Need Inexpensive Wine Recs
- donnaaries Jul 6, 2006 07:58 PM
Hi, I'm throwing a wine-tasting party for a group of mid-20 somethings that's basically a "Wine 101." Everyone will bring a bottle and I'm trying to get all the basic categories covered. Since the majority of the crowd are not familiar with wines, I will need to make recommendations for affordable, common, but good ones so my guests can find them easily and don't have to spend too much (under $25). Since this is an intro to wine party, we won't be doing any blends. Basic categories I've thought of so far
White Zinfandel (I never drink this, but I know at least a couple of the guests are big fans, are there any decent ones?)
Port (can be more than $25 since I will probably be purchasing this one myself)
Need your input! What are some of your inexpensive favs? Thanks!
Sauvignon blanc: I'D say New Zeland's Kim Crawford.
Chardonnay: Burgundy will exceed your budget but a good Californian should do.
Cabernet Sauvigon: I really like J. Lohr's Seven Oaks
Chianti: How about Brolio
Shiraz: Out of Australia Wolf Blass has a good one or anything Penfolds. You could also try a french Syrah.
Pinot Noir: That one could be a bit tougher though Argyle in Oregon does some good Pinot. Could also go for Churton out of NZ or Coldstream Hill or Scotchman's Hill from Australia.
Riesling: I'd say Donnhoff from Germany if you can find some or some Hugel or Willm from Alsace.
Moscato: I really like Italy's Nivole. Slightly fizzy and full of apricot and peach flavors. To my knowledge, it's only available in half-bottle.
re: floofy cricket
You might also check out Windows on the World by Kevin Zraly. It's an excellent intro to wine. Jancis Robinson may have an intro book also.
I am sure you know this ... but there is a lot of variation within varietals. For example, California Chardonnays are very different from French ones. Same goes for French Burgundies vs Cal. Pinots vs. Oregon Pinots. The students may find it interesting to compare the same grape done in different parts of the world.
Finally, in terms of finding wines, one idea is to suggest your students go to a good wine store (you might give them suggestions about where to do) and the manager to suggest wines that are good examples of, say, California Cabernet, etc. The sales people in a good store will be familiar with their stock and will not steer them to something that is good, but different from a traditional wine. Plus, having them go into the store and ask for help may help make them less intimidated about wine stores. Just an idea.
I just have to chime in about "Great Wines Made Simple." It is the best beginner book that I have come across, and I still refer to it as a teaching tool whenever I have to do a wine seminar or lecture. Buy it. Whether or not you follow the tastings, you will be introduced to an approach that will serve you for the rest of your wine-loving life.
I just gotta speak out in favor of pink wine!
I'd downplay the White Zinfandel, but include some quality Rose' (aka "pink wine"), especially if your tasting is in the summer - hot weather, garlic, and dry crisp pink wine are made for each other.
The grapes used for White Zinfandel make a really wimpy wine, but a better grape results in a much nicer beverage. (Such as a pink wine from pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, grenache/garnacha, mourvedre, or other type of grape.) You might even be able to convert the White Zin drinkers!
My favorite pink wines are from France or Spain, but there are some really good American pinkes available. And good pink wine is suprisingly affordable. The best ones I know (Domaine Tempier Bandol from France and the amazing Torbreck Rose from Australia) are about $20 a bottle. Tavel, another great French pink wine, is about $15. Most good pinkies are $10 or less (like the tasty and likeable Toad Hollow Eye of the Toad for about $8).
Weimax Wines has some starter info on pink wine:
And there's lots more information, albeit aimed at UK drinkers, at Drink Pink:
Seghesio Zinfandel is my favorite Zin, and it's under $20 (they also make a $40 one that I haven't tried). So easy to drink, very much a crowd pleaser, and good with food or for chugging.
And Ravenswood always cracks me up with their slogan "No Wimpy Wine!" But I still like Seghesio better.
Here are my current inexpensive favorites:
Merlot - Bears Lair (California) - about $4 at Trader Joe's
Shiraz - Columbia Crest Two Vines - about $7
Malbec - Norton - regular about $8, reserve about $14
Chardonnay - Vendange - (had this on a Southwest flight recently, so couldn't be expensive)
Chardonnay - Bogle - about $8
Riesling - Chateau St. Jean - $10 to $15
Sauvignon Blanc - Monkey Bay - under $10
I see that you are in Texas and probably not within reach of a Trader Joe's. Other than the Bear's Lair, I've seen these in regular grocery stores or wine stores as well.
