AS PLCB retail wine specialist Max Gottesfeld led me on an extended wine safari, I found plenty of interesting wines for under $15, many for under $12 and some for under $10. Here are just a few examples of the game I bagged:
Château Font-Mars Picpoul de Pinet 2010, Languedoc, France. $11.99
Picpoul, the grape grown in southern France, is fun to say and easy to remember. Crisp, lively, full pear and apple notes but balanced by minerality on the finish. Perfect hot summer sipper.
Villacezan Albarín 2011, Tierra de León, Spain. $8.99
Not to be confused with albariño (though everyone understandably will), albarín is a different Spanish grape, most often grown around the city of Leon. It tastes like a cross between aromatic, full-bodied gewürztraminer and the fresh, tangy acidity of albariño. Amazing value that pairs with grilled seafood and shellfish.
Pla del la Creu Blanc 2008, Penedes, Spain. $9.99
Xarel.lo, with it's weird Basque spelling, is best known as a grape used to make cava. Here it's a nonsparkling table wine. Very intense and ripe, with banana-bread aromas and a hint of smoke, but its slight acidity keeps things fresh. Strange wine but enjoyable — the very definition of "esoteric."
Evolocio Love Over Money Furmint 2011, Tokaj, Hungary. $9.99
The furmint grape is traditionally used in the famed Tokaji sweet wines, but the Hungarians have recently been bottling it in dry table wines. Full-bodied, with lots of green apple and apricot and nice minerality on the finish.
Buchegger Zweigelt 2008, Lower Austria. $12.99
Austria's whites, like grüner veltliner, have gained wide popularity, but you cannot go wrong with the country's light-bodied reds like this one. This wine looks and tastes "purple." Juicy, with lots of berry and plum notes.
Viña Eguia Reserva 2007, Rioja Spain. $9.99
Wines from Rioja, made from tempranillo, are not rare. However, a good reserva at under $10 is so rare, it might as well be a snow leopard. Spends 24 months in French and American oak, but there is still freshness and complexity. Nose of spice, vanilla and anise. Warm and rich in the mouth with a long finish. Drink with a steak from the grill.
Jean-Francois Mérieau Le Bois Jacou Gamay 2009, Touraine, France. $14.99
Once you get past the impossibly Frenchie name, you'll find your new favorite red for summer patio dining. Gamay, the light-bodied grape used here, is best know in Beaujolais. Here, there is something dark and rich — almost meaty — at work, with a balance of acidity and minerality you'd usually find in much more expensive wines.
Argiolas Perdera Isola dei Nuraghi 2009, Sardinia, Italy. $14.99
Do you know monica? You should: She's a grape grown on the island of Sardinia. This one is earthy, with dried flowers and leather on the nose. But there's also a freshness, with juicy acidity on the palate and just enough tannins to let you know you're drinking a wine that doesn't mess around. Unbelievable value.