Confronted with aisles of options from around the world and more grape varieties than you considered feasible, picking a wine to bring as a hostess gift or crack open to pair with your Wednesday night casserole can feel overwhelming and intimidating. Signs scream about points and tannins, barrel woods, and undertones as the faint scent of dread begins to fill the air. Wines vary wildly in price and taste, but we found five of the best wines under $20 that will quickly become favorites without breaking the bank.
Note: All prices are based on the average between online retailers and NYC Metro Area wine stores and will vary depending on location/retailer.
The Best Wines Under $20 to Always Have on Hand
Sauvignon Blanc – Oyster Bay ($11.99-14.99)
Hailing from Marlborough, Australia, this sharp white is a fun way to expand beyond the classic Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay. Served chilled, this wine is crisp and refreshing, but will neither overpower your palette nor disappear on contact. It holds up against steak and still a vibrant match for fish or even a salad.
Drier than the Pinot, it has just a hint of a sweet undertone to keep it sippable throughout the night. Oyster Bay describes this offering as having “Enticing citrus notes and tropical flavors – youthful, elegant and fresh with a lingering, zesty finish.” This wine supersedes cuisine limitations and makes for a lively choice any day.
Alternative Choice: Any of the Australian Sauvignon Blancs are a solid choice, and Kono is an excellent match for our wines under $20 list. ($11.99-$12.99)
Rosé – Whispering Angel ($17.99)
Rosé is coming on strong in the market, but many think of it as a warm-weather choice. This wine from Whispering Angel is made from a combination of five different grape varieties and is an excellent addition to any gathering. It has a delicate sweetness without going as far as a Reisling or other dessert-style wines but won’t overwhelm you with sugar. The beautiful bottle and unique choice make it a perfect hostess gift or addition to your party.
Bonus: It is also available in smaller, single-serve bottles if you are looking to jazz up a dreary weekday or ring in the weekend on a high note.
Alternative Choice: Fleur de Mer Rose ($17.99 – $19.99) This wine is a hint sweeter than Whispering Angel, but still a solid win.
Pinot Noir – Firesteed ($14.99 – $17.00)
Pinot Noirs are often described as a white wine masquerading as a red, Firesteed reaches across the aisle to bring compromise to the table. This is the perfect balance when you aren’t sure if you want a super-light white or a more sumptuous full red. Uncork Firesteed for the best of both worlds. Hailing from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, the vintner’s description talks about the fruit base of flavor, highlighting red cherries but finishing with stronger tones closer mocha. While it sounds like a wide transition to make with each sip, this wine tends to hit different notes with each taste and blend well enough so not overpower the rest of the meal.
Secret Tip: Even though it’s a red wine, chill this bottle for an extra level of flavor.
Alternative choice: Bread and Butter out of California ($12.99 – $15.99)
Cabernet Sauvignon – Cabrillo, Explorer of the California Coast ($19.99)
This 2016 Cab is a great find to snag a few bottles even at the upper limit of the $20 price ceiling. Derived from a Merlot grape, this wine is so smooth your tastebuds won’t believe you are sipping on a red. The acidity is very low with this bottle, and once you let it sit open for the recommended 30 minutes to aerate, the Napa Cabernet’s dryness balances out to make it a great everyday dinner wine. Aside from the taste, the bottle sports a nautical image from an oil painting by Willem Van De Velde the Younger that hangs in the National Gallery, which makes it extra appealing for gifting purposes.
Alternative Choice: Joseph Carr Cabernet Sauvignon ($12.99 – $14.99)
Merlot – Josh Carr ($15-$20)
Merlot wines are one of the fuller, some say heavier, of the red wines, and are classically paired with red meats, dark chocolates, and hearty, thick pasta sauces. From the same vineyard that produces the stellar Joseph Carr line of wines (if you are looking just above the $20 price point that line won’t disappoint), the Josh Carr Merlot holds up to the family name and expectations. It is jam-packed with flavor but doesn’t weigh down your tastebuds or your wallet. Pulling this off the shelf on a chilly winter night to match with a hearty meal is the perfect pairing.
Alternative choice: Dark Horse Merlot ($10.99)
Cost isn’t everything when you’re looking for a good bottle of wine, but it is important when you’re on a budget. There are plenty of wines under $20 that will taste great and leave you feeling good about your purchase. We hope you enjoy trying these, let us know which one you liked best.
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Photo Credit: Karen Hughes