Some truly fantastic wines aren’t only accessible to people who look like the Monopoly guy. While it’s true that some expensive wines are worth the hype, it’s also true that a skilled winemaker can be equally skilled at coaxing the best quality fruit from his vineyard, or by budgeting during the winemaking process, effectively bringing down the price of their quality vino.
“A value wine is one that truly over delivers regardless of price point,” says Josh Phelps, winemaker at Grounded Wine Co., an up-and-coming California brand making high-quality wines at great value. He adds that for his brands, “quality of fruit is number one, and that has a lot to do with the farmers we choose to work (with).”
Outside of the U.S., Chile is one of the world’s greatest resources for value-driven, quality wines. Winemaker Emmanuel Riffaud says that it’s the “richness of Chile’s soil and the variety of climates,” that give rise to “extraordinary diversity of terroirs that are ideal for wine-producing,” in an array of styles and from an array of grapes. It’s also the numerous high altitude regions, as Riffaud points out, that can create exceptional reds, courtesy of “incredible pure sunlight which aids in the development of beautiful ripe fruit characteristics,” while cooler nights “help lock in color and high toned aromatics.” In terms of ‘value’ and what that means to new wine drinkers, Riffaud believes that those just getting into wine “will look for more affordable wines that don’t sacrifice quality or taste.”
The difficult part, of course, is knowing which inexpensive wines are brimming with exceptional quality, hiding behind the myriad labels out there. To save you the trouble of buying every wine on the shelf in front of you, I’ve done the difficult work and suffered many foil cuts for it. Here's my curated list of the best cheap red wines to drink right now.
Best Overall: Grounded Wine Co Public Radio 2017
- Region: California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
- ABV: 14.4%
- Tasting Notes: Black cherry, red berries, cinnamon, chocolate
Winemaker Josh Phelps was born into a Napa winemaking family and the way of the vine is in his blood. His Grounded Wine Co. is a platform for the superstar winemaker to branch out from his Napa roots to find his footing in California’s central coast and beyond.
Public Radio is a downright delicious example that showcases the caliber of Phelps’s craftsmanship. Flashy red berry fruit, black cherry, raspberry coulis, and crushed violets give way to juicy strawberry, cherry, and cinnamon with pops of chocolate. Elongated tannins are silken and the finish lasts for days.
Read Next: The Best Red Wines
Best Argentina: The Owl & The Dust Devil 2016
- Region: Argentina, Mendoza
- ABV: 14.5%
- Tasting Notes: Red licorice, oak, dried herbs
Sometimes when it comes to red wine, the South American way is the way to go. This Malbec-centered red blend is born from vineyards in Argentina’s Mendoza region, nestled at the foot of the Andes Mountains. Matured in French oak barrels for eighteen months, this is a tasty Argentinian treat, making it our best Argentina wine for its complexity and value.
Best California: Rutherford Hill Barrel Select Red Blend 2016
- Region: California, Napa Valley
- ABV: 14.5%
- Tasting Notes: Plum, oak, chocolate, cherry, raspberry
Napa Valley outfit Rutherford Hill has for many decades specialized in making their fantastic merlot. That top-notch merlot makes a splash in this 2016 red blend, an excellent representation of Napa Valley ingenuity from their celebrated winemaker, Marisa Taylor. Bold and fairly dry, this wine is packed with pleasant acidity and limber tannins.
Read Next: The Best Sweet Red Wines
Best Italian: Frescobaldi Nipozzano Vecchie Viti Chianti Rufina Riserva 2014
- Region: Italy, Tuscany, Chianti
- ABV: 13.5%
- Tasting Notes: Red cherry, tannins, cocoa, salt
When a family winery has been in business for 700 years, you have to assume that they know what they’re doing. By now, Frescobaldi is a Tuscan institution and the generations of winemaking expertise shine through in this elegant 2014 bottle of Chianti Rufina.
Read Next: The Best Cheap Wines
Best Northern California: Raeburn Pinot Noir 2019
- Region: California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
- ABV: 14.5%
- Tasting Notes: Red berry fruit, spices, mocha, cola on the finish
Pinot Noir grapes fulfill their highest potential growing in maritime climates, and the Raeburn Winery, with its Russian River appellations engulfed by the Pacific Ocean air, has this in spades. With a mission statement devoted to a love of the land and sustainable practices, Raeburn’s wines are truly the fruit of the earth.
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Best Pinot Noir: Talbott Kali Hart Pinot Noir 2017
- Region: California, Central Coast, Monterey
- ABV: 14.6%
- Tasting Notes: Bing cherry, tilled earth, espresso bean, caramel
Winemaker David Coventry makes the most of the land at Talbott Vineyards, known to specialize in both chardonnay and pinot noir. Using traditional techniques straight out of Burgundy, their pinot grapes are fermented in open-air tanks to allow more oxygen flow to achieve their more sumptuous flavors. This is a best in class example because of its balance of ripe California fruit and Old World complexity. Sweet, silken red berry fruit intermingle with polished, grippy tannins to give this wine a long, spicy finish.
