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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 http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

            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?

                1. Thank you sooooooooo much, everyone! I really appreciate all of your suggestions. I'm going to print out this page and go shopping. (The names are so difficult that I cannot even pronounce...(>.<;)

                  Again, Thank you very much!

                  1. I wouldn't get too wedded to the exact wines listed here. Not that they aren't good recommendations, but you can drive yourself nuts trying to find all the exact bottles. If you can find them, great, but don't be afraid to make substitutions. Instead, go to one of the suggested wine stores in your area and ask the staff for help.

                    Personally I would suggest getting a case that includes:

                    1 Chardonnay (one with a bit of oak and malolactic fermentation)
                    1 Sauvignon Blanc (one of the newer crisp, grassy "New Zealand" styles)
                    1 Zinfandel (not "White Zinfandel" but the red wine)
                    1 Cabernet Sauvignon (from Napa or Sonoma)
                    1 Pinot Noir (from Russian River, Carneros, Anderson Valley, or the central coast)
                    1 Sparkling wine or dessert wine

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: nja

                      I love your list and agree 100%. For $25 a bottle, the original poster can do extremely well. A good wine store (Silver Lake, Wine House) will help you balance your budget by picking a few more expensive wines with some cheaper ones so you can dazzle her with some $50 bottles and a few surprisingly good ones for under $20.

                      A few favorites of mine are St. Supery sauvignon blanc, Seghesio Zinfandel, Robon Estates Zinfandel, Charles Hansel Chardonnay, and Donny Boon "Icebox Wine," Roederer Estate Brut, and Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut. All very easy to find, and most under $20.

                      Stay away from the wines you see in most supermarkets. They're overpriced, and made in industrial factories. Chances are you'd be able to find some of them in Japan, so what's the point?

                    2. Here are some more great Cali wines UNDER $25 to my taste buds...

                      Honig Sauvignon Blanc (you can even get their reserve for under $25) From napa, this family winery makes a very food friendly, juicy SB. (Can you say "Sushi?")

                      Roederer Estate Sparkling from the Anderson Valley in Mendocino is under $20 everywhere, and at my wine store, just $16. It's not Cristal, but for that price, I think it's sensational!

                      Trefethen makes a lovely Riesling (dry) for under $20. It's the only Cali Riesling I've had that I really love.

                      Marietta Cellars Old Vine Red. This is a fruity, juicy blend that goes SO well with "dinner" it's almost frightening!

                      Sonoma Cutrer Russian River Ranches Chardonnay continues to be one of my favorite Cali chards, and especially at $22.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: ChefJune

                        We did a SB tasting last night and thought the Honig (not even the reserve, @12.99, iirc) beat out Duckhorn and a couple of others. We gave Moser second place, a little lighter with more citrus but very refreshing.

                        Have you tried the Clairborne & Churchill Dry Riesling from CA? It's around $15. Especially good with certain Asian dishes.

                        1. re: PolarBear

                          We revisited the SBs tonight so I can fill in the blanks. First, they were all 2005 vintages. Others tasted were Groth, Stags Leap, and Turnbull. Duckhorn has been our benchmark over the past few years, a solid choice but at @25 per bottle more than I care to spend for a white. I had the Groth tonight with a fruti di mare prepared by a friend that was a great match, believe the Stag's Leap would have worked well also. The only dog of the entire selection was the Turnbull, off nose and definitely an off flavor, made even more undesirable by a pronounced oak profile? Anyone else experience this?

                          1. re: PolarBear

                            Had a bottle of the Turnbull this summer and was most UNIMPRESSED... Thought it was remarkably flavorless and had little varietal character.


                        2. re: ChefJune

                          Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Ranches is, indeed, a very good choice. But I would suggest that you run, not walk, to wherever you can purchase it. Just the other day I was advised that they will no longer offer that particular wine through retailers. It's been replaced by a slightly pricier Sonoma Coast bottling. RRR is supposed to be available only at restaurants and at the winery. It's annoying when wineries do this kind of thing.

                        3. You can't go wrong with anything from Kendall-Jackson or Rodney Strong, both excellent California Vineyards. Also, I like the Robert Mondavi Private Reserve line of Johannisburg Reisling, or anything from Beaulieu Vineyards (BV). For the less expensive line, Neibaum-Coppolla puts out a few nice bottles of medium to low range wines.

