The dearth of recommendable California wines under $12

The New York Times magazine ran an charticle on Sunday that compiled the picks of 18 wine industry types. The category? Wines under $12.

But the list raised questions for Ray Isle of Food & Wine, since he tweeted:

ray isle tweet

The lack of California wines is understandable for a couple of reasons. Yes, California makes a lot of wine and much of it is under $12. But, as we have discussed before, precious little of the California wine under $12 is estate wine; rather it is often assembled from far-flung vineyards in steel tanks so large they could double as nuclear silos. The two American wines on the list, from NY and OR, are both from single estates.

The people on the list, mostly wine directors at restaurants, don’t exactly champion tanker wine. They are trend-setters or at the very least someone who wants to help a diner or customer discover something new that they might only find at a restaurant or specialty shop. Also, the composite nature of the list means that one author didn’t save spaces for certain categories as each contributor gave a top pick. As to the absence of other new world countries, perhaps that was a function of the taste preferences of the people surveyed too.

Anyway, good wine under $12 is always of interest and Ray raises some good questions. What do you think?

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32 Responses to “The dearth of recommendable California wines under $12”


  1. Husch in the Anderson Valley has some pretty good white wines in $10-15 price point. Not the greatest, but perfectly acceptable for daily drinking.


  2. My favorites are over $12, but I still find many good California wines under $12. Keep tasting!


  3. Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier isn’t a worldbeater, by any means, but it’s a solid choice under $12.


  4. Great question. Let’s start with this idea. Many of the wines that somms do find under $12 go on their glass pour list. The need for many establishments is to get the bottle price back with the first glass. Somms will often look for lesser known wines, often from emerging areas to introduce clients to wines that work with their cuisine, while not offending them with this needed pricing structure. The bulk CA wines do not satisfy either consideration. They do not work with food and they are commonly positioned everywhere. Many still find great values, in Chile, Argentina, Austria, Slovenia, etc.


  5. Me? I’m drinking a LOT more beer, especially when the food calls for red wine. Why? I blogged this night before last. when I finished pouring the fourth bottle of red wine of the evening down the drain. This is a dreary but increasingly frequent experience.

    There is a LOT of crappy red plonk for $10 and under. And those four bottles that weren’t worth the calories are $40+ down the drain.

    Rest here: Beer Ascending


  6. I think many California wines are over priced as it is. Why is it that some one would sell a wine so bad that Lewis has to drain it?


  7. There’s a lot of bad wine from everywhere, not just California. The world has always had far more bad wine than good. It’s a waste of time moaning and groaning about it.


  8. I wish one of them had mentioned La Sibilla piedirosso.


  9. When I buy under $12 wine, it’s typically to bring for a picnic or tailgate. I usually end up with a Bonarda for a red, and Kung Fu Girl Riesling or Dr. Loosen’s entry level bottle for a white.

    I recently was able to buy the 2009 Domaine La Garrigue Cuvee Romaine for $12 and have been enjoying that, but have mostly spoiled myself out of the really inexpensive stuff for regular at-home consumption. There are a lot of $15-$19 bottles I like, though.


  10. As a consumer I have tasted wine from $6 to $150/bottle in most varietals. I have taken $6 dollar young/ruffwines,aged for a year and come up to many $20+types. This has all been done group sensory evaluations. Although I notice some differences comparing $20 to $100+ types, nothing that special. I still think the social moment is the special ingredient that makes the great wines. Invest into average wines and foster great relationships.


  11. I like Concannon petite sirah, only $6.99 at Trader Joe’s, Bogle PS at $10 is also a good bet.


  12. What do I think? I think they got it exactly right re: California, but where was Washington? Check out the Wine Enthusiast Top 100 Best Buys (just out) and see where the #1 wine hails from. Plus two others in the top 15. Hello NYT – the number two wine producing region in the country is number one when it comes to value!


  13. Been pretty happy with the Avalon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s $11.99 and you often see it on sale for $10.99.


  14. Just got the Wine Curmudgeon email and Jeff Siegel was recommending Tormaresca in general and its Chardonnay in particular for cheap wine.

    I second Sondra’s recommendation on Bogle Petite Sirah.


  15. Another answer is make it yourself. Here in the California North Coast of Sonoma and Mendocino counties you can find $25-$30/bottle equivalent grapes and make your own for about $5.00/bottle. People in other parts of the country can order quality grapes from Calif/Ore/Wash and do the same, perhaps not for $5 but still very affordable. Not only is it cost effective, it is challenging and entertaining, and the final reward is a nice bottle of wine on a regular basis.


  16. Cameron Hughes Lot wines at Costco and Sam’s Club mostly are under $12 and, as a negociant, they come from wineries that sell their brands for 2 to 3 times that much.


  17. First, American wine is astonishingly overpriced, especially when compared to French and Australian offerings.

    Second, Caparone’s estate bottlings at $14 make mincemeat of the competition.


  18. Robert Kacher has been importing wines from Nimes and Gascony for years, most of which are under $15 and some of which are under $10. They are beautiful. Jorge Ordonez has a plethora of wines from Spain with similar price points. Domestically, it would be hard to find more accessible , more consistent wines than Charles Smith’s wines.