Best Paso Robles: Chronic Cellars Suite Petite 2018
- Region: California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
- ABV: 14.8%
- Tasting Notes: Oak, roasted coffee, salted caramel, black licorice, blackberry
You shouldn’t always judge a wine by its label, but in the case of Chronic Cellars, you’re getting exactly what it looks like: fun, vibrant, colorful, and against the grain. To bolster their subversive persona, this Paso Robles outfit has winemaker Kip Lorenzetti running the show who cut his teeth at the reputable Orcutt Cellars and Wild Horse Winery. Furthermore, Paso Robles deserves more time in the national spotlight—for too long, because of its proximity, it’s been a Los Angeles wine lover’s secret gem. No longer!
Toasty oak on the nose gives way to roasted coffee beans, salted caramel, black licorice, and blackberry coulis with a dollop of blueberry sauce. Nothing but juicy, satiny fruit on a long oaky finish.
Best Cabernet Sauvignon: Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
- Region: California, Central Coast
- ABV: 14.8%
- Tasting Notes: Blueberry, blackberry, creme de cassis, espresso bean, chocolate
The Smith & Hook vineyards that lie in the Salinas Valley in California’s central coast were specifically sought out for the purpose of making delicious cabernet sauvignon. Previous vintages for this bottle have consistently scored high marks from reputable wine critics and since the land is ideal for the varietal, future vintages ought to continue the tradition.
Loaded with ripe sweet blueberry and blackberry jam, matched by decadent creme de cassis, espresso bean and chocolate, this wine goes down like silk on the tongue with a long wild herb finish.
Best Washington: Owen Roe Sinister Hand 2019
- Region: Washington, Columbia Valley, Yakima Valley
- ABV: 14.1%
- Tasting Notes: Purple violets, blueberry preserves, black cherry pie, graham cracker crust on the finish
The vineyards of Owen Roe straddle both sides of the Washington-Oregon border, but this 2019 vintage of their Sinister Hand label is pure Yakima Valley in Washington. The high desert micro-climates make it possible for the land to yield multiple varietals of high-quality wine. This bottle is a mystical blend of five: syrah, grenache, mourvédre, white rhone and cinsault.
Best Sweet: Turley Old Vines Zinfandel 2018
- Region: California
- ABV: 15.5%
- Tasting Notes: Blackberry, plum, peach, orange zest
Turley is a world-class staple producer. Their 2018 Old Vines Zinfandel is a mixed breed of California vineyards ranging from the central coast to Napa. With a higher-than-usual alcohol content and using the juice of exceptionally ripe grapes, this bottle gives off the perception of being a sweet wine while actually being more dry than sweet. To coin a phrase, this wine features a “phantom sweetness.”
Upfront, there's blackberry and plum, with a peachy kick before the orange zest on the back end delivers a light, medium-bodied, and lasting finish.
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Best For Sangria: Juan Gil Jumilla Silver Label 2016
- Region: Spain, Murcia, Jumilla
- ABV: 15%
- Tasting Notes: Blackberry, plum, black cherry, tobacco, oak
For years, Juan Gil was the standard-bearer of Jumilla—a wine region little known to Americans until Gil entered their daily lexicon. But with fame and fortune, production has increased, and while this label was once a wine to cellar and enjoy over years, today, it’s built more for a refreshing sangria. Spanish monastrell grapes add deep, dark flavors that pair nicely with an accouterment of fruit.
Best Spanish: Tinto Pesquera Crianza 2016
- Region: Spain, Ribera del Duero
- ABV: 14%
- Tasting Notes: Oak, vanilla, black fruit
Spain strikes again with this robust red from Tinto Pesquera. This bottle is powered by the noble tempranillo grape, often used to make Port in Portugal where it goes by a different name, Tinta Roriz. But this wine is a whole other ballgame—aged 18 months in American oak barrels, six months in the bottle, and ready for demanding tongues everywhere. Pair this bottle with red meats and aged cheeses.
Best Chilean: Escudo Rojo Gran Reserva 2018
- Region: Chile, Central Valley, Maipo Valley
- ABV: 14%
- Tasting Notes: Black currant, blackberry, oak, chocolate
Chile’s Maipo Valley is the country’s most popular and internationally recognized wine-producing region and due to the natural terroir there, cabernet sauvignon remains its most widely-grown variety. Enter the 2018 Escudo Rojo from the famed Bordeaux Baron Phillippe de Rothschild family banner, and you get to see how the French do Chile, delivering incredible phenolics, mature tannins, and complexity on par with other top cabernet regions like Bordeaux and Napa but at fraction of the price.
This wine has a very nice dry, spicy palate and good woodsy tannins. It goes perfectly with a ribeye steak.
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Jonathan Cristaldi has written about wine and spirits for over a decade. He regularly tastes wines from around the globe, and personally tasted every wine in this roundup, except for the Rutherford Hill. Cristaldi was named a "Wine Prophet" by Time Out New York for his witty and often avant-garde approach to wine education.