It occurs to me that $20 might be the ultimate sweet spot in the wine world. There are all sorts of benchmarks and barometers, but for most people taking a leap over the $20 barrier is done cautiously and with consideration. So when I find wines under that threshold that provide significant value and taste way more expensive than the price the cash register will ring up, I make a note of it. Here are three wines made from fruit sourced in various parts of California that offers tons of drinking pleasure and tremendous bang for the buck. One of them even has the necessary elements to lay down for a couple of years, should you so choose. That’s not something often in play in this price range. Whether you’re looking for a wine to bring to a dinner party or something to keep you warm all winter long, these selections will get it done for a minimal price.
Layer Cake 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon – The fruit for this wine was sourced in two distinct appellations, Paso Robles and Alexander Valley. It’s composed entirely of Cabernet Sauvignon. Layer Cake was aged in entirely French oak for 46 months; 30 percent of the barrels utilized were new. This offering has a suggested retail price of $15.99. Plum, black raspberry, vanilla and toast aromas are all part of the tempting nose on this Cabernet. The palate is rich, lush and deeply concentrated with lots of appealing black fruit flavors. Leather, black pepper and earth are all part of the long finish. Soft tannins and solid acidity lend themselves to the food friendliness of this Cabernet. You could probably find a wine slightly more perfectly suited, as well as more expensively priced, to pair with a burger, but why go through the trouble and expense when this one works as well as almost anything?
Educated Guess 2012 Napa Valley Merlot – The vast majority of the fruit for this wine (95 percent) was sourced in Napa Valley, the balance (5 percent) in nearby Lake County. In addition to Merlot (85 percent), some Cabernet Sauvignon (15 percent) was blended in as well. Barrel aging took place in French oak over 12 months. The suggested retail price is $19.99. The color of this wine is striking, the minute it’s poured — the deep purple hue looks brilliant in the glass. A hint of cocoa underscores blueberry aromas on the warm and welcoming nose. The palate is studded with red and black cherry flavors galore that are complemented by black pepper and cinnamon spice. A dollop of chocolate, earth and thyme emerge on the above average finish, along with all the fresh fruit flavors. This is a textbook example of a Merlot that actually tastes like Merlot.
The Sum 2012 Red Blend – Fruit for this offering was sourced throughout California. This selection blends together Cabernet Sauvignon (75 percent), Petite Sirah (15 percent) and Syrah (10 percent). The Sum has a suggested retail price of $19.99. The nose of this blend is big and incredibly floral, and the little bit of Syrah really makes its presence felt. The flavors are deep and dark lending to a layered and dense palate. It’s substantial in complexity and depth. Bits of chicory play alongside blueberry and blackberry flavors, which dominate the palate. Sweet, dark chocolate flavors emerge on the persistent and notably long finish, along with rhubarb and sour cherry. This would be a very good wine and a reasonable value if it was priced in the $35 to $40 range. At $20 suggested retail price, less if you shop around, it’s a fabulous and delicious bargain. Scoop it up before it’s gone.
I highly recommend all three of these wines for sipping and pairing with medium-bodied to full-flavored foods. Each of them is also quite drinkable on its own. The Merlot and the Cabernet will be at their best over the next handful of years when their young, fresh fruit flavors are in full bloom. The red blend (The Sum) is delicious now and will drink well over the next decade. Its structure is such that laying it down, for those with the patience to do so, will provide a nice reward. At such an appealing price point it would be a good choice for those who don’t want to spend a ton to experiment on age-worthy wines.