Though red wines and Champagnes tend to command the truly jaw-dropping prices, there are a hell of a lot of expensive whites out there. This can make it confusing to select one. You might feel tempted to think less pricey equals less good. Which can be true, but by no means always.
If $25 seems like a high ceiling for “affordable,” I feel ya: It’s usually a splurge for me, in fact. But here’s the deal: We’re here to provide a wide range of wines for a wide range of situations, and the median price of the bottles on this list is about $15. It might help to bear in mind that a $25 bottle works out to $5 per serving. A $15 bottle is $3 per drink. So, some of these wines are for Regular Joe weeknight quaffing and others are more like “Just because I’m a writer doesn’t mean I want to show up at a party with the gift-that-keeps-on-giving that is Charles Shaw.”
What goes into pricing wines? Sure, quality. But there are so many great under-$20 wines that you needn’t ever trouble yourself with Chateau d’Yquem. The cost of owning, farming and operating vineyards and wineries is different in different locations. Some grapes are way harder to handle than others (Pinot noir is widely regarded as the hardest grape to grow, hence if you find one under ten bucks it is almost certain to be plonk, but you’d be hard put to find such an evil-unicorn at all.) If a bottle costs $4, it is very likely “icky.” And it’s probably produced sloppily and with disregard for the environment (lookin’ at you, Two Buck Chuck!) Do you consider environmental degradation affordable? You probably shouldn’t.
It also depends on the perception, or name recognition of a grape type or a region. Sicilian, South African and Portuguese wines are amazing but they don’t tend to command high prices because they aren’t trendy. A grape seldom heard of outside Austria can be revelatory, but it can’t be priced like Chardonnay and sell well in Napa Valley. With me? Spiffing.
So, we’ve gone ahead and done a lot of very, very diligent research, because we’re selfless like that, and come up with a list of approachable white wines to see you through the warm season. We’ve tried to include a diverse spectrum of styles and types so there’s something for everyone, whether you’re a residual sugar lover or like your wines bone-dry, whether you favor big, voluptuous, heavy-bodied wines or lithe, minimalist ones. Or, maybe your usual summer beverage is beer, or you are someone who only drinks reds and wants to branch out. Or maybe you are most interested in the wines on this list that cost ten bucks, but you would also like to know what’s a good value for the money in the world of $20 bottles in case of, like, an occasion. Whatever it is-we’ve got you covered.
This is not a ranked list, because it covers wines from five continents and over 35 varietals. What we can tell you is that they are all available for $25 or under, most of them significantly under, and they are all totally worth it.
Abbazia di Novacella Kerner (Alto Adige-Trentino, Italy) $19
Anyone keeping score at home will have noticed that I have a bit of a fetish for the Alto Adige region of northeastern Italy. This Kerner is one good example of why. A German grape with some Riesling parentage, Kerner tends to have a crisp, dry, appley nature and green-gold hue in the glass. This one’s a beauty, with a good balance between opulence and restraint. Highly aromatic, light body. Dominant notes include peaches, alpine flowers and green apples. Very food-versatile and a slam dunk for some typically hard-to-pair flavor profiles, for example dishes that are heavy on hot peppers. A summer pasta salad will be equally well-suited to it. I like it with turkey or chicken sausage.
Amavi Semillon (Walla Walla Valley, WA) $24
Semillon is a gold-skinned grape with some susceptibility to botrytis, so it’s used to make dry wines and also dessert wines, notably Sauternes. It’s native to Bordeaux, but this one happens to come from Washington. Amavi’s Semillon is dry but rich, with a golden tone and substantial structure. It has a highly pleasant, very silky and mouth-coating texture. The nose is predominantly a mixture of citrus notes; fruit, zest, blossom. There’s also a little mango. Honeydew melon is a prominent note on the palate; there’s also a little green apple and some lemongrass. This might be a really nice partner for Thai food. I’d also definitely serve it with seafood, especially the richer end of things-lobster, tuna, crab. If you are a person who enjoys duck, or squab, or veal, this wine is an excellent choice as well. If you are a person who enjoys just having a glass on the back porch? Me too, and this works just fine there as well.
Ancient Peaks Sauvignon Blanc (Paso Robles, CA) $17
The it-drink of Parisian nightclubs in the 1950s, Sauvignon Blanc (known as Sancerre in some postal codes) is a generally high-acid Bordeaux and Loire varietal with a bright and sometimes grassy character. (It is also the basis for the dessert wine Sauternes.) Paso Robles makes some great Sauvignon Blancs including this delightfully vivid one from Ancient Peaks. Layered and kind of racy, it offers a peachy nose with citrus, pear and wet rock accents, and has a ripe mid-palate with tropical flavors dominating (guava, a bit of melon, citrus) but it has a strong mineral presence and a swift, lime-dominant finish that keeps things from getting overblown. Like many a Sauv Blanc, it’s a great oyster wine. I’d also pair it with chicken, or anything involving goat cheese.
