Good wines for under $25: Uncork the Forks

A bottle of Influence Wines’ 2014 Malbec served at PeraBell Food Bar East in Riverhead. (Credit: Lenn Thompson)

A bottle of Influence Wines’ 2014 Malbec served at PeraBell Food Bar East in Riverhead. (Credit: Lenn Thompson)

Last week I read an interview on Food & Wine magazine’s website written by executive wine editor Ray Isle, with Doug Bell, who oversees all of the wine, beer and spirits buying for Whole Foods Market nationwide. Bell is responsible for selling 42 million bottles of adult beverages per year. Over the course of the interview, he makes some predictions for wine and beer in 2016. 

Among the expected, often-discussed trends (dry rosé, prosecco and even more local craft beer), Bell feels that wines in the $15 to $25 price range are going to be big.

“Look, when you spend about $15 to $25 dollars, especially for imported wines, the quality is miraculously higher than you get for $8 to $10,” he said, adding, “The market is really feeling right now like it was before the recession. People are trading up, which is great to see.”

This got me thinking about what the impact might be for Long Island wine. Producers have heard for years that Long Island wine is overpriced and that the region lacks good-value wines. If you’re used to paying $10 or less for wine, OK — you’re not going to find much here. But if the trend is moving up into the $25 range, Long Island makes some really great options.

At the same time as people appear to be spending a bit more for everyday wines, many Long Island winemakers have refocused the wines in their portfolios that sell for less than $30 — even under $20. These wines — red, white and rosé — tend toward fresher styles, with less (or no) time in oak, that are best to drink younger.

Not only are these styles of wines more popular today than ever (some would thank “New California” winemakers, but Long Island has been making these styles since the industry’s inception), but with less money spent on new oak barrels and less time storing expensive wine (unsold) in those barrels, fresher, lower-oak wines can help wineries contain costs.

Whether or not wineries pass that savings along to us is a topic for another column, but with the proliferation of tasty under-$25 wines available locally, at least some are.

I’ve never tasted so many wines in this price range that I’d happily drink any night of the week. Many of my favorites from the past year have sold out — wines like Shinn Estate Vineyards’ 2014 “Mojo” Cabernet Franc, Roanoke Vineyards’ 2013 BOND (a red blend) and Southold Farm + Cellars’ 2014 “Minor Threat” Cabernet Franc — but there are plenty that are still available and new vintages on the way.

Need some examples? That’s why I’m here. It’s not hard to find white wines and rosés in this price range, so we won’t note those here. Here are some of the best reds that are still available:

A current favorite is Anthony Nappa Wines’ 2014 “Bordo” Cabernet Franc. (Have you noticed the cabernet franc part of this trend?) Made without a splinter of oak, this is cabernet franc at its rustic best. Packed with dark berry fruit flavors and a distinct garden herb streak, it’s at home with a wide range of foods. I like it with most anything that includes fresh herbs. Pick it up at the Winemakers Studio.

Influence Wines’ 2014 malbec didn’t spend much time in barrel, allowing malbec’s high-toned, floral nature to shine through. Fruit-forward with blueberry and blackberry character, there are also notes of violets and a great black-pepper spiciness. Low-tannin but with plenty of acidity for structure, this is another wine that shines brightest with food. It’s made by Erik Bilka, who doesn’t have a tasting room, but you will find it at some local restaurants and at Michael’s Wines and Liquors in Riverhead.

Lieb Cellars’ second label Bridge Lane wines aren’t the most complex. They aren’t wines you’re going to sit and ponder for hours, but they are fresh, clean and easy-drinking. If you like a little more oak influence, Bridge Lane 2013 Red Blend is a merlot-heavy, Bordeaux-style blend that is a bit richer, with dark fruits and a touch of chocolate and toasty oak.

Channing Daughters Winery’s 2014 Rosso Fresco — “fresh red” — is a blend of 39 percent merlot, 21 percent Dornfelder, 18 percent cabernet franc, 16 percent syrah, 3 percent lagrein, 2 percent teroldego and 1 percent blaufrankisch that spends a year in older oak. With all those grapes included, it’s not surprising that it has a bit more complexity and a savory edge.

Lenn Thompson