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Good wines for $15 or less

The only thing better than a good bottle of wine is finding that bottle at a bargain price.

"I think we can reasonably say that there is a lot of inexpensive and high quality wine on the market," says Jamal A. Rayyis, author of Food & Wine Magazine's Wine Guide 2005.

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At the same time, thanks to a diminished exchange rate, the bargains aren't quite as good as they were few years ago. "The same wine that could be purchased for $12 three years ago would cost close to $15," Rayyis says.

But you can get a nice bottle of wine for $15 -- or even less. Check out selections below for wines costing $15 to $11, $10 to $6 and a few in the $5 range.

Prices will vary by as much as a few dollars a bottle, depending on the location you buy it. But if you want to get an idea of what a particular bottle goes for locally, check out

One thing you don't worry as much about at the lowest price range: vintage. "With inexpensive wine, you want fresh," says Ed McCarthy, co-author of Wine for Dummies. For white wines, that means "you don't want anything beyond 2002 or 2003," he says. "With red wines, you want a wine that's three or four years or younger."

But in the $11 to $15 range, "wines will age just fine," says Eileen Fredrikson, partner in Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates, a wine industry consulting firm. Wines priced under $10 "are better fresher," she adds.

Ask for advice
But as you stare at rows of inexpensive wines at the store, how do you know which is decent before you try it? Don't be afraid to ask for advice.

Rayyis estimates he tastes thousands every year as the author of Food & Wine magazine's annual wine guide. But he doesn't have all the answers, either. "I always ask questions and ask advice," Rayyis says. "I find things that I just didn't know about."

Want to make your own "finds"? Scout a couple of wine shops in your area and develop a rapport with the people who work there, Rayyis recommends. "A lot of times wine stores employ people who are enthusiastic about wines," he says. "They will point you in the direction of a great value."

Let them know that you want something different and interesting, not just inexpensive, Rayyis says. His suggestion: Say something like: "I'm interested in trying something unique. I like things like Merlot and Cabernet, but I'm open to something new -- maybe by a small producer."

When it comes to imported wines, there are an almost infinite number of varieties and producers. But if you learn the names of a few of the importers who have a reputation for quality products, "that will really help you pick out some interesting wines," says Rayyis.

Here are the recommendations from Rayyis and Fredrickson for their favorites.

$15 and under
The $11 to $15 range is particularly rich, says McCarthy. "There's a ton of wines in that category -- many of good quality which we would drink every day," he says.

A few to try:

The Stunt Jump Red from d'Arenberg (Australia). A Shiraz-based blend. "A delicious, delicious wine," says Rayyis. $11.

Cuvee le Bec from Beckmen Vineyards (California). A blend of red grapes. "Blends are oftentimes a good value," says Rayyis. Vintners "are making good wines without getting hung up on particular grape varieties." He says this Rhone-style wine is "consistently really good."

Banfi Centine, Rosso di Toscana (Italy). "A good Chianti Classico nowadays retails for about $18 and up," says McCarthy, who calls this "a great alternative." An "excellent $11 red," good with tomato pastas or steak, he says.

Hedges Cellars Columbia Valley CMS (Washington State). "Hedges has come up with a fresh, lively red, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, which rivals anything that Australia can produce at this price," McCarthy says. "A great wine for pork chops or grilled sausages." It costs around $13.

Simonsig Estate Pinotage (South Africa). "Delicious red wine," says McCarthy. "Pinotage is a unique red grape variety of South Africa," says McCarthy. "It's sort of a cross between a Rhone red and a Pinot Noir." This one could "accompany a meaty fish, such as salmon, or grilled meats." $15.

J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon (California). "Every year they have this full, rich, delicious Cabernet," says Fredrikson. $12.

7 Deadly Zins Zinfandel from Michael-David Vineyards (California). "It flies off the shelf and deservedly so," says Fredrikson. $14 to $15.


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-- Updated: May 5, 2005




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