25 Value Picnic Wines
Old Vine Zinfandel ($11)
The Bogle family has been farming in California’s Clarksburg region since the mid-1800s but only ventured into grape growing in 1968. The late Warren Bogle and his son Chris founded their eponymous winery about 10 years later. The family business is currently headed by Chris’s widow, Patty Bogle, and it farms more than 1,200 acres of wine grapes in the Sacramento Delta—some of which go into Bogle’s jammy, luscious Old Vine Zinfandel, one of the best Zinfandel deals on the market.
California Sauvignon Blanc ($12)
This Sonoma-based winery’s vivid California Sauvignon Blanc can convert even the most jaded Chardonnay drinker into a lover of zesty, unoaked whites. Mick Schroeter deliberately picks a percentage of the grapes earlier than most other producers do to retain the variety’s hallmark crispness and grassy zing, then balances the blend with riper grapes that add juicy lemon-melon fruit character.
Columbia Valley Riesling ($7)
Hogue’s Columbia Valley Riesling helps explain why Riesling has become such a popular grape variety in the United States (sales rose about 29 percent in 2006). Hogue’s bottling, with its orange blossom scent and crisp, minerally flavors, underscores the appeal of this grape; it’s lightly off-dry (i.e., slightly sweet), but the crisp acidity provides balance and makes the wine a natural match for Asian or Indian cuisines.
Oregon Pinot Gris ($16)
It takes a certain kind of genius to envision vineyards where cattle are grazing, but that’s exactly what Ed King III did in early 1991. While he was on a hay-buying trip in Oregon’s Lorane Valley, he noticed that the hillside slopes where the cattle were standing were similar to a couple of small vineyards he already owned. The 600-acre ranch turned out to be for sale, so King bought it. Now King Estate has become one of Oregon’s largest and most reliable producers. The winery is particularly known for its Oregon Pinot Gris, a crisp white full of stone-fruit flavors that is a consistently great value.
Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($18)
At La Crema, winemaker Melissa Stackhouse makes a range of subtly expressive Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Her Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, one of La Crema’s most widely available bottlings, is also one of her best: round and rich with ripe pear and caramel-vanilla flavors.
Banrock Station is well known in Australia for its efforts to preserve that country’s endangered wetlands. (It has also awarded grants to environmental agencies around the world.) But Banrock, located on the Murray River in South Australia, is best known in America for its deliciously smoky, berry-flavored Shiraz.
Long before there was Yellow Tail, there was Jacob’s Creek, one of Australia’s largest value labels for more than 30 years. Its wines have won a raft of medals (800 in the past three years), and its voluptuous, blackberry-rich Shiraz is consistently one of its best bottlings.
Mendoza Malbec ($10)
NicolÃ¡s Catena is probably the vintner most responsible for helping Americans realize that Argentina has the capacity to produce world-class red wines, not just affordable everyday bottles. So it’s a bit ironic that Catena’s surprisingly inexpensive second label, Alamos, is so good—as evidenced by the remarkably consistent Alamos Malbec, with its velvety raspberry fruit and toasty oak notes.
Sauvignon Blanc ($10)
Most people may be familiar with the name Marnier (as in Grand Marnier), less so with Lapostolle. But that’s been changing in recent years thanks to the high-quality wines of Casa Lapostolle, the Chilean winery co-founded by Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle, great-granddaughter of Grand Marnier’s founder. Consulting top enologist Michel Rolland oversees the winery’s production, including a crisp and lively Sauvignon Blanc that’s consistently one of the best in Chile.
Moulin-à-Vent "Flower Label" ($15)
Georges Duboeuf’s name is synonymous with Beaujolais, and for good reason: He makes consistently appealing wines, from his ubiquitous delivered-in-November Beaujolais Nouveau (Duboeuf is credited for creating that particular mania in the United States) to single-estate wines produced in limited amounts. Many are good, but his ageworthy, blackberry- rich Moulin-à-Vent “Flower Label,” from Beaujolais’s most distinguished village, may be the star of the portfolio.
Hugel et Fils
This venerable Alsace producer makes a wide range of white wines, yet its best-known wine is also its most affordable. Hugel’s Gentil revives a reportedly ancient Alsatian tradition in which wines blended from the region’s noble grape varieties were known generically as gentil. Hugel’s modern version, introduced in 1992, combines Sylvaner with Riesling, Pinot Gris, GewÃ¼rztraminer and Muscat to create a lithe, dry white with stone-fruit and floral aromas.
The firm of Louis Jadot is a rare thing: a large-scale Burgundy négociant whose reputation nevertheless hovers at the same level as many smaller, more rarefied domaines. This is in part thanks to the sure hand of Jacques Lardière, technical director at Jadot for 27 years, but partly it’s because of the inarguable quality of the company’s fruit—found even in basic bottlings like Jadot’s crisp, floral, lime-inflected MÃ¢con-Villages.
