As the days grow cold and the leaves begin to change, nothing is more warming than a glass of red wine. From now until the new year, there are all kinds of dishes and occasions where red wine matches the mood and pairs with the food. Whether you are planning virtual get-togethers, attending socially distanced dinner hangs, or just chilling with your pod, good, affordable red wine that’s easy to find is always a win-win — on or in between celebratory days.
I love sharing wine this time of year. The feeling I get from bringing a bottle or two of something fun and different, or solid and familiar, and seeing the smiles on peoples’ faces when they try it, is one of the reasons I got into the wine industry in the first place.
Nowadays, the selection of wines on the American market is more plentiful and varied than ever before — especially in the $20- and-under category. This is one of my favorite categories, as the complexity of wines at this price comes less from aging and more from the youthful, inherent aromas of the grapes they are made from. They are often juicier than aged wines and have aroma profiles that will please a crowd. And if oak is used, it’s more of a finishing touch than a long-term aging element. Given that these wines are best in the first five years or so after harvest, they’re all about the here and now.
I’ve compiled a list of six awesome red wines that are not too hard to find — which is great, especially if you need people to pick up on their own for a virtual event. These six bottles will pair with almost all the holiday food and please all the palates. You may recognize some, while others may be new, but all are fun and delicious. You can double up on each bottle and go for a 12-bottle case to have on hand, or you can always grab one or two that sound interesting.
Cabernet Sauvignon is from France, but California is definitely its second home. This bottle is a classic style from the Paso Robles region in the Central Coast. It is big and juicy, but not too heavy. The acidity lifts the body of the wine up on the palate and won’t weigh you down.
I know this may look a bit tough to sound out, but it is such a great wine. It’s from Austria, and the grape is pronounced blouw-FRANK-eesh. Here, in its youthful form under a screw cap, the wine is fun with a lot of fruit and some spice. It has a medium-bodied feel and is great with a slight chill, no matter the season.
I’m half Italian, so growing up, holiday meals always included something covered in red sauce. And I can’t recommend an Italian wine without the mention of food, because that’s how the culture rolls. This nice and earthy red will soothe the soul, with soft fruit and round edges on the palate for pasta Bolognese or salt-rubbed pork chops simmered in apple cider.
This red is calling for crisp air and a fire in the fireplace. It’s salty and savory, with a nice, deep core of fruit. It’ll rest on your palate all comfy-like and tease your brain with the smells of cooking herbs such as tarragon and oregano. The weight is just right on the palate, so you’ll always be ready for that next sip.
Primitivo is what they call Zinfandel in Italy, specifically Pugila in southern Italy. Here, it’s lighter than its California counterpart with a more vibrant mouthfeel and great acidity worthy of a slight chill. I love this wine with Thanksgiving leftovers, like a cranberry sauce turkey sandwich on buttered and toasted day-old bread.
Young and vibrant with a little earthy depth for good measure, this is a nice, everyday Rioja. It’s comfortably lean with good oak, and is soft around the edges. If you like Merlot or Pinot Noir, this is a fun alternative.