20 wines for under $20 to prep your cellar for the New Year

By / Wine + Drinks / December 14th, 2017 / 11

Throughout his whole life my father was a businessman and one thing he always told me was that everyone loves a deal (including him). The other piece of advice was, “and when you find a deal, buy heavy.” How true are those words. For example, on Boxing Day and Black Friday, people flock to the malls and stores in search of those bargains — or at least a better price than they would get on any other day.

When it comes to booze, wine and beer here in Canada, we aren’t as lucky as our southern neighbours who can walk into a grocery store and find “2 for…” deals, or wander into a specialty shop and take advantage of deep discounts and multiple-purchase specials (Buy 6, get 10% off; Buy 12, take 25% off). Sometimes they’ll even throw in a bottle or take money off white-sticker prices — or any number of other money-saving offers — to keep customers coming back or buying more, proving that everyone loves a deal.

But when it comes to wine in this country, for the most part, we don’t get those kinds of enticements. On the other hand, with wine, quantity isn’t always the goal of bargain hunters. Sure, it’s great to get “2 for $5” or “3 for $10,” but the wines that really get my juices flowing are those bottles that over-deliver for the price I end up paying. You know the ones I am talking about. The bottle you play The Price is Right with: “What would you pay for that?” Nothing makes wine lovers smile wider than to hear a guess that’s double or triple the actual retail price; those are the bargains we seek.

I taste a lot of wines over the course of the year, in search of just those kinds of finds. These are the bottles I text my friends about right from the tasting-room floor; the ones I mention at parties and get-togethers with a sly “next time you’re at the liquor store, you gotta get…”

Not everyone can afford those $70 to $80 bottles that are consistently good year in and year out from “that” producer out of California or Australia, the ones that make everyone swoon. What the majority of us want is those $15 to $20 finds that make us feel like we’re drinking a $60, $70 or even $100 bottle, when we didn’t even spend half that amount. Here are my best wine finds from the past few months.

Winemaker José Luis Chueca at Bodegas Borsao in Spain

20 under $20

Borsao Berola 2013, Spain ($18.95)

Rich black fruit with vanilla, spice, pepper, plum and black cherry that lingers long into the night.

Kenwood Chardonnay 2015, California ($18.95)

Buttery with juicy pear and peach purée plus vanilla and a touch of spice keeping it real – real good, that is.

El Gorú Monastrell/Syrah/Petit Verdot 2015, Spain ($13.95)

Juicy and sweetly smoky with vanilla, black cherry, plum and a delicacy of dark fruit, it’s truly an easy recommendation.

Domaine Lafage Cuvée Nicolas Vieilles Vignes Grenache Noir 2015, France ($17)

With blue and black berries, hints of floral and delicate spice, this is a really pretty wine that’s worth a multi-purchase.

M. Chapoutier Rasteau 2014, France ($19.95)

Delicate dark fruit, black cherry, black raspberry, a touch of cranberry and white smoke. The Rhone Valley consistently delivers good-value wines.

Perez Cruz Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Chile ($19.95)

Minty black fruit, cassis, blackberry, plum, pepper and spice, this wine drinks well and at a good price. The Reserva is good, the Limited is better.

Beni di Batasiolo Langhe Nebbiolo 2015, Italy ($16.95)

A good-drinking straight Nebbiolo with plenty of red, black and blue fruit. It’s all over the map, but in a good way.

Passo del Cardinale Primitivo di Manduria 2014, Italy ($18.95)

Sweet plum and cherry with leather and vanilla backing. Zinfandel drinkers should recognize the beginning, but the finish is all Italy.

Sagrado Tinto 2013, Portugal ($14.95)

Plum, black cherry and chocolate with a creaminess on the palate that is reminiscent of Port, but on the dry side.

Familia Castaño Hécula Monastrell 2013, Spain ($13.95)

New label, same delicious wine. Rich blackberry, plum and black cherry with vanilla and toasted spices. Great value.

De Wetshof Wine Estate in South Africa

De Wetshof Limestone Hill Unwooded Chardonnay 2016, South Africa ($16.95)

Pleasantly unoaked and must have lees contact involved in its makeup. There’s a pleasant weight with yellow plum, peach, sweet apple and floral.

Thorn-Clarke Terra Barossa Shiraz 2015, Australia ($16.95)

Robust blackberry, mocha, black raspberry, liquorice and plum. Best described as layered and lovely.

Xavier Côtes du Rhône 2015, France ($17.95)

Plum and black cherry with meaty notes and some liquorice and blackberry, all ending with a smoky finish.

Zeni Marogne Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2014, Italy ($17.95)

Chocolate, black cherry, smoky-vanilla and spices, but the palate trap is the long mocha finish.

Sister’s Run Calvary Hill Shiraz 2014, Australia ($18.95)

Pretty wine with an intensity of dark fruit, mocha, licorice and spice. Sister’s Run constantly delivers delicious wines with good value attached.

Wildass Merlot 2015, Ontario ($16.95)

From Stratus in Niagara. Nicely layered with mocha, blueberry and vanilla, all while being well-spiced and pleasantly oaked.

Laurent Perrachon Roche Bleue Juliénas 2015, France ($19.95)

There’s a spicy component within that helps the black cherry and smoky notes meld well with the blueberry on the finish.

La Tremenda Monastrell 2012, Spain ($19.95)

Elegant and juicy with red berries, red liquorice, spiced cherry and herbal notes.

Campo Arriba Monastrell/Syrah/Tintorera 2014, Spain ($17.95)

Spicy quality that wraps itself seamlessly around the red and black berries, mineral and floral.

Invivo Gisborne Chardonnay 2016, New Zealand ($16.95)

Peach, melon, vanilla and buttery notes with delicate spice. A great-value Chardonnay to be bought by the case.


Michael is an award-winning journalist: Promoting the Promoters Award Cuvée 2010 and Ontario Wine Awards Journalist of the Year 2012.  He is also a national and international wine judge - Ontario Wine Awards, All Canadian Wine Championships; Best of Riesling — Germany; Essencia do Vinho — "Top Wines of Portugal".  He is currently the President of the Wine Writers Circle of Canada and the wine columnist for Ottawa Life and Grand magazine as well as regular contributor to Tidings, and Grapevine ... his reviews have also appeared in the LCBO Vintages magazine. Michael has also added a YouTube channel to his activities where he reviews bottles of great Ontario wine on a weekly basis. In whatever he does, it is Michael’s desire to educate, inspire and encourage others to grow their own love and enthusiasm for wine – and to realize that it is their palate that ultimately makes the decision.

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