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May 4, 2009 06:51 AM

Best $30 Wines Napa/Sonoma

I am headed to Napa/Sonoma next week and I am looking for quality wines for around $30. Interested in Cabs, Zins and Pinots

So far I am headed to:
Chappellet (Mountain Cuvee)
Orin Swift (Prisoner)
Havens (Black & Blue)
Buehler (Cab)
Any other suggestions??

Gary Farrell
Any other suggestions??

I would like to go to Hirsch and Chasseur but not sure they are very realistic (too long a drive).

Thanks very much!

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  1. Galleron.

    Note that you can often find better prices in wine shops than at wineries, which don't want to undercut their wholesale customers.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Robert is absolutely right. That said there are some smaller wineries that have very little distribution - though Safeways in Sonoma carries lot of local wines as does Sonoma Market
      Moon Mountain has a good $30 cab - might be closer to 35. Loxton in Glen Ellen has some great wnes I believe in 25-30$ range. Zin Syrah and Ithink a Cab
      Ty Caton on highway 12 in Kenwood has some great reds but might be edging towards 40. You often also get a reduction if you join the wine club

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        The Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa carries a lot of local wines.

      2. Look for Tulocay, which makes excellent wines right in your price range. The "winery" is on Coombsville Road (no sign, and the tasting room is the winemaker's back porch). The last time I was there, a few years ago, you could also find Tulocay wines at JV Wines and Spirits.

        1. For the Sonoma area pinots, you can't go wrong with Dehlinger, Scherrer, Porter Creek, Littorai and Joseph Swan. (These make a more Burgundian, elegant CA style pinot than let's say the bigger Siduri or Kosta Browne wines. So if you like the BIG style pinots, the above mentioned winemakers might not be your cup of tea). A couple of those might need an appointment and the $30 bottles might be their non-single vineyard wines. Littorai next week is open for mailing list members to pick up wines, but they probably can accommodate a brief visit.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Cary

            Scherrer makes some really good Zins & Cabs too. For the quality, the wines are reasonably priced too. Most are $25-45.

          2. Be sure to visit the Wine Garage in Calistoga. They carry a fantastic selection of smaller wineries and everything is under $25. They have excellent wines at that price point. Be sure to try the Muir Hannah Pinot Noir.

            7 Replies
            1. re: Shane Greenwood

              Second the wine garage. I have often seen some very good below wholesale deals actually at ravenswood which I think has a couple of respectable zin options in that price range and in my experience has a terrificly entertaining staff. I might suggest the afternoon when most of the staff is completely sauced, that may also explain the deals.

              1. re: tetedeveau

                The Wine Garage?? NO, no...five times no.

                Because on five separate occasions, my friends or I bought wine from the Wine Garage and each time nearly all of the wines were cooked, oxidized, flat, or lifeless. We're talking at least 2 cases of wine bought on five separate occasions for a total of 10 cases. Five separate purchases, on different days, but the same result: Dead Lifeless Wine.

                Wine Garage stocks their store by buying super-cheap end-lots of wine. They're cheap for a reason. They've been improperly stored, probably in some hot warehouse somewhere. The wines have little to no flavor, or a bad flavor. Then Wine Garage sells them on the cheap to you. You're not getting a bargain at all even though the price per bottle is low. And that's how the entire store is stocked.

                When I contacted WG about the cooked/dead/lifeless wines, I was able to return the wines and get a refund. But I live here, and it's difficult to do that if you're visiting from out of town. I've had several friends from out-of-town who were livid at the quality of the wines from Wine Garage that showed up on their doorstep. Even if the wines are from a quality winery, they're not the way they're supposed to be. All to say, a large percentage of WG inventory is defective merchandise.

                By the way, the store is less than 5 blocks from my home, so I know it well, and know how bad the quality of the wine is overall. I've talked to the owners about how they acquire their wine, and they're friendly, but I'd prefer they not buy bad lots of oxidized or otherwise dead wine on the cheap and pass it on to the customer as a bargain.

                So, a huge NO on the Wine Garage. Don't waste your money on cooked end-lot wine that you think is a bargain. Go to JV Beverage Warehouse instead in Napa (great buys there) or another store that is more mindful of quality control.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  I've bought 2 cases on 2 separate occasions. A variety of whites and reds. All were good.

                  They are keeping costs low buy buying wine from smaller producers. A classic, cut-out-the-middle-man, business model. They are not buying bad lots.

                  1. re: Shane Greenwood

                    [apologies ahead of time for the long post]

                    Shane, please bear with me as I explain how I arrived at my opinion.

                    Let me first say that I'm glad your wines from WG were OK.

                    But my experience of purchasing wines from WG -- and the experience of others, some in the wine industry — say otherwise, that many of the wine lots WG buys are indeed defective.

                    The WG owners themselves have said as much. When speaking to the WG owners about the defective wines that my friends and I purchased, they said unequivocally that they buy "fire-sale" wines and that the lots are bad sometimes. This is their modus operandi for buying wine cheaply.