Anselmo Mendes Pássaros Vinho Verde Loureiro (Portugal) $10
Portuguese Vinho Verdes are light, tart, youthful whites (and a few reds you’re unlikely to see outside Portugal). Loureiro is a greenish grape whose name means “laurel” because of its marked bay laurel scent. This one is brisk and on the intense side, with a panoply of citrus notes and an herby, floral bouquet (laurel blossom, acacia, lime and peach blossoms). Fruity finish: citrus, apple, peach. Very dry. Absurdly versatile. Pair it with anything. No: Anything. Seriously. This is a fabulous hot-weather beverage and you should get more than one bottle.
Arnaldo Caprai Grecante Grechetto (Umbria, Italy) $20
Yum. More people should be drinking Grechetto. This one’s bright yellow with an olive-green tint, and has a lovely chalky minerality. Aromatics and flavors you will encounter include apricots, lime zest, stone, pineapple, peach, honeysuckle and Asian pear. It has a nearly mouth-puckering acidity that makes it incredibly refreshing on a hot day. Good aperitif. Food-wise, its soulmate might be Roman-style Carciofi alla Giuda. Pasta with buttery sauces are a good bet. I thought it was pretty smashing with a goat cheese soufflé. This wine can stand up to tomatoes, which some really cannot. Honestly it’s very versatile stuff and should be played with. Frequently.
Brancott Estates “Flight Song” Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand) $12
I admit it, it’s rare for me to be terribly interested in New Zealand whites. This one’s a keeper. Very fragrant, and while there is that very tropical thing going on it’s somehow under control in this wine. Nose is grapefruit, pomelo, lime, and the palate repeats those characteristics with some mango, lemon and passionfruit. It’s got a certain steeliness that I like. If you like a tropical kind of flavor profile keep an eye out for this one. It’s appealingly juicy and a good choice for evenings when the grill gets fired up.
Blanck Pinot Blanc (Alsace, France) $15
Alsace is a magical wine region. Pinot Blanc is Pinot Gris’s rounder, softer cousin, and its hallmark note is usually green apples. This is a lively character and completely delightful, and also simple, which I absolutely don’t mean as a negative. Apples, lemons, traces of spice and stone on the finish; crisp. That’s pretty much it. This wine’s dream date is cheese. It will compliment anything from burrata to stilton. Grilled cheese sandwich? Sure. Cacio e pepe? I think so. Gnocchi? Certainly. White pizza? Absolutely. Do you like laying a slice of sharp cheddar on a slice of tart apple and munching on it as a snack? So does this stuff. Have you ever roasted sliced pears topped with Parmesan? You should! And drink this with it.
Bodegas Castro Martin A2O Albarino (Rias Biaxas, Spain) $12
A-to-the-O, not A-twenty. Pop the cork on an Albarino and you can expect intense aromatics and feisty acidity. This one’s on the ripe side, exhibiting notes of melon and peach, with a little lemon and a clean and slightly honeyed finish. Serve it well-chilled. It’s a coast-loving grape and goes perfectly with simply prepared seafood. It can also be a friend to potato salad, spring rolls, or burrata.
Bonny Doon Picpoul (Arroyo Seco, CA) $18
You can always count on Randall Grahm for wines that are distinctive, witty, and a little off the beaten path. Most of them are also quite a but more costly than this one, so take advantage. The Picpoul grape hails from the Rhone Valley and is named for its zingy acidity (the name means “lip-stinger”). This wine has a savory, saline character with floral aromatics and some peach on the palate. It’s vivacious and a bit assertive. Its no-duh pairing is oysters. But do not rule out charcuterie, cheese, or chocolate. Oh! If you like salt cod, I bet this is wildly delicious with brandade.
Castello di Albola Poggio Alle Fate (Tuscany, Italy) $12
This is a 100% Chardonnay from the land of Chianti. Pale straw color with green tinges. Lean (though not as bony as a white Burgundy) and very dry, with pleasant acidity and a pretty long finish that’s long on green apples. Grapefruity nose, pineapple, lime and stone on the palate. Italian wines are “food wines” almost across the board, and this one’s no different. Try it with risotto (and in risotto for that matter), calamari, pasta dishes, grilled chicken, summer vegetables. It’s very easy-going.