                          1. ~ Wild Horse (www.wildhorsewinery.com; also available at Trader Joe's, I would recommend the Merlot
                            )~ Stolpman (www.stolpmanvineyards.com, go to their tasting room in Solvang to try for yourself - its a bargain!
                            )~ Justin (www.justinwine.com; I recommend Justification which is technically out of your budget but worth it!)

                            1. Since Chicago Mike brought it up, I can't help but offer this about rieslings: The BEST American Rieslings are from The Finger Lakes in NY State. Try dry Wiemer or dry Konstintine Frank.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Big Fat Moe

                                That just further goes to show that there's great riesling all over the world. Probably the most abundantly distributed GOOD wine grape of them all. For that matter, I like Washington State Riesling too.

                                1. re: Chicago Mike

                                  Most California riesling is grown in areas that are way too warm, and the wines end up flabby and one-dimensional.

                              2. Oh, and by the way, Castoro Cellers Zinfusion is a great California value.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: Big Fat Moe

                                  Hmmm. Good “inexpensive” California wines? I got Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel at my favorite wine shop for under $25. That’s a good value, isn’t it? I had to limit my purchases to control my consumption.

                                  1. re: BN1

                                    Where is your favorite wine shop, and what year Lytton Springs? That seems like a very good price.

                                    1. re: Grubbjunkie

                                      That's a fairly standard price for a Ridge vineyard designated Zin at any California retailer who is not charging outrageous markups. Ridge has not appreciably increased their prices over the past 5-8 years, making their wines a remarkable value.

                                      1. re: DonnyMac

                                        The current 2004 release of the Lytton Springs is $30/750ml at my local discount retailer (K&L).

                                2. Petite Rousse from Clos Mimi,, excellent syrah for under 20bucks.
                                  Ridge Three Valleys Zin.
                                  Qupe Marsanne (i think its under 20)
                                  Renwood Zinfandel
                                  Kunin Pape Star
                                  Roderer estate Sparkling

                                  1. Hello all,

                                    I think the advice so far has been great, particularly about finding a store that you trust to make recommendations. The only thing I would like to add is that one of my favorite vineyards is Bonny Doon Vineyards. I know we don't get the full range of Californian wines here in Quebec (Canada) but this is one I've found that I love - I recommend any of their products.

                                    Happy consumption!

                                    1. I can't believe that nobody has mentioned Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, surely one of the best California values in the market. A solid example of Napa Cab for right around $25.

                                      9 Replies
                                      1. re: bogie

                                        You got me curious, so I went looking for Hess Cabs around $25. I saw an '01 for ~$45, an '02 for ~$40, and Unknown year was ~$35. The only Hess Collection I saw close to $25 was the chard for ~$20. It's not to say the wine's not good; all are very complex and a strong cellar candidates. Just not within the perameters mentioned.

                                        1. re: The Ranger

                                          Check out the Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon, this is the one I'm referring to. It is a tremendous value. It is $25 retail in Canada, probably much cheaper in the U.S. I just found out that it doesn't carry the Napa appelation, I was mistaken, but it does have Napa Cab in it.

                                          1. re: bogie

                                            The Select is a different quality* of wine than the Hess Collection originally suggested. I agree that the Select Collection is a good value (the syrah is excellent!) just not the same.

                                            *Quality is a poor choice of words, because many of the Hess wines are of outstanding quality, but I can't think of how else to phrase it.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                How would you describe a cuvee? I can't think of ever having that particular varietal and yet it seems so familiar?

                                                1. re: The Ranger

                                                  I don't understand the question. The varietal in question is cabernet sauvignon.

                                                  1. re: The Ranger

                                                    I don't understand the question, either . . .

                                                    To the best of my knowledge, the only wine Hess presently offers bearing the designation of "Cuvee" is their 2003 Hess Collection Mountain Cuvee, which is a proprietary blend of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 10% Syrah, 5% Malbec and 4% Cabernet Franc -- all of which are grown on Mt. Veeder.

                                                    The Hess Collection wines all carry Nappa Valley and/or Mount Veeder appellations, the latter being a sub-AVA of the larger Napa Valley. They range in price from $35-$80 per 750ml bottle.

                                                    Hess Select wines generally carry a California appellation, though the Chardonnay will carry a Monterey County appellation in some vintages. Prices here are from $10-$15 per bottle.

                                                    For example:

                                                    -- The 2004 Hess Select California Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend (or cuvee) of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot and 5% Syrah. WSRP is $13.99 per 750ml.

                                                    -- The 2003 Hess Collection Mt. Veeder-Napa Valley Cabenet Sauvignon is a blend (or cuvee) of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc. WSRP is $40.00 per 750ml.

