a “wine writer” per se, but I have spent a good portion of my life evaluating and creating wines that were well-received (I’ve gotten back – to – back scores of 94 points, Double-Gold Medals, and one of the last of the wines I made—the 2010 Wm. Harrison Cabernet Franc—won Best Of Class in the San Francisco Chronicle Tasting), so I think I am somewhat qualified to do this. I’ll be using a star system, rather than points, to keep it simple. The results will be based, not only on wine quality, but dollar value for what you’re getting as well.  And I’ll try to not be too snobby about it.  Still, don’t expect to see many five-star wines on this list…




2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

Sebastopol, CA


$5.99 at Grocery Outlet in Grass Valley, CA


The wine label says “Vinted” which means they probably didn’t make the wine themselves, but bought it in bulk, aged it for a time and then bottled it. That doesn’t make it bad or good. There are a lot of different ways to have a wine label. You don’t always have to own your own winery or your own grapes. Here goes—


Subtle, fruity nose. Okay acid/fruit balance. Decent body for a $6.00 bottle of wine. Kind of falls off at the end.  All right for sitting around at a BBQ if you don't think about it too much.







2012 Essential Red – California


$9.49 at Safeway in Grass Valley, CA


My first sip was a very pleasant surprise. Bold oak and rich cherry-berry flavors with a hint of chocolate, nicely balanced tannins and a delightful finish. This is a blend of old-vine Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Sirah. Probably the best wine you will find for under $40.00. Amazing!  I’m eating my words and giving this wine top scores for flavor and value, and hope there’s more when I get back to the store…



Okay, that's it for starters.  Two wines--one of them a huge surprise.  I'll be back with more soon--maybe not as soon as I planned, depending on the supply of Bogle that Safeway has.  Hah!






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1 Comment

Reply Dianna
10:51 PM on February 26, 2015 
A very enjoyable read, and I'm looking forward to the next "rating". Will definitely be checking out the BOGLE.