Summer Fall Transition Wines Under $20


Unless you bought them with aging potential in mind, a fair few of your 2013 pink and white wines won’t be drinkable by next spring. Guzzle down the last of those quick-to-turn bottles, cellar a few others, and ready yourself for the onset of fall wines. Even if you do not live in a starkly transitional climate, this a great time to think about shifting your tastes and (re-)discovering long-lost regions and grapes. And when you’re trying something new a different, it’s always nice to stay within a reasonable budget. In this spirit, we bring you some of the web’s top wine writers and their suggestions for summer-to-fall transition wines under twenty dollars.
Isaac James Baker, Reading, Writing & Wine; Terroirist contributor

In the mid-Atlantic the humidity is finally fading, so fall is an amazing time to be outdoors. I’m constantly grilling, reading a book on the patio, sneaking away to the beach when the waves kick up and the crowds die down. In my glass, I move away from my standard summer selections (bright pinks and crisp whites like Muscadet and Chablis), and I look to medium-bodied reds, wines that pack freshness and ripe fruit but also offer more savory and spicy aspects. I look for bottles to pair with late-ripening vegetable dishes and my own conception of autumn. The Brancaia 2013 Tre, a reliable and affordable Super Tuscan blend, fits the bill. Earthy and herbal with tart red fruit, this wine has moderate acid and smooth tannins and the 2013 vintage is ready to drink with all things autumnal. It costs about $15 to $20, so it’s worth buying a few for the season.

Julia Crowley, The Real Wine Julia

Here in Oregon's Willamette Valley, during the late summer months, a very special locally grown corn is picked fresh from the fields and sold at the farms from where it's grown. This nearly too good to be true corn is called "Bodacious." Bodacious corn is sweeter, juicier, plumper and (without a doubt) tastier than any corn...anywhere. Just about every meal I make during these last days of summer and first days of fall consist of corn: grilled corn on the cob, corn chowder, corn salsa, corn custard, corn muffins, corn cakes, corn salads and even sweet corn ice cream. There is, indeed, one particular varietal of wine that pairs beautifully with each and every single one of my corn-centric recipes: Grüner Veltliner. Lucky me, there are several Oregon vintners that produce some seriously fine Grüner Veltliners, and Raptor Ridge Winery, located in the Willamette Valley's Chehalem Mountains AVA, makes a Grüner Veltliner that is not only steeped in stellar characteristics but is super affordable at just $20 dollars. The perfect summer to fall transition wine, Raptor Ridge's 2014 Chehalem Mountains Grüner Veltliner, pairs beautifully with Bodacious Corn, Snap Pea and Bacon Salad (recipe on The Real Wine Julia). Growing just 1.5 acres of the Grüner Veltliner varietal, the 2014 vintage Raptor Ridge Estate wine is pure, fresh and focused. The balance between subtle fruit, vibrant acidity and steely minerality is simply stunning, and the aromatics of orange blossom and honey come alive as the wine takes in some air. Mid-palate bursts of juicy grapefruit, apple and peach are highlighted by clean mineral notes and spice, and the zippy, zesty finish is long lasting and downright memorable.

Keith Edwards, Mowse Blog

One wine that I am excited about having as a part of the summer/fall changeover is the 2011 Domaine La Berangeraie Cuvée Maurin from the Cahors region of France. Traditional Cahors were dark and tannic and required long aging for approachability. The popularity of Argentinean Malbec has caused some of the Cahors producers to pursue a more approachable style of wine in an attempt to attract some of the customers who appreciate the grape (called Cot in Cahors) and the style. The Cuvée Maurin is such a wine. It is grown biodynamically and harvested manually, the latter a rarity for wines priced below $30 (This particular wine costs $19.99). On the nose, polished blackberry, raspberry, nutmeg, a savoriness, stemminess, raw meat, and vanilla. There is a lack of intensity in the aromas but I would not call this wine elegant. Nice fruit on the attack and mid-palate, somewhat surprising given the lack of intensity on the nose. Grippy tannins and slight bitterness. Good acidity. Round, St. Emilion mouthfeel. Squid ink on the finish. This small-production Malbec over-delivers for the price point.

Bob Fyke, Brunello Bob

As August in New York brings cooler nights, and the hint of fall, it’s a little easier to break out bigger reds, although I personally drink them no matter what the weather; that’s what air conditioning is for. Still, it’s good to have something that satisfies the need for a dry red, and is still light enough to sip while relaxing on the back deck. Some may be surprised to hear that Nebbiolo or Sangiovese can foot that bill, as long as it’s vinified in a lighter, more elegant style. Some of the greatest examples of Sangiovese are in this style, and show great complexity, although they tend to be on the expensive side. One lovely (and affordable) Nebbiolo example is the Arnad-Montjovet Superior from the Cooperative La Kiuva in Val d’Aosta. Try the 2011 La Kiuva Arnad-Montjovet Supérieur, Val d’Aosta DOC, 13.5% ABV, $19. I love the way this wine shows freshness, and lightness but still has a firm foundation that makes it worthy of greater attention. The nose starts with crushed dry rose petals and some fragrant clay, both having a clean sort of character. As you breathe in more deeply, the aromas get prettier, with additional delicate floral notes coming out. The fruit, on the nose, is fresh cut plum and raspberry with subtle sweet herbs trailing off. The palate has an easy lightness, but still has good grip and delicious acidity. Dried strawberry, cranberry, and aromatic wood notes are the main impression, but with a light touch. Later there is lingering grilled meat, dried herbs and subtle minerality. Easy to drink, and satisfying. 80% Nebbiolo with Gros Vien, Neyret, Cornalin and Fumin making up the remainder.  