A few slightly more unusuals that a group of 20 somethings might not have tried yet. I was introduced to all of these within the last year, and have found that it's hard to find wines in these varietals. My best guess is that because these grapes aren't as popular and widespread, they haven't been mass produced to death. It's easy to find a horrible chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon, but I have yet to find a bad wine with the following names, even at under $20. These are the wines I tell my friends to get when they tell me they have no idea how to pick wine, because it's truly difficult to get a bad one.
Gruner Veltliner (a great wine for people who like gewurtztraminer, pinot grigio, or pinot gris)
Brachetto d'Acqui (light fizzy pink wine that blows lambrusco and rose out of the water, for me at least. They're what a little girl in ringlets and pink ribbons would drink, were little girls in ringlets and pink ribbons allowed to drink wine).
And you've forgotten the bubbly: was that intentional?
hello, you omitted one often overlooked grape which has a plethora of <$20 bottles that are good to very good, usually from S.France, Spain, or Australia, excellent with a wide range of food because of its characteristic acidity: grenache/garnacha. Any wine store worth your time will have several to choose from in this price range, many $12 or less--Las Rocas old vine garnacha comes to mind. Fonterutoli in Chianti has been owned by the Mazzei clan since the 15th century and their least expensive sangiovese,called Badiola, has stuffing beyond its price point--just had a 1997(don't expect to find a '97 in the store, but places like Bevmo will have plenty of a recent vintage) with plenty of life and fruit for a 9 yr. old $13 btl. For red wines, an intro can be just as well provided by blends, as many, many of the outstanding traditional wines are blends (merlot, for example, with cab. franc in St. Emilion, or with sangiovese in Tuscany or Umbria; chianti only recently was permitted to be 100% sangiovese; zinfandel thrived for years in field blends with petit syrah, mourvedre, alicante bouchet...whole is greater than the sum of parts could have been coined for wine. Traditional ports are always blends by the way) cheers
I'll admit, I've not had much grenache and it totally escaped my mind! Will add that one to the list.
As far as blends go, with this tasting I'd really like to just introduce some basic categories and for the guests to be introduced to the different grapes. About half the guests are not regular wine drinkers (or at all). But if this party goes well, I will certainly be looking to do a second one that includes the traditional blends and perhaps also sparkling wines.
I have done these parties before and they are a great way to engage people into wine and demistify the often cryptic talk about the characteristics of wine. I think its a great idea that you keep it basic and use international (french) varietals. You should follow up with a focus on countries after and make regional choices. Like doing a French wine tasting and cover all the regions. You could even do a varietal tasting, like was posted above. For example do Pinot Noir (French, Calis several regions, Oregons several regions, NZ, etc) Its a great idea what youre doing and remember just keep it simple b/c the point is to engage people into wine, not confuse them. Dont focus on types of fruit in the tasting, keep it simple:
Fruit (simple: dark or ripe, bright; not berries and all that)
Oak (once again simple toasty or smooth, not vanilla tobacco)
>Very rarely a wine is 100% one variety, regulations in France, Spain and Italy state that as long as the wine is composed of 85% the variety stated on the bottle, they can claim just one grape and even say its 100% one variety<
Even assuming you're talking only about varietally labelled wines, can French, Spanish and Italian wine regulations really be summarized so succinctly? Is it an EU thing? While I'm perfectly willing to admit to holes in my knowledge of the subject, this is the first time I've heard of such a rule in the EU (as opposed to the US, where the figure is 75%). And if you're not talking about varietally labelled wine, I'm pretty sure you're wrong about the "very rarely" bit. Beaujolais and Gamay de Touraine can only be gamay. Cornas can only be syrah. Alsatian varietals have to be 100% whatever grape they're labelled as. All Barolo is wholly nebbiolo. If it's not 100% chenin blanc, it's not Vouvray. And so on. No?
re: cleveland park
I have to say that among a huge list of excellent advice you should follow the advice in this post (from cleveland park).
In my opinion, people who rarely drink wine or don't know anything (really) about it won't get much (or at the very least won't remember much at all) from a survey of a dozen different varietals from all over the world.
As above - keep it simple.