Paul Jaboulet Aîné
Côtes-du-Rhône Parallèle “45” ($12)
Jaboulet’s large portfolio ranges from the stunning Hermitage La Chapelle, one of the Rhône’s greatest wines, to more modest offerings such as the peppery Parallèle “45,” but the firm’s laserlike focus on quality carries across the whole line.
It took a winemaker from California, Mark Shannon, to put Primitivo from Puglia on supermarket shelves in the United States. His bright cherry-flavored A-Mano Primitivo (an Italian grape that’s genetically identical to Zinfandel) is made from ancient vines in this up-and-coming region of Southern Italy.
Importing Italian wine to America wasn’t enough for John and Harry Mariani (though their family has been doing so for over 70 years); they wanted to make Italian wine as well. Now, with 2,400 acres of vineyards in Montalcino, the brothers produce excellent Tuscan reds under the Castello Banfi brand, including Centine, an earthy blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot.
Pinot Grigio ($8)
Though Folonari first became famous for Soave back in the 1970s (and set the reputation of that wine back several decades by producing a mediocre, characterless wine), the company also produces a truly delicious Pinot Grigio that’s marked by mouthwatering acidity and bright green-apple flavors. And a note on that Folonari Soave: It’s gotten a lot better.
Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Frizzante ($11)
The one place in the world truly suited to the persnickety Prosecco grape is the small town of Valdobbiadene, just north of Venice. The Mionetto family, which is based there, makes a consistently good Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Frizzante, a softly sparkling wine with a bright lime flavor.
Cordon Negro Brut ($10)
Freixenet’s ultrapopular, black-bottled Cordon Negro Brut is probably the only sparkling wine in the world that’s as famous as MoÃ«t & Chandon Champagne. And it’s a lot less expensive but also very good. A crisp, dry sparkling wine with charming citrus notes and a touch of classic cava earthiness, it’s always reliable and a pleasure to drink.
Cristalino Brut ($9)
Though it’s not quite as ubiquitous as Freixenet’s Cordon Negro, the lemon-and-lime-scented Cristalino Brut cava is equally delicious, with tart green-apple flavors and fine, appealing bubbles. The company, founded in 1943 by winemaker Jaume Serra Guell, is now owned by the CarriÃ³n family, but it still makes wine in the caves under its winery in the coastal town of Villanueva y Geltrú.
Solaz Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon ($9)
Osborne has been best known for its Riojas, ports and sherries—unsurprisingly, as the company has been in those businesses for the past 235 years. But a few years ago, the family (led by sixth-generation TomÃ¡s Osborne Gamero-CÃvico) branched out into the Tierra de Castilla region near Toledo to produce some of Spain’s most appealing and inexpensive wines under its Solaz label. A brilliant example of its success is its fruit-driven, spicy Osborne Solaz Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon.
Casal Garcia Vinho Verde ($7)
Portuguese Vinho Verde has a fresh, chalky minerality and lively acidity that make it a great complement to any kind of shellfish—especially oysters on the half shell. Quinta da Aveleda’s superb Casal Garcia Vinho Verde weighs in at a mere 9 percent alcohol—about 35 percent less than most California Chardonnays.
Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay ($12)
Here are two things to know about Kendall Jackson’s Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay: More than two million cases are made each year, and every single grape that goes into those bottles comes from vineyards owned by Kendall Jackson. (This is why, when you take a tour of the Kendall Jackson vineyards, you do it by helicopter.) Vineyard ownership means control over viticultural practices, and that’s why this wine—despite its vast production—remains so delicious: rich but finely focused, its flavors suggesting ripe mangoes and pears.
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($12)
While Cloudy Bay is still the most famous Sauvignon Blanc made in New Zealand, the much larger producer Brancott Vineyards deserves recognition, too. With properties in regions on both the North Island (Gisborne and Hawkes Bay) and the South Island (Marlborough), Brancott turns out a broad range of wines, including this compulsively drinkable Sauvignon Blanc.
Yellow Label Riesling ($12)
Although Wolf Blass makes many notable reds (it has won Australia’s most prestigious wine prize, the Jimmy Watson Trophy, for its $70 Black Label Cabernet-Shiraz blend a record four times), the winery is also focused on high-quality whites, including a wonderfully zippy Yellow Label Riesling that’s clean, bright and dry, marked by refreshing flavors of lemon and lime.
Reserva Malbec ($15)
Though founded by an Englishman (Sir Edmund James Palmer Norton) and now owned by an Austrian (Gernot Langes-Swarovski of Swarovski crystal), Norton is deeply Argentine—as is clear from its spicy, black-fruited Reserva Malbec.