  19. So. 18 responses and what do we have: unqualified positive recommendations for Concannon and Bogle PS, a “pretty happy” for Avalon, and mentions of wines available at big-box retailers. Based on this unscientific response, I’d say the question answers itself.

    Of course, there’s also the business of costs. As is often said, “The key to success in the Napa Valley is to make sure your grandparents bought the land.” Although this may have to be updated to “great-grandparents.” :-)


  20. What the hell is “dearth”


  21. Spanish wine is practically free, if you’re into it.

    California is an outlier in terms of price – must be all the reverse osmosis.


  22. Like all cycles it is that time of season to bash California pricing – also consider the source of the article – from author to respondents.. 13 restaurateurs? Not implying that they don’t understand value but I believe that they have a different approach to value wines.

    Also, it looks like were are talking fringe – good fringe but it seemed like “ who can out geek whom!”
    I like the Husch suggestion – just did a world Chenin survey [12 wines] Husch topped the tasting in type and reasonable price!…Randy Mason’s Pomelo SB and Three Pears Pinot Grigio deserve a mention too!


  23. Lew- Sorry to hear of your travails in this category. But I guess by pulling all those corks, you are doing your part to keep wine “consumption” up!

    Steve Heimoff – Yes there is bad wine made in California and there is bad wine made in France (to choose but one other wine-producing area). But the point of this discussion is that there quite a few good, recommendable wines for under $12 made in France (or other places as the list indicates). But naming one from California as a favorite wine under $12 is quite difficult, for both the interviewees in the story.

    And, as Dave Erickson points out, even the suggestions on this thread are for solid if not standout choices.

    Tom Powers- Yes, I spoke with Bobby Kacher a couple of years ago about this comparison and he had some insightful comments. I included a link in the posting but here it is again.

    You can also see Patrick Campbell’s comments on the subject.

    Dave – yes, part of it was land values.

    John Skupny- Thanks for the comment. But this is not actually a seasonal issue; I think it is a constant one. As the links indicate above, we were talking about it a couple of years ago and things haven’t improved much. There are clearly some structural issues that we got into in the previous posts. But I think that how to make a tasty wine under $12 is something the industry would really benefit from discussing, rather than ignoring or denying–there’s certainly a real market gap for it.


  24. I’m turning to whites for everyday wines; it’s easier to get a quality white for a reasonable price than it is to get a red for a reasonable price. I don’t expect to find a good cheap red. Cheap Spanish wines are among the worst I’ve ever tasted.


  25. Criminy. Gads. Or in the words of Janis Joplin, Try, A Little Bit Harder. There ain’t no dearth of drinkable Calif. wine under $12 NY costs, if you come out to Calif. and shop here. Maybe it all gets consumed here in Calif. There are about 30 wineries in Paso Robles and 30 in the Shenandoah that fit the bill in a wink. Another 25 in Lake County and the Boontlin burbs near smoketown. I am probably way low on my numbers.


  26. One more thing about the list: yes, there may have been selection bias among the interviewees, but just because it ran in the NYT doesn’t make it an East Coast/West Coast thing per se. Seven of the 18 respondents were from California, two from Portland, and three from overseas.


  27. […] was from Germany, New York, Oregon and Greece. These results prompted wine-writer Tyler Colman to explain in his blog Dr. Vino that California wines didn't show up in the chart because "precious little" […]


  28. Thanks for posting! Herzog is one of my favorite wines. Sometimes it can be hard to find it, so it’s useful to order wine online when you’re looking for something like that.


  29. DrV.
    I would concur with you-I can find them but I live in California. I used the term ‘season’ as a reference to the linear parallel of the exchange rate, Dollar vs Euro, and the amount of imports that come into the USA – dollar strong more imports – dollar weak less imports. In regards to California’s ‘ Dearth’ Michael Steinberger has also covered the subject a couple times, most so it seems there is a dearth of material to take in on this matter.
    http://www.slate.com/articles/life/drink/2010/02/the_great_california_wine_mystery.html
    I still stand on my opin of the NYT piece ‘who could out geek whom & how did the moderator ask the question?’ but I really liked Pascaline’s feisty American selection, not only daring but gutsy from someone who comes from the Loire Valley!


  30. I think that greed and industrial wine making together combine for crappy under 12 dollar wines from the USA..
    I don’t buy the land price issue..


  31. Agree with Miguel that Avalon Napa Valley Cab is certainly decent for the price, and widely available. That said, more often than not I’ll reach for Montepulciano D’Abruzzo priced around $11-12 if given the choice.


  32. I’ve been in the wine biz for about a generation now, and just read the WS story on Tim Mondavi.
    There he talked about his new vineyard Continuum and how he bought two small vineyards – 1 for 12 million and 1 for 14 million. Of course the family had the cash, they had sold the farm, so to speak, for $1.3 billion.
    Back when I first began buying wine in the late 70s, most top ranked Cal wines were just at or slightly over $20 retail. And Mondavi’s discount for wholesale was $1.50 a case!

    Our CA glass wine prices rarely got as high as $10, which is a normal beginning for most anything on offer these days.
    Price is a big problem with California wines today. Especially in the wine bar / restaurant biz.


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