IMO the best way to get into wine is to develop a basic understanding of the basic (okay, most popular/easiest to find) grapes and then expand. I would strongly suggest limiting yourself to perhaps:
maybe Syrah/Shiraz or Zin or Sangiovese/Chianti
Most people have heard of these, most people will like them, most people will remember the basics, etc.
Further, I think it is much, much better to try 2-4 wines of each varietal - it is really the best way to understand the diffences between grapes (which is the point for the uninitiated) even if they are vastly different within the varietal. With this method you can still try a dozen different wines or more and get more out of it. To me having a French Chard, American Chard, New Zeland Sauv Blanc, French Sauc Blanc, and American Suav Blanc would be much, much more informative than a French Chard, American Sauv Blanc, Italian Pinot Gris, German Riesling, Austrian Gruner. Sure they might all be great and distinct, but would a newbie have any real feel for why that is so or what they liked about This one versus That one that is inherent to the grape (not that particular bottle)?
Additionally, these 5-6 varietals can be used as jumping off points to other grapes in future parties.
Also, I strongly suggest playing a round of blind taste guessing at the beginning and end of the whites and reds. See if people can separate the Sauv Blancs from the Chards before/after tasting/discussing. Blinding really forces you to listen to your palate in a way that cannot be learned any other way.
In any case - have a good time!
I think the list should be narrowed too. Perhaps cutting it in half and having 2 guests bring the same varietal but from different wineries might be a better strategy. In my wine tasting party experience, if there are too many wines people are too tipsy to care about the last couple bottles of wine. The other advice I can offer is that when you are researching the wines look for terms like "fruit forward", "ready to drink now", "melon tasting". You want wines that are easy on the palate. As for specific wines I like Shiraz's from Australia. Rosemont has one or too very affordable choices. If any of the RH Phillips wines can be had in your area, then I recommend them as well. They have two chards (I like the toasted head), merlot and a petite syrah. All would be good beginner wines. Remember to serve lots of water and have plenty of munchies to enjoy along with the wine.
I have to agree with what most of rotochicken said.
With your proposed tasting, you are "biting off more than you can chew" so to speak.
As Andrea Immmer suggests, it is much better to cover the major grape varietals in your first session and use that as a jumping off point.
White wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay.
Red Wines: Pinot Noir, Syrah/Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon
This way, you can illustrate and learn some of the major characteristics of wines.
Sauvignon Blanc-grassy/herbaceous vs. citrus, acidity
Riesling-mineral vs. petrol, sweetness
Chardonnay-oak vs. non-oaked, cold climate vs. hot
Pinot Noir-fruity/floral vs. meaty/"barnyard"
Syrah-Aussie vs. French, N.Rhone vs. S. Rhone, ripeness
Cabernet Sauvignon-oaky/fruity vs. vegetal/leafy
and so on...
You might also consider providing copies of the University of California at Davis "aroma wheel" to have as a reference as you all learn about the wonders of wine.
Remember, that you should also provide:
1. Paper & pens so your guests can take notes
2. Water jugs, cups and bread/crackers for palate cleansing
3. Spit buckets
4. A proper white tablecloth for wine color analysis
5. Good lighting (see above)
6. Wine glasses appropriate for tasting i.e. the IANO
7 oz glass
Now that I think it over, I do believe I will cut down the number of varietals on the list. Occasionally, I am guilty of visiting one too many wineries when my judgement is already fuzzy and bringing home bottles that later on I realize, "why did I buy this?"
So thank you for the advice! I do believe I was trying to bite off more than I can chew (or is that chow for this board?)
I've really gotten into Italian wines recently. Most are really inexpensive. Try...
Pinot Grigio-- I'd go with Alois Lageder (the Lageder Pinot Bianco is great too... one of my favorites, and runs about $12)
Moscato-- Saracco Moscato... a friend of mine recommended this to me after he saw an article in Giant magazine on the wine (I guess it's a favorite of Kanye West...if it's good enough for Kanye, it's good enough for me!)... and it is super delicious, and only $15
Chianti-- Try Badia a Coltibuono, the Chianti Classico, also only about $15... and the cool thing about Badia a Coltibuono's estate wines is that they're all organic
Most wine shops in my neighborhood carry these so you shouldn't have any problem finding them. Or I'm pretty sure if you do a search online for any of these wines, their websites should give you distribution info. In my opinion, all are definately worth the search!