Jeff Kralik, The Drunken Cyclist

This Fall, as soon as I see the mercury slip below 70 degrees, I am headed to the cellar with my gaze firmly focused on a Syrah from Washington state. I "discovered" Purple Star this past year, and I still have a few bottles of their stellar 2011 Syrah. Try the 2011 Purple Star Syrah: Retail $18. Upon pouring, a bit dark and opaque, and rather tight–not much on the nose even after an hour in the glass. Some nice fruit comes through on the palate, thins out a bit, and then finishes well. Given some more time, this only gets better, it would be easy to confuse this with a $40 wine; there is some great value here. Very Good, on the verge of Outstanding. 88-90 Points.

Alissa Leenher, Sahmmelier blog

The transition from summer to fall can be slow in coming here in Texas. While the rest of the country is pulling out sweaters, we are considering sleeves. A "cold-front" means we may break into the high 80s. We make small steps towards the big red varietal wines. Generally. If you, like me, are an Italophile, you've been biding your summer with Vermentino and Trebbiano. Perhaps the occasional Sangiovese or Montepulciano D'Abruzzo. I didn't think I was ready for the big-hitters, but then I met this guy. Valle dell'Acate Tenuta Ibidini, Nero d'Avola. I know what you're thinking, I was too. How can Nero d'Avola be a transitional wine? When it is grown at the right elevation. Ruby red in the glass. Red raspberry, strawberry, a hint of spice to warm it up. Even peach-pit notes on the finish, surprising for a red wine. It is fresh, smooth, and balanced. At $13, this versatile gem can be enjoyed any time of year.

Jennifer Martin, Vino Travels Italy

The fall is my favorite season, but even more so because I start to integrate red wines back into my wine routine. I tend to drink more whites and rose in the summer time as most do and maybe some lighter style reds. I truly enjoy the heartier, meaty reds and as our cuisine changes coming into the winter months so do the wines I choose to drink. As the weather gets colder in the Boston area my wines will become more fuller bodied. This month I'm looking forward to exploring some wines of the Etna area in Sicily starting with the 2009 Palari Faro D.O.C. A wine made of nerello mascalese, nerello cappuccio and nocera grapes with a very small amounts of less known grapes. With 2 years in the bottle and 2 years in new oak it has aging potential and needs decanting. Intense of the nose with fresh red fruit and spices. Structured on the palate, dry with dark fruits and well integrated acidity and tannins.

Frank Morgan, Drink What You Like

As the heat and humidity of summer yields to the cool, crisp days of autumn, many wine enthusiasts leave behind crisp whites and Rosés for more robust wines. I reach for heartier wines like Chenin Blanc, Cru Beaujolais and Merlot — Yes, Merlot! — as the calendar turns from September to October to November. The change of seasons is a great reason to get reacquainted with this oft-overlooked grape that serves as the base for many of the most notable wines of Bordeaux. More robust than other popular summer-to-fall transition wines like Beaujolais but lighter than bigger reds like Cabernet Sauvignon or Nebbiolo, Merlot pairs well with a wide range of foods like grilled steak, pork, and one of my favorites, salami pizza. There are no shortage of delicious Merlots under $20. Look to France (St. Emilion, Pomerol, and Fronsac in particular) for earthier Merlots and to Virginia, California, Chile for more fruit forward examples. Montes Alpha 2012 Merlot from Colchagua Valley, Chile ($19) is a great choice. Ruby color in the glass, this wine offers aromas of blueberry, spice, and toffee around a plum core. On the palate, flavors of dark berry and spicy vanilla lead to a lengthy cocoa finish. A blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Carmenère, this Merlot is medium-bodied, with moderate tannins and a velvety mouthfeel. Nicely balanced. The most important key for transition wines — drink what you like with people you like!

Melanie Ofenloch, Dallas Wine Chick

With the countdown to football beginning (Go Auburn and the SEC), I start to crave lighter red blends – even when the Texas weather may not align with the rest of the country’s Fall program of dropping temperatures and sweater attire. With an orange and blue pompom in one hand and a glass of red in another, it is exactly the combination needed to get my Fall started with a bang. After one of my good Somm friends introduced me to Sancerre from Chateau de Sancerre, I quickly made this white my “go to” white wine. Then I discovered its sister, the Sancerre Rouge, which I found right around $20 or often less, in my local wine shop. It’s a full-bodied wine with spice, black cherry, smoke and candied fruit.   