                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                      Got it. Thank you, though; that was a very detailed answer and understandable...

                                                      When Robert asked me to clarify, I did a little more looking and answered my question... Unfortunately, I don't know how to delete a post once the edit is gone.

                                                      1. re: zin1953

                                                        They call that 2003 "Cuvee" because it doesn't contain the 75% cabernet sauvignon that California law requires to call it cabernet sauvignon.

                                                        "Cuvee" is a broad term for a batch of wine, covers all aspects including varietal(s), vineyard(s) or smaller selection(s), and oak.

                                          2. best, worst, must-have. i HATE kendall-jackson chardonnay, and for that matter the sonoma-cutrer mentioned above. these are big sweet wines saturated with oak. the roederer estate sparkling? again, way too sweet for me.

                                            mind you, i'm not saying these wines are "bad", because we all like different things, and americans in general tend to "think dry, but drink sweet."

                                            to the op, go to a decent wine shop, and ask for help. simple. that's why the staff is there. my only "must"? lol. definitely include some zinfandel, it's considered the quintessential american varietal.

                                            1. Simi Chardonay; La crema chardonnay; Coppola chardonnay; Ravenswood Zinfandel; Ravenswood Chardonnay; Toasted Head anything- whites and reds.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: emilief

                                                simi is nice & easy to find in NY too, la crema chardonnay is awesome too, but for the last 2 years, their chardonnay drop a bit , try la crema pinot noir, cheap but good too.

                                              2. Coppola Claret is always good at $15 and I'm sure it will strke a common chord of conversation based on Coppola's movies. Segehsio's Zinfandels are excellent (enjoying a glass of 04 Sonoma Zin right now that was $18 minus 20% in NH to make for a great value). Rabit Ridge makes sme decent wines as does Pineridge (especially the blends). Why not decrease the 12 bottles to say 8 and buy a really nace Far Niente or Rubicon or Beringer Reserve Cab to round out the California experience ??? Cheers !

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: TonyO

                                                  Just don't get Sofia, Coppola's canned sparkling wine. That stuff tastes downright nasty.

                                                2. it seems a bit late to post a comment here, but im a wine lovers, & especially california wines.

                                                  here are some of the brand i like for your reference:

                                                  La Storia - by trentadue, it is always my top pick, inexpensive, always delivery well, they are fantastic of their zinfandel, la storia is a higher grade line they have at trentadue, again, by some reason, it's hard to find in NY :(, i am still searching those too;

                                                  Trefethen - great name, not too well-known in NY, their white wine is always good, might not be the greatest, but for the price point usually around 15-25, i think it's fair, personally like their chardonnay & riesling, but to be honest with u, if im in the market of a riesling, i would rather go with german riesling;

                                                  Chalk Hill - one of the top wine producer in cal., never go to any wine competition because their name is widely known from wine drinkers anyway, their chardonnay & pinot noir always deliver the standard of chalk hill!!! they might be a bit more than $25, but if u are really lookin for some real good stuffs, u have to try chalk hill, their SB wasnt too bad either. their wines always score 90+ point from any wine magazine so u could see how good they are;

                                                  Cycles Gladiator - a pretty new hot pick lately in cal., cheap wine but decent, they have recently won the top winemaker at one of the cal. wine competition, cycles gladiator seems a pretty hot winery in cal now, their wine usually cost somewhere like 15-20, even some of them cost less than 15 too! highly recommend their cab & syrah;

                                                  J. Lohr - not a real top name, but for the price usually around 15, i think it is definitely worth to try, i personally like their merlot, decent wine for a low price point;

                                                  stephen vincent - another nice cheap wine brand, stephen vincent used to work for other big winery like (if i still remember, lol) kendall jackson etc b4 he get his own winery. for usually around $15 SRP, their cab & merlot is a must try! decent rating from wine magazine too, they usually score around 80-85 point, but i personally think they should be better than 85;

                                                  oh forgot this too, dry creek - a fair name doing some really decent wines between the price 15 - 25, their fume blanc is always be their signature wine, & i personally like their chardonnay & cab, not bad for that price point.

                                                  there are still a lot of good names out there too, but sometimes i find it hard to get those in brooklyn NY :(

                                                  it might be a bit too late to post this, but i think it's always nice to know those, see, i have lived in cal. for about 6yrs, b4 i moved to NJ, & now im in brooklyn. i personally love wines too!! so i kinda miss cal too, lol