Some celebrants usher in the New Year with a little bubbly and an expensive vintage wine or two. Based on requests from some friends for lower cost wines to get through the first quarter of 2021 under a pandemic budget, we took a quick search through our recent tasting notes. The criteria: values and party wines – mostly under $20 and made for easy sipping.

The following suggestions came from some 150 wines enjoyed (mostly!) during the past four months. The sources were a warehouse store, grocery chain and local wine merchant who specializes in value wines – all in Southern California. Zinfandel dominated the red wine category in quality and value and should be on your 2021 shopping list for 2021 and beyond. Cheers!


  • $10 California Sauvignon Blanc 2019 Bonterra Vineyards. Sharp, mid-green gold; new mown hay, grapefruit nose; mid-body/acids; not deep; short fruity finish. Appetizer, party, wine. 14.5/87.


  • $11 Russian River Valley, Calif., 2018 Chardonnay Frei Brothers. Sharp mid-dark green-gold; toasty, tropical, pineapple nose; mid-body/acids; fatter buttery style; long round fat finish. w/cheeses. 15.5/89.
  • Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc 2018 Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc $11. Sharp mid-green gold; light citrus, straw, floral nose; mid-body; soft acids; long smooth fruity finish (hint of residual sugar?). Easy drinking party, picnic, reception wine. 15/88.
  • Great value in California Chardonnay 2018 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve, $11. Sharp mid-gold; mid-viscosity; floral, honeysuckle, peachy, light wood nose; mid-body, mid-acids; long semi-lush finish (hints of residual sugar?). w/appetizers, party and picnic wine. 15.5/89.
  • NZ Pinot Gris 2017 Kim Crawford $12. Good value. Sharp mid-gold; peachy, floral nose; mid-body; softening; easy drinking picnic, party, appetizer wine. 15/88.
  • Calif. 2018 Charles Krug Winery (Peter Mondavi Family) St.Helena, Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc $13, Sharp light-mid straw gold; straw, light citrus, floral, green leaf nose; light-mid body; balanced; soft acids; decent fruit; good value in appetizer and party wine. 15.5/89.
  • Fine value 2018 Louis Jadot Mâcon-Villages ($14). Sharp light-mid green gold; light citrus, pineapple, floral nose (unoaked); mid-body; softening acids; long round fruity Chardonnay finish. w/appetizers. 15.5/89.


  • Value Italian red wine blend 2017 Petra Zingari Toscana IGT, $11. Mid-ruby; red fruit, cherries, jam, woody nose 25% each, Merlot, Sangiovese, Syrah, Petit Verdot); mid-body; balanced; mid-tannins; semi-short berry finish. 15/88.
  • $14 Calif. Pinot Noir 2018 Angeline Winery Mendocino County. Mid-ruby; red fruit, cherry, Pinot nose, stemmy; mid-body; balanced; mid-acids; semi-long fruity finish. Good value. Picnic, party wine. 15.5/89.
  • Italian import 2017 Argiano Non Confunditur Toscana IGT, $15. Mid-garnet; berries, jam, wood nose; mid-body; decent tannins/acids, fruit; mid-long, fruity, berry and leaves finish, slightly hot (14.0 alc.). 15/88.
  • Good value in Castillon red 2018 Château Hyot Reserve ($15). Mid garnet; berries, red fruit, herbaceous, cedar nose; mid-body; softening acids, tannins; good Merlot flavor (60% Merlot, 20% each Cab Franc and Cab Sauvignon); short fruity finish. 15/88.

          Dry Creek Zinfandel

  • Sonoma, Calif., 2018 Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel Old Vine $16. Sharp, mid-garnet; red fruit, berries, bramble, light mint nose; mid-body, balanced; good acids/tannins, distinct Zinfandel fruit; long semi-hot (14.5 alc.) finish. 16/90.
  • 2018 Seghesio Family Vineyards Zinfandel Sonoma County, $19. Mid-dark garnet; mid-plus viscosity (14.8 alc.); berry, bramble, sagebrush nose; mid-body; balanced; soft tannins; long wood and berry finish; good Zin flavor and finish. w/flatbreads, multiple variations. Highest score of the wines covered here. 16-16.5/90-91.
  • Lodi, Calif., 2017 Harney Lane Zinfandel Home Ranch, $22. Mid-dark garnet; bramble, berry, ripe fruit, prune nose; mid-big body; Amarone-like; big extract; soft tannins; long, berry, hot (15.5 alc.) finish. BBQ, rib wine. 16/90.