A couple of recommendations:
Sauvignon Blanc: Oyster Bay, from New Zealand
Shiraz: Rosemount Estates, from Australia
If you'd like to offer an alternative suggestion to the White Zinfindel die hards, then perhaps begin by offering them so Reisling or Gwurtztraminer. It will have the residual sugar they're looking for and help ease them into wines with a little more balance and sophistication.
Pfaltz Reisling is usually a successful one for White Zin drinkers. The acidity on it is very dim.
This is a great tip! I'm constantly on the look-out for wines sweet enough for my relatives to drink, but complex enough for me. I don't need a dry wine, but draw the line at those Arbor Mist fruit monstrosities (ewww!).
I'll try some good, semi-dry Riesling or Gewurtztraminer next time.
Skyhawk Lane and Waterstone are 2 that come to mind that make cabs and/or merlots in the $20-25 range. There's a weekly column in the Wall St Journal that could prove helpful, assuming there's an online archive. However, as the Skyhawk and Waterstone may not be available where you are, and same goes for many particular wines, really, the suggestion of going to a good local wine shop probably makes the most sense.
This is a great convo! I agree that there is a lot of diversity in each varietal depending on the region and terroir. One of the best wine tastings I've been to was an Old World (i.e. Europe) vs. New World (U.S., Australia, NZ, Chile). You can do one or two white varietals and then one or two red varietals and compare an Old World versus New World in each category.
Example (and keeping your budgetary constraints in mind):
Compare a French Sancerre with a NZ or Chilean Sauvignon Blanc
Compare a German Riesling (e.g. Schmitt-Sohne) with an American Riesling (e.g. Hogue)
Compare a French Syrah with an Australian Shiraz
The combinations are endless, and you can also just do different regions such as Australia vs New Zealand, Argentina vs. Chile. I know someone who did a World Cup-oriented tasting - imagine, French versus Italian wines or Italian versus German wines.
Cabernet Sauvignon: St. Michelle 2001
Riesling: Blue Fish
Pinot Grigio: Mezza Corona
Are you limited by geographic location? If so, see my first recommendation (US). If not, the second (world). Also, as I do not know the distribution/retail aspects of Texas, forgive me, if I throw out some that are not available.
1.) SB - Groth/Napa. Either Kim Crawford, Marlborough, NZ, or Mulderbosch, Stellenbosch, SA
2.) Chard - Au Bon Climat, Santa Barbara. Louis Latour Meursault, Burg., France
3.) PG - King Estate, WA. Sorry, have never had a worthwhile (to me, at least) PG elsewhere. The only two to ever make an impression were the King Estate and the King Estate Reserve.
4.) Cab - Joseph Phelps/Napa*
5.) Merlot - Joseph Phelps/Napa*
6.) Sangiovese/Chiante - Oh, tough one. I’ve got some domestics that are probably in your price range, but I doubt that any are often seen outside of Amador. I opt for Shafer Firebreak (actually blended), but I think it’s in the US$35/btl range, if you can find it. Gabbiano Chianti Riserva, IT.
7.) Syrah - Voss/Napa, or Joseph Phelps/Napa. D’arenberg Dead Arm, McLaren Vale, OZ (I think it’s just at your price-point). A great counter-point would be an E. Guigal Croze-Hermitage, but might be above US$25/btl.
8.) Pinot Noir - Acacia, Central Coast. Don’t know my NZ Pns and red Burgs in that price-range are not good candidates.
9.) Riesling - Ch. Ste. Michele Dr Loosen. Too many Spätlesen Rieslings to name, but J.J. Prum would be a good starting point.
10.) Gewürztraminer - Don’t know a good domestic producer. Any lower-end Zind-Humbrect Alsace, FR (I’d stay away from Trimbach, personally)
11.) White Zin - Don’t know a good domestic producer. Throw them a little curve and choose a Tavel Rosé, Rhône (Southern), FR. Also, you MUST throw in a "red" Zinfandel. Almost anything from Rosenblum, or Ridge, within your budget will work nicely.
12.) Muscat - Bonny Doon Vin d’ Glacier Muscat Canelli (sweet). Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise (sweet), any that you can find. I’ve not found a really good dry Muscat/Muscatto, but they are probably out there.
13.) Port - Whoa, the choices are endless. I’d spring for both a Tawny (maybe the Cockburns 20 year to keep the cost down), then a Taylor-Fladgate, or Fonseca, LBV. You should be able to keep one of these close to the price-point). For domestic port-style wines, I like the Beringer Cab port, but you may have problems finding it.
