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Nov 10, 2006 04:10 AM

California wine under $25 --- Help me!


My cousin in Japan has asked me to bring back inexpensive "California" wine. (She wants California wine only.) But since I don't drink, I have NO idea as to what to get. I need 6 different brands and the budget is up to $25/each. Could anyone help me with this? I would be really greatful if anyone gives me a list.

Thank you in advance.

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  1. I don't know where you're located, so I'm not sure all of these will be available, but here are a few options.

    The most typical California wines are Zinfandels, Cabernets, Chardonnays and increasingly Merlot, Syrah and Pinot Noir.

    Here's one of each, all under $25

    Rosenblum 2004 Zinfandel Paso Robles Richard Sauret Vineyards
    about $18 - very typical CA zin.

    Good cabernets under 25 are trickier, but this one is decent:
    Beringer 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, around $24

    For Chardonnay, this one is a real winner:
    Clos Du Val 2004 Chardonnay Napa Valley Carneros, around $15

    I'm not a big Merlot drinker, but this one is ok and should be easy to find anywhere:
    Kendall-Jackson 2003 Merlot Grand Reserve

    For Syrah, this is a tasty one:
    Novy 2003 Syrah Napa Valley, around $20

    and for Pinot Noir, go for:
    Kenneth Volk 2004 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County Santa Maria Valley, around $18.

    You can definitely find cheaper stuff, but these are all pretty good values.

    I hope you're demanding a crate of sake in return :)

    1. 2 out of your 5 "great value" California wines should be Riesling and Zinfandel. Both produce fabulous wines in California. Great California Riesling can be found for under $10 and great zinfandel under $25.

      I could recommend wineries but it wouldn't make much difference if your wine store doesn't have them in stock. Just ask a knowledgeable wine dealer for their recommendations and enjoy.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Chicago Mike

        I agree about going to a good wine shop and asking for advice. You're in LA? Try Silver Lake Wine.

        If there's any great riesling made in California, it's not commercially available. There's not even much good riesling.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Theres abundant great riesling in California. The Fetzer Johannisberg WON the California State Fair in 1995, out of almost 2,000 wines. And that was a $6.00 bottle of wine at Sams in Chicago... one of my fondest wine memories ever. Like ambrosia.

          Just had a bottle of everyday Wente with a dinner a few nights ago. Everyone at the table loved it.

          The fact is that riesling is one of those grapes that grows well in many areas of the world. Unlike Gewurztraminer which is a far more finicky grape. I notice that alot of the posters on that "no riesling in California" thread were talking about Gewurztraminer and Riesling as though they are inter-changeable. Gewurz is a vastly trickier grape to work with.

          For that matter there's excellent riesling in Washington State, it's an extremely adaptable grape.

          1. re: Chicago Mike

            California rieslings don't have to compete with German or even Washington state wines at the California State Fair.

            Fetzer's a big industrial wine company. For schlepping to Japan, I'd look for a riesling from indpendent smaller wineries such as Navarro or the others discussed in

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              But they DO have to compete with every other wine in California to win the Grand Prize. I'm not talking about "best of riesling", the Fetzer Johanisberg won the ENTIRE FAIR, competing against ALL Wines of California. As I recall there were nearly 2000 wines entered that year. After golds are awarded in all categories they put the golds against each other for the "best white", "best red", "best blend", "best dessert", etc. After THAT they put the "best of the best" against each other for the Grand Gold-Silver-Bronzes. A $6.00 bottle of "industrial" Fetzer Riesling won the whole thing.

              I went through so many bottles of that wine at "fine wine" BYOB dinners and it was always a showstopper, like a viscous great spatlese. Several posters seem to have in their mind that great Riesling can't come from California. Do a re-check. Riesling is not a "finicky" grape like Gewurztraminer. It's a very adaptable grape that makes splendid wine all over the world.

              1. re: Chicago Mike

                I have yet to taste a great riesling from California, but we discussed that at length in the other topic.


              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                Yeah, and German Rieslings don't have to compete with Alsatian ones at the Paris Concours Agricole, either. [shrug]

                The point is that a) California makes the best California Riesling on the planet, while Germany makes the best German Riesling on the planet; and b) there are enough people out there who LOVE Fetzer Riesling that it's actually on allocation!

                That said, I too would look more towards the Rieslings from Navarro, Storrs, Clairborne & Churchill, Greenwood Ridge, etc., etc. than I would towards Fetzer, but . . .

                1. re: zin1953

                  I don't think "on allocation" is exactly the right word for a winery of Brown-Forman's size (7.6 milion cases in 2005) selling out of 80,000 cases of an under-$10 wine. They're meeting the demand by putting Fetzer labels on German riesling.


                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    No, I'd describe it PRECISELY as being on allocation. I haven't red the article you linked to; I've only spoken with people at Brown-Forman. They've pulled the California Riesling out of some markets and replaced it with a German-made wine under the Fetzer label, the better to supply the remaining markets. When you can't pick up the phone and order a pallet of Riesling but are told "You can only have 20 cases," I'd call that being allocated.

                    Allocation has nothing to with overall volume. According to Wine Business Monthly (Feb. 2006), Brown-Forman sold 6.4 million cases of wine in the U.S. in 2005, but that is their TOTAL sales -- including Fetzer, Korbel, Sonoma-Cutrer AND their imports, such as Bolla and Fontana-Candida, to name but two. Yes, Fetzer all by itself something over ONE million, but -- hypothetically speaking -- if their Corro really took off, don't you think the 500 case production would be allocated?

              3. re: Chicago Mike

                I'm in total agreement with you CM, I lived in Germany for two years (Saar, Mosel, Ruhr areas) and for the most part found the Rieslings I was exposed to as being too much on the sweet side for my tastes. As for CA offerings, try the Clairborne & Churchill Dry Riesling (central coast) or the Bonny Doon, Graham puts out some nice non-run-of-the-mill juice.

          2. go to BevMo. its like the costco of wines/liquor.

            1 Reply
            1. re: caitybirdie

              Ditto this! You can walk in and ask any of the employees for their recommendations and suggestions or go to their website and browse each variety.

              I like:
              Artezin Zinfandel by Hess '04 - $15.99
              An impulse purchase. I walked the zin aisle and liked the label enough to purchase a bottle. I tried it that same night. Went back the next day and bought a case. This has high berry and excellent pepper; a solid CA zin!

              Brassfield Sauvignon Blanc '05 - $11.99 (with card)
              Another impulse buy. It was on sale, it was the right price, it's simply delicious.

              Clos du Val Chardonnay '03 - $18.99 (with card)
              Anything by Clos du Val will please someone. I have always found them to be a consistent performer with all their wines.

              Ficklin Tawny Port 10-Years Old - $21.99 (with card)
              A friend gave me a bottle and I've narrowed my port-centric focus to this product as a result.

              Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs - $12.99 (with card)
              Another solid performer. I've enjoyed the Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Niors, and both bruts. Whenever it goes on sale, I stock back up by the case.

              Markham Cabernet Savignon - $29.99 (with card)
              I like this winery a lot. Everything I've ever tried from them has been awesome. Unfortunately, they're also on the expensive side so when it goes on sale that helps.

              Tin Barn Syrah - $29.99
              A Bevmo employee suggested Tin Barn. It was a great recommendation. High berry notes make this wine easily sippable, very complex.

            2. BevMo's are crappily selected. BottleRock in Culver City has the best "under $25" California wines in LA. For Cab's, I recommend 20 Bench Napa.

              1. What wines, CA or otherwise, does your cousin favor? Is the goal to bring wines that she would like or wines that would introduce a wide range of CA varietals and styles, some of which she might like?