Affordable wine regions (photo: kieferpix/Getty Images)

Consider these Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and sparkling wines.

Markham Heid
January 30, 2019

Most Americans drink wine made in one of three places: California, Italy and France.

Roughly three out of five bottles of wine consumed in the U.S. comes from California, according to stats from the Wine Institute. And the latest import figures show Americans consume about $1.9 billion in wine from both Italy and France, respectively, while the third largest foreign producer—New Zealand—sends less than $500 million in wine to the United States.

Of course, there’s no shortage of phenomenal and well-priced wine being made in California, France and Italy. You could spend your life exploring the wines of these places and it would be a delicious and satisfying journey.

But if you’re looking to branch out a bit—either to experience something new, to save a few bucks, or both—there are both up-and-coming and well-established regions producing excellent and affordable takes on your favorite wines.

Here are six to check out—and some greats wines to get your started.   

Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile

Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon may be the worst-kept secret in wine. The country has a centuries-old winemaking tradition. And, recognizing the quality of its soil and climate, some big names in French and American viticulture set up shop in Chile in the 1990s. Since then, the region’s reputation has only improved. But while critics have consistently heaped plaudits on Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, many Americans still haven’t caught on. That’s good for you, because prices are still absurdly low for Cabs of this quality. Look for bottles from the Maipo, Aconcagua, and Colchagua valleys. Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) and Tarapacá Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($19) are two good ones.

Chardonnay from South Africa

Even a decade ago, finding gems in South Africa would have required some effort. That’s no longer true. From steely, mineral-focused wines to more voluptuous, oak-influenced bottlings, South Africa is producing a ton of high-quality Chardonnay. About 90 minutes from Cape Town, the cool coastal valley of Hemel-en-Aarde (Dutch for “heaven and earth”) has garnered loads of critical acclaim. Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay ($36) is stellar. But you can find many inexpensive, excellent options from Stellenbosch, the Breede River Valley, and other parts of Western Cape Province. Look for offerings from Meerlust ($14) and De Wetshof ($13).

Sparkling Wines from England

Fans of sparkling wine tend to hopscotch between Champagne and Prosecco, depending on the occasion and the drinker’s buying budget. They’re missing out. While England is not traditionally known as a producer of fine wine (to put it mildly), the quality of the country’s bubbly is changing that perception in a hurry. It’s not an overstatement to say that you can find English sparkling wines that rival many of France’s finest Champagnes—but for a fraction of the cost. Ridgeview Bloomsbury Brut ($36) and Digby Fine English Leander Pink Brut ($65) are stunners.

Pinot Noir from New Zealand and Germany

Pinot Noir is tricky. And divisive. While there’s plenty of expert disagreement on this, many separate Pinot into “Old World” and “New World” styles. While Old World Pinot Noir (namely the wines of Burgundy) are often talked about as being delicate, mineral-y and acidic, New World Pinots (principally, those from California) are often considered a bit bolder with more-concentrated fruit.

There are MANY exceptions to these stereotypes. But if you tend to buy and enjoy a lot of California Pinot Noir, look to New Zealand’s Central Otago and Marlborough regions for some excellent and (relatively) affordable options. Dog Point Pinot Noir ($35) and Loveblock Pinot Noir ($28) are two to get you started.  

If you gravitate more toward the Pinot Noirs of Burgundy, aim your online shopping cart at Germany. While the country is best known for its white wines, its Pinot Noir (“Spätburgunder” in German) can be tremendous—especially when paired with food. They’re a bit spicier than their French counterparts, and they can be difficult to find. But you’d often pay twice the price (at least) for the same quality from France. Check out Rudolf Fürst Tradition Spätburgunder ($35) and Franz Keller Pinot Noir ($30).

Sauvignon Blanc from Chile

The Sauvignon Blanc grape tends to flourish in the same conditions that suit Cabernet Sauvignon. (That makes sense: Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross between the Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc grapes.) So it’s not surprising that Chile—our top pick for great, affordable Cabs—is also producing some excellent and inexpensive Sauv Blanc. If you’re accustomed to mouth-puckering tropical-fruit bombs when you spend less than $20 on Sauvignon Blanc, you’re in for a nice surprise. Try Matetic Vineyards EQ Coastal Sauvignon Blanc ($17) and Arboleda Sauvignon Blanc ($17).

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