Around mid-April, most of us are feeling a bit poor, even if we actually aren't. Tax season can do that to a person.
It's also the season when our eyes and palates turn more to refreshing, not-so-heavy offerings. Fortuitously, at least for admirers of fermented grape juice, there are affordable provisions for all tastes.
To celebrate, here are 15 wines for $15 (or less) that are readily available at Twin Cities retail outlets. I have found them easy to find — and even easier to enjoy — no matter the vintage, for years.
The Mas Fi Brut Cava ($12) is delicious and packed with springtime vibrancy and vigor. An array of fruit flavors make this Spanish sparkler the perfect patio sipper, and it's seriously food-loving, playing well with most everything, but especially fried and/or salty offerings.
Just as timely — although both categories have become year-round staples — are aluminum and cardboard. From an Oregon winery with several tasty by-the-can options, my favorite is the Underwood Brut Rosé ($8/375 ml), a red-berry delight with surprising depth and length. The same goes for the Shania Monastrell ($20 for a 3-liter box, the equivalent of $5 a bottle), which is meaty but pairs well with grilled or roasted veggies as well as pizza and burgers.
Also from Spain and another swell burger/brat/pizza match, the Hello World! Cabernet Franc ($13) is bold at the outset, softish on the finish and herby/spicy throughout.
Warmer-weather reds aren't limited to Europe. From the other side of the world comes the D'Arenburg Stump Jump Shiraz ($15), jammy and juicy but with a firmer grip than most Aussie reds. Closer to home but staying in the Southern Hemisphere, the Sur de Los Andes Malbec ($15) is rich and ripe but with earthiness and acidity undergirding it. This is what Argentine malbec can and should be, and like the shiraz, it ought to be a mainstay for those of us who relish anything and everything off the grill.
Similar attributes are the hallmark of any red made by Adam LaZarre, a master at crafting California reds that punch way above their weight class. With the Cycles Gladiator Pinot Noir ($13), he doesn't shy away from juicy fruit, but delivers a silky wine with pinot character. Bring on the salmon!
Whiter shade of pale
Admittedly, white wines draw much of our attention as winter finally says "uncle," and a pair of sauvignon blancs lead the way. The Le Hameau Sauvignon Blanc ($10) from France shouts "It's springtime, folks" with a super-floral nose and pure, focused fruit. California's Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc ($12) is citrus glee in a bottle with surprising complexity on the finish. Both wines cozy up to pretty much any fruit of the sea.
White blends also rule the roost as the weather warms. Using grapes that usually are pegged for cognac (ugni blanc and colombard), the Domaine de Pouy Blanc ($14) smells like a pine forest and tastes like the best fruit cocktail ever, but with a brisk mouthfeel. Meanwhile, an estimable Sonoma winery uses immaculate farming practices for the delectable Cline Farmhouse White ($14), alternately lush and lean but scrumptious throughout.
Even more ambrosial is the Yalumba "The Y Series" Viognier ($15) from Australia, loaded with stone fruit on the nose and palate and freshness from start to finish. Shrimp on the barbie and poultry prepared any ol' way are superb companions.
Even more food-friendly is the Pacific Rim Columbia Valley Riesling ($11) from Washington, showcasing a honeysuckle nose and tropical-fruit flavors that make it ideal for all manner of Asian dishes.
It's hard to imagine spring or summer without a crisp vinho verde from Portugal. The Broadbent Vinho Verde ($12) is the ultimate crowd-pleaser, just bracing enough and slightly fizzy, with "green" flavors (lime, fresh herbs, green apple) that evoke the "verde" in its name. Any picnic grub should sing with this.
Plushness, on the other hand, is a trademark of the J. Lohr Riverstone Chardonnay ($15). Asian aromas and flavors belie this California white's roots all the way through the velvety, vivacious finish. It's worth buying by the case — if not now, perhaps at a more financially friendly time of year.
Bill Ward is a freelance food and drink writer living in Nashville who writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.