Around mid-April, we often find ourselves a bit short when we pull out the billfold at our friendly neighborhood wine shop. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to discern why.
This year, Tax Day, through a weird confluence of weekend and Easter, doesn’t fall until April 18, but our fortune falls no matter the date.
Time for some bargain wines. We’ve sorted through a slew of low-priced options — kissing a lot of frogs along the way — to unearth a dozen $12-and-under wines that punch well above their price class.
1. Spanish reds have provided killer value for years, and now the whites have joined in the fun. The Lagrimas De Maria Viura & Tempranillo Blanco 2015 ($12) is a vibrant, vivacious blend with a veritable fruit cocktail of flavors, smooth-as-silk texture and an everlastingly lovely finish. It’s from an extraordinarily young (by Spanish standards) winery, dating to 2008. Pairing options: risottos (especially with seafood), omelets and frittatas, tagines.
Available at Hy-Vee (Oakdale), Dennis Brothers, Cotroneo’s, North Loop, Apple Valley (148th St.).
2. I can’t pronounce the brand name of the Tikveš Special Selection Rkaciteli 2014 ($12), but I got a great tip on the grape: rhymes with “watch a telly.” A multilayered nose, bone-dry opening with fruit leaping to the fore midpalate and a buoyant finish are hallmarks of this Macedonian jewel. Rkaciteli, an ancient white grape originating in Georgia (Europe’s, not Dixie’s), translates as “red stem.” Pairing options: shrimp, sushi, Thai or Vietnamese dishes.
Available at Kowalski’s and Zipp’s.
3. Germany is the home of riesling, but for those who remain skittish about the sweet stuff, Washington is a great place to start. The Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling 2015 ($11) offers up nice herb/fruit aromas and flavors, with a delicate, dryish finish. It’s a downright pretty wine and absolutely a great buy year in and year out. Pairing options: Tex-Mex dishes (including ever-challenging guac), barbecued ribs or chicken.
Available at 1010 Washington, Cellars, Wayzata and Edina munis, 1st Grand, Liquor Barrel, South Lyndale and others.
4. Every year, more and more dandy Portuguese wines flow into Tundraland. One of my favorites on the white side is the Dom Diogo Azal Vinho Verde 2015 ($12), possessed of a beguiling floral/fruit nose, intense but refreshing citrus and stone fruit and a clean, lean finish. It’s unusual for a wine to be made from 100 percent azal grapes, but it shouldn’t be, at least based on how great this wine is. Pairing options: ceviche, spring salads, green veggies, roast chicken.
Available at Cotroneo’s, Harbor, the Wine Shop, Liberty Village, Lake Aire (Duluth), Sunfish and others.
5. Most $12 California cabs taste as if they could be made from almost any (or many) red grapes. Not so the Casas del Bosque Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2014 ($12), whose firm, bold flavors scream what cork dorks call “typicity” (characteristics appropriate for that grape). This Chilean red is a hearty beauty with delicious, full-bodied fruit from start to finish. Pairing options: burgers and almost any other beef dish (oxtail!), roasted root veggies.
Available at McDonald’s, Revival, Big Discount (Eagan), Richfield (Cedar Av.), Savage, Liquor Vault and others.
6. It’s a nonvintage wine, meaning the blended grapes can and do come from separate years, and the folks behind the Rene Barbier Catalunya Red ($7) sure know how to make that work. Available in bottle or box, this Spanish gem (the grapes are grown near sunny Barcelona) is fruity and fresh, with nice body and balance thanks to soft tannins and judicious use of oak. Pairing options: brats and other sausages, pizza, pasta with tomato-y sauces.
Available at Surdyk’s, Haskell’s, MGM, Kowalski’s, Cub, Hy-Vee and Trader Joe’s.
7. Adam LaZarre is back in the saddle at Cycles Gladiator after a brief hiatus, and that’s good news for anyone who loves quintessentially California wines that are not just fruit bombs. The Cycles Gladiator Pinot Noir 2014 ($12) leavens that perfectly ripe fruit with some earthy, herby stuffing and perky spiciness. This is the perfect red for summer parties and picnics. Pairing options: spicy, saucy grilled pork and veggies, cedar-plank salmon, duck confit.
Available at Franklin Nicollet, Total, Midway, Tonka Bottle Shop, Chicago-Lake, Hum’s, Falls and others.
8. One taste makes it delightfully clear that a small Austrian region called Weinland is the home of the Evolúció Blaufränkisch 2014 ($12). The nose on this red is redolent of dark red fruits, but it’s crisp blueberries that fairly shout at the taste buds. This is a decidedly expressive wine with a lot going on, and the spot-on acidity and tannins make it the very picture of harmony — the perfect introduction to this grape. Pairing options: roast chicken or other fowl, roast pork, herby potato dishes.
Available at Wine Republic, Kowalski’s and Zipp’s.
9. One of the major reasons for malbec’s never-ending popularity is how downright quaffable the best of these Argentinian wines are. That certainly applies to the RJ Viñedos MDZ Mendoza Malbec 2016 ($12). There’s just the right amount of oomph to go with the vivid dark-berry flavors, and it’s commendably low in oak influence and alcohol (13 percent). Quaff away. Pairing options: grilled, peppery steaks, herby lamb chops, pasta with pesto.
Available at Stinson, MGM (Minneapolis), Old Vine, France 44, Solo Vino, Haskell’s (Chanhassen) and others.
10. Twin Citians’ relatively recent embrace of rosé continues apace, and while there are fab options from around the globe, many of the best, most affordable ones emanate from the motherland, southeastern France. The Pierre Dupond L’Agnostique Cinsault Rosé 2016 ($10) is fresh as a Provençal breeze, with signature cherry-berry gusto and a peppy, mouthwatering finish. Pairing options: tapenade and other salty appetizers, shrimp on the barbie, salads with chicken or salmon.
Available at Lake Wine & Spirits, Westwood, Lowry Hill, Jerry’s, France 44, On the Rocks and others.
11. Spring is here, and wines with verve and energy are the order of the day. Especially when they’re as persistent as the Laudun-Chusclan Gard Reserve de la Saurine Rosé 2016 ($10), a harmonic convergence from nose to throat. This grenache-based pink wonder is also one of the best-smelling wines I’ve encountered in a good long while, and the flavors, texture and weight are simply spot-on, alone and together. Pairing options: soft cheeses, paella, bouillabaisse and other s eafood stews, Easter ham.
Available at Tournament, Elevated, Excelsior Vintage, Top Ten/Northgate, Liquor Boy, WineStreet, St. Anthony Village munis and others.
12. California has some dandy higher-end sparkling wine producers, but for basic yumminess, it’s hard to beat Korbel. The nonvintage Korbel Blanc de Noirs ($12) boasts citrus and green-apple notes, a touch of spice and a bit of bite. The midpalate and finish are lushness incarnate, but exhilarating acidity brings home the balance. It’s the kind of wine that should remind folks that bubbles are not just for special occasions. Pairing options: potato chips, popcorn, fried chicken or fish, sashimi.
Available at Big Top (St. Paul), Cub (Rosemount), Lakeville muni, Eden Prairie muni (Den Rd.), MGM (Minnetonka) and more.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.