Martin Redmond, ENOFYZ Wine Blog

I do not transition quietly into fall. Rather, I am dragged kicking and screaming into the season. Fortunately, there is wine to assuage the angst. And a light-bodied red wine offers a graceful transition to Fall for me. I recently discovered a remarkably good Pinot Noir from the Uco Valley in Argentina that offers superior value. Try 2013 Zorzal "Terroir Unico" Pinot Noir: Light ruby color with expressive red fruit, dried rose, and spice aromas. On the palate, it's light-bodied, refreshing and pure with a hint of polished tannins. It shows cherry, raspberry and kiss of blood orange flavors with subtle shades of spice, and minerality with a savory undertone. The wine was 20-30% whole-cluster fermented, and raised in concrete. ABV: 13.9%; cork closure; SRP $15.

Gabe Sasso, Gabe’s View

With a bit of a nip in the air I’m ready to start drinking more medium to full bodied reds. Grapes like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo which haven’t passed my lips often in recent months are what I’m starting to crave with my meals.  I just tasted a lovely Organic Merlot from France which is Non-GMO Project verified. It’s available at Whole Foods among others and I plan to drink a lot of this terrific value the next few months. Try Le Petit Du Chateau de Lagarde Merlot ($14.99). This wine is produced from 100% Organic Merlot. The vineyards are located in Bordeaux where they have 50 hectares planted to Merlot.  It was vinified in stainless steel. Only indigenous yeasts were used and no sulfites were added.  From the moment I poured this wine I loved the bright red hue which shimmered in my glass. Leather and red berry aromas fill the nose. Throughout the palate loads of fresh red fruit flavors are in evidence along with hints of savory herb. The lingering finish shows off bits of sour red fruit and a gentle hint of earth. While this wine is quite tasty by itself it excels paired with the right food. Whether it’s a cheese and charcuterie plate, a blow of steaming chili or those rich stews that will start appearing in your fall dining rotation this Merlot will work well. 

Elizabeth Smith, Traveling Wine Chick

During the summer, I gravitate towards Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, sparkling wines, and rosé, and stay away from heavy reds. As autumn approaches, I seek whites with more substance and add red wines back into my repertoire. To transition into fall, I have chosen the widely available 2014 King Estate Signature Collection Pinot Gris ($18 at the winery). While Pinot Gris is the same grape as Pinot Grigio, the latter tends to be produced in a lighter style, while Pinot Gris from cooler climates often has more body and complexity. This is true about the King Estate offering. Fermented in stainless steel and aged sur lie for four months, the palate is medium bodied and quite luscious. On the nose, it's floral and feminine, while on the palate, layers of lime, melon, stone fruits, and tree fruits interplay with mouthwatering acidity, culminating in a long finish. This wine will pair well with end-of-summer fare, as well as work its way into upcoming holiday meals.

Cathrine Todd, Dame Wine

As I say goodbye to summer and welcome the shorter days of fall I look forward to more medium bodied reds with earthy notes. One of my favorite transitional wines is Mencia, which is a grape variety found in northwestern Spain in the region of Galicia. A great value sub-region that I have discovered recently is the DO wine region of Monterrei, which makes slightly earthy, moderate bodied wines with fresh fruit. It has old world charm with fruit forward friendliness that is a little too weighty for summer but hits the spot for the cooler weather of fall. Recommendation: 2012 Bodegas Pazos del Rey "Sila" Mencia Monterrei, Spain ($13). Lots of blackcurrant fruit with hints of wild strawberry and dried autumn leaves, bright acidity and generosity of this wine make it hard to say no to a second glass, or even a third.

Michelle Williams, Rockin Red Blog

Fall is on its way to Texas, bringing cooler days and even cooler nights, football and hockey, sweaters, boots and scarves. I cannot wait! Another aspect of fall I look forward to is the change in cuisine; root vegetables, squashes, heavier meats such as lamb and veal, prepared as soups, stews and braised meats with pasta. Transitioning to hardier red wines to pair with the changes in fall cuisine is another great aspect of fall. One wine I am super excited to enjoy this month that I would not have had over the hot Texas summer is Nino Negri ‘Quadrio’ Valtellina Superiore 2009 DOCG. This wine is crafted of 90% Chiavennasca (Nebbiolo) and 10% Merlot. It is dazzling garnet color, offers delightful aromas of tart cherries, dried cranberries, and raspberries, along with soft rose petals, a touch of nutmeg, soft fresh tobacco leaves and savory herbal notes. It is round on the palate with persistent acidity, well-balanced integrated tannins, medium light texture, and a long, slightly chewy finish. This is the perfect transitional wine from summer into fall because it is delicate in weight, yet heavier in texture, offering persistent earthy notes; perfect to pair with fall foods. Aged 20 months in Slovenian and French oak, 13.4% alcohol. SRP $19.99.

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