* You might want to throw in a Meritage wine (not necessarily a true trademarked Meritage, but a Bdx. blend). This would allow you to add a Bdx. Cru-Bourgeois, or the excellent Glen Carlou Grand Classique, Paarl, SA.
One last thought: Andrea Immer Robinson (was just Immer, when the book was published) has "Great Wine Made Simple," ISBN 0-7679-0477-X, has a lot of suggestions for comparison tastings. She breaks many of these down into price categories. While the book is a few years old, many of her suggestions are probably still valid - prices may be up, but you'll get a rough idea. Uh, just saw this mentioned above, so I am going to "second" that opinion.
Sorry for my tardiness,
You have received some great recs so far, I think. I started something like this tasting group with some friends, and would make a couple other suggestions:
- Be VERY careful about inviting 'experienced' wine-O's to join the group. While they give very good advice for tasting and describing wines to people, they often develop biases to one varietal/region/country or another and limit the discovery phase for aspiring wine-O's.
- Pay attention to the advice you have received to limit the number of varietals per tasting, offering more choice w/in a varietal. This also allows you to set up multiple parties, rahter than one big blowout that no one remembers much of besides the headache. Everyone likes more parties.
- You might want to think about focusing more on up-and-coming or obscure places of the world than the established places/varietals. People can access a plethora of information on California cab/chard/SB/etc and French classification/terroir/rules/blah blah blah blah.....The info available about Chilean or South African wines often force new wine-o's to talk about wine and develop a relationship with their local wine supplier(and switch suppliers if they suddenly realize they were usually recommended whatever wine the supplier wanted to get rid of, which has happened VERY frequently with my friends, sadly). People in their twenties have to be much more cognizant of this than older people.
I have written down a list of wines from the above replies, and thank everyone for their recommendations. Some that might be added to above:
Wolf Blass Chard and Madfish Bay Chard from Australia give a contrast to the oaked style of California.
The Crios line from Argentina would fit nicely in your tasting.
Glen Carlou was a great rec(thought I saw this above)
Seghesio Zin has been consistently good for the last few years
Kaesler from Australia has not been mentioned. It is at the top of the $25 range, but I can find it on sale in Co for ~$21 for the Stonehorse Shiraz.
The Kim Crawford SB is one of my favorites. If you have a chance to serve food, pair this with scallops sauteed in butter and you'll have some lifelong SB lovers.
ps- wine-O is a term I use to describe anyone whose enthusiasm for wine goes beyond 'give me a chardonnay' but whose knowledge falls short of a sommelier. I fall into this group, and it's not meant to be derogatory.
For Port - I particularly love the Yalumba Valley (Aust.) Antique Tawny ~ great vanilla & caramel flavors with nice spice & berry hints -- it's a nice bargain too... 12.99 for a half-bottle. (Too bad my local Cost Plus stopped carrying this particular one.)
more info here:
I would recommend a Benton Lane Pinoit Noir, which should be about or just under $20. I'd also look for a Spanish Tempranillo, a grape which I find to make very agreeable wines, not necessarily the tastiest ones, but usuaully enjoyable, and come for under $10. Boony Doon makes wine from a Syrah and also has made some different blushes (pink wines).
One thing not on your list often are dessert wines, such as muscats, icewines, etc. I know icewine is not easy to find at your price point.
LATimes did a nice piece on good wines that hit the "$10 Sweet Spot" (of course, it is Los Angeles-centric and may not be available in your neck of the woods, though possibly online ~ conversely, there may be other great $10s that were not available in LA area and thus, didn't get mentioned in the article). I'm definitely planning to give some of those a try:
Also, I just opened my Rosemount Estate (Aussie) Cabernet/Shiraz blend, quite yummy and drinkable--rich berries with touches of spice, vanilla and chocolate. 7.99 at Cost Plus World Market.
Any intro course to wine that wants to give participants an experience with versatile wines of value should really include some old vines Beaujolais. There are many good examples around - they are delicious, inexpensive, and go with anything.
