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California Top Wines for $15 and Less

I tasted dozens of value-priced whites, rosés and reds, and these emerged as the standouts.

12 Best California Buys

White & Rosé

2008 Franciscan Sauvignon Blanc ($15)
Some of the juice for this grapefruity white was given between six and 12 hours of contact with the grape skins. This technique helps amplify the wine’s herbal-lemongrass aromas.

2008 Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris de Cigare ($15)
This dry, wild-strawberry-scented rosé from Randall Grahm, one of California’s most iconoclastic producers, is especially good when slightly chilled.

2008 Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc ($15)
This crisp, melony Sauvignon started as a single-vineyard wine back in 1971. The wine’s production has grown since then, but the grapes still come from estate vineyards, and the quality remains excellent.

2008 Lander-Jenkins Spirit Hawk Chardonnay ($12)
From a winery that uses only sustainably grown grapes, this is classic California Chardonnay: It’s creamy in texture, with pineapple notes and a hint of vanilla from oak.

2007 Healdsburg Ranches Unoaked Chardonnay ($14)
Fresh and bright with apple and lemon-curd flavors, this Sonoma Chardonnay is aged solely in stainless steel tanks.

2008 Clif Family Winery The Climber ($14)
Winemaker Sarah Gott (formerly of Napa Valley producers Joseph Phelps and Quintessa) crafts this refreshing, grapefruity white mostly from Sauvignon Blanc, then adds other varieties—Muscat, Chardonnay, Riesling and Chenin Blanc—to contribute floral aromas and lots of intriguing depth to its flavors.

Red

2006 Camelot Cabernet Sauvignon ($7)
This juicy Cabernet is simple but appealing, made with grapes from around the state. Its toasty oak notes frame ripe, black-curranty fruit.

2007 Snap Dragon California Red Wine ($8)
Juicy blackberry fruit forms the core of this straightforward, primarily Zinfandel blend.

2008 Redtree Pinot Noir ($8)
Pinot Noir at this price that tastes this good—with lively cherry fruit, zesty acidity and a crisp, light-bodied structure—is practically an impossibility, yet the Cecchetti Wine Company manages it.

2008 Ironstone Old Vine Zinfandel ($10)
John Kautz, Ironstone’s owner, started growing grapes in Lodi and the Sierra Foothills in 1948. That helps explain how he can source this boysenberry-rich Zinfandel from vines that are more than 45 years old, yet still charge so little for it.

2006 Ten Mile The Broken Road ($11)
A kitchen-sink blend of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Barbera and Carignane, this red comes from the Napa-based Nine North Wine Company, a source for several good values. The wine is robust and ripe, with beguiling roasted-berry and earth notes.

2007 Plungerhead Lodi Zinfandel ($15)
A crowd-pleasing red, this substantial Zinfandel is packed full of dark-berry fruit laced with sweet oak notes. While it isn’t wildly complex, it’s certainly easy to drink.

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Published September 2009
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