                    Fire-sale wines are sold at 10 cents on the dollar for a reason: something is wrong with the wine.

                    Sometimes those fire-sale lots are from smaller producers, but not always. Well-known brand names from larger wineries are also in stock occasionally. Like I said, I live 5 blocks away.

                    I absolutely don’t like saying bad things about a company, especially a company in my own town. But my experience is credible, and reveals a pattern.

                    When I have personally bought WG wines that have been bad, and when I have been with friends when they purchased WG wines that were also bad, and when I have heard numerous reports from others who also purchased WG wines that were bad, that shows a consistent pattern too big to ignore.

                    My experience:
                    Five different people, living in different parts of the country, purchased wine on five different days, sometimes months or years apart. The wines from each sale were defective, or, more precisely, all the wines that were opened were defective. That's more than coincidence.

                    Since it affected me personally, and since I had to serve as the in-town liaison for the out-of-town purchasers, let me also share what an enormous headache it was for my out-of-town friends who purchased defective WG wines to a) inform the store the wine was defective, b) arrange for prepaid return shipping of the wine, sometimes cross-country, and c) get a refund.

                    It’s not that the WG owners were uncooperative. They seem like friendly, agreeable people. It’s just the hassle of doing all that. I, on the hand, being a local, was lucky: I just called the owners and dropped off the wine. There may be an ethical problem that wines are being sold as first-quality when more than likely the owners know that the wines have been improperly stored, or are otherwise flawed.

                    We’re not talking a subtle defect in the wines either, one that only wine geeks would detect. We’re talking marked differences in the wine, from vibrant to lifeless, that became all the more obvious when on a few occasions the same exact wine was purchased from a different retailer and then compared side-by-side to the WG wine.

                    When I tasted the defective WG wines, they were all "cooked," the industry term for wines that have been damaged by heat from improper storage. The fruit flavors were diminished and sometimes barely there. There were the slight smells of Sherry, of toasted nuts -- classic signs of oxidation -- that were not supposed to be there. The wines had lost their voluptuousness and roundness, and instead were thin, pale versions of their former selves.

                    Since I work in the wine industry and sometimes have to deal with wine-storage problems, I think heat damage is the main problem with fire-sale lots.

                    Heat often kills wine. Wines are stored at warehouses, retail stores, in trucks, and sometimes at the wineries. Things happen. Especially in summertime. Wines get cooked. Cases of wine are sometimes stacked on loading docks for days, unrefrigerated. Sometimes wines aren’t unloaded from a sitting truck that has the container cooling unit turned off. Sometimes they’re stored near the heat exhaust vent of a large refrigerator unit at the back of grocery stores when there’s a backlog on stocking shelves, and become cooked that way. (This ruined a large wine delivery from seven Napa Valley wineries who all use the same distributor to a retailer located in the South. I know; I had to investigate just where in the distribution chain the wines got cooked.)

                    But it’s not always heat that kills wine. Sometimes the wine isn’t stable and cannot keep. Just like with exposure to heat, the wine degrades dramatically. These wines are then offered at a steep discount just to get rid of them.

                    I would imagine that not every single bottle of WG wine is defective. And, that not all WG wines from the same fire-sale lot are equally defective; there might be some good ones among the bunch. When searching for cheap lots of wine, I would imagine that WG on occasion finds small, perfectly fine, end-of-vintage lots.

                    I don’t seek out bad experiences about WG. I’ve been directly exposed to five sales of WG wines, and all five sales were of defective wines. I know firsthand the hassles involved, and it pains me that this experience has happened to everyone I personally know who has purchased wine from WG. I know that something like this can be a blight on an otherwise transcendent visit to Napa Valley. And being in the Napa Valley wine biz, I’ve heard stories of at least a handful of others who also bought defective WG wines.

                    So, where else to shop? To avoid the hassle, to avoid the distinct possibility of getting defective wine, to truly be able to appreciate and enjoy the beautiful wine you bought and anticipate drinking, I’d advise anyone looking for Napa Valley wine bargains to visit, in this order, the JV Beverage Warehouse in the city of Napa, the St. Helena Safeway Store (rather a large selection, really, and better than the other Safeways), and, last, the Trader Joe’s in Bel Aire Plaza in the city of Napa. All have good buys. My favorite is JV, mentioned before in this thread.

                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      You already made your point. We're just sharing different experiences here.

                  2. re: maria lorraine

                    Wow. I bought one bottle of wine from Wine Garage, one I especially wanted to try. "Cooked, oxidized, flat, or lifeless" is a perfect description. Your post makes me feel so lucky that I never returned.

                2. re: Shane Greenwood


                  I do agree that the Muir Hannah PN is a lovely wine. But please buy it somewhere other than the Wine Garage.


                3. Unti is one of my favorite wineries in Healdsburg for a reason - lots of fantastic wines in the $20-$30 range.