All Latin American. Not a dog on the list prices between $8.99 & $15.00 a few @ $20
100. Chardonnay, Finca Sophenia Altosur, Argentina
101. Chardonnay, Funky Llama, Argentina
105. Chardonnay, Miolo Reserva, Braszil
110. Chardonnay, Morande Grand Reserve, Chile
115. Chardonnay, Gran Araucano, Argentina
120. Sauvignon Blanc, Morande, Chile
121. Sauvignon Blanc, Los Vascos/Lafite Rothchild, Chile 122. Sauvignon Blanc, Gran Araucano, Chile
130. Pino Gris Lurton, Argentina
140. Muscat, Terran Va, Miolo, Brazil
141. Torrentes, Lotango, Argentina
142. Viognier, Don Pasual Reserva, Uruguay
145. Johannisberg Riesling, Luigi Bosca, Argentina 5
Vinedo De los Vientos, Uruguay
180. Montchenot, Bodegas López, Argentina
181. Gruet Methode Champenoise, NV, New Mexico
182. Gruet Methode Champenoise, NV
200. Merlot, Finca Sophenia Altosur, Argentina
201. Merlot, Santa Ema Reserve, Argentina
202. Merlot, Miolo Reserva, Brazil
203. Merlot, Luigi Bosca Reserva, Argentina
205. Merlot, Morande Grand Reserve, Chile
221. Cabernet Sauvignon, Terra Rosa, Chile
223. Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Rita, Chile
224. Cabernet Sauvignon, Finca Sophenia, Argentina
225. Cabernet Sauvignon, Los Vascos/LafiteRothchild Reserva, Chile
226. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cocodrilo by Paul Hobbs, Argentina
240. Malbec, Altos Las Hormigas, Argentina
241. Malbec, Lurton Reserve, Argentina
242. Malbec, Antonio Nerviani Reserve, Argentina
243. Malbec, El Feline by Paul Hobbs, Argentina
244. Malbec, Morande Limited Edition, Chile
250. Pinot Noir, Don Pascual Reserva, Uruguay
251. Pinot Noir, Luigi Busca Reserva, Argentina
252. Pinot Noir, Alsino Reserva, Argentina
260. Syrah, Mayol, Argentina
261. Syrah, Alsino Reserva, Argentina
262. Syrah, Morande Grand Reserve, Chile
270. Carmenere, Casillero del Diablo X, Concha y Toro, Chile
271. Carmenere, Morande Reserve, Chile
280. Bonarda, Lurton, Argentina
281. Bonarda, Chakana, Argentina
290. Tannat, Vinedo De los Vientos, Uruguay
295. Sangiovese, San Felipe, Argentina
349. Trumpeter, Malbec/Syrah, Bodega La Rural, Argentina
350. Don Nicanor, Cab/Malbec/Merlot, Niento Senetiner, Argent
351. Meritage,Cab/Malbec, Antonio Nerviani Reserve, Agentina
352. Crios, Syrah/Bonarda, Dominio del Plata, Argentina
353. Patriota, Bonarda/Malbec, Tikal, Argentina
354. Eolo, Tannat/Ruby Cab, Vinedo De los Vientos, Uruguay
355. Privada, Malbec/Cab/Merlot, Bodega Norton, Argentina
Being from the Houston area, I have to give a plug to some Texas wines. Some are very good.
Haak Winery in Sante Fe, Texas makes a good Blanc du Bois (a little sweeter like a riesling). I believe it's under $20
Llano in Lubbock puts out a fabulous Gewurztraminer under $10 and a good Table White
Messina Hof in Bryan has a good Johannesburg Riesling also under $10. They also have 2 great ports but both are around $40/bottle - Tawny Port and the Paulo Port. They also have a nice Ivory Port for under $20 which is good with chocolate or vanilla desserts.
There's also Circle S Vineyard in Sugarland. Some of their reserve reds are fabulous but closer to $30/bottle. I recently uncorked a 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon after it aged on my wine rack for 2 years . . . yum!
Bell Mountain in the Fredericksburg area has a nice riesling for under $10
Also in the Fredericksburg area, Fall Creek makes a great Moscato d'Asti.
I saw that someone else had recommended the Nivoli (Italy) moscato. It's awesome!
Spec's recommended a really good (cheap) cabernet sauvignon (Australian) - Wynn's Coonarwarra Estate and it's under $10. They are a great resource for wines. I've never been disappointed in anything they've recommended to me!
Also as an aside, if you trying to get more "into" wine, try attending some wine dinners (Americas has a great one every month) or attend the Houston Grand Food and Wine Affair in Sugarland. They have a Sip 'N Stroll at the end of April. You pay roughly $50 for the entry fee and you get to try all the wine and food you can stuff in. Great fun and I found some really good wines that way.
Have fun with it!