It's 8/8/08 so it only seems appropriate to throw a little advice on the eights your way. Wouldn't it be great to know eight decent wines that cost $8 or less*? Well, it's your lucky day.
First off, you might be thinking that this list is heavy on the pinot grigio and merlot. But when keeping wine low-budget, it seems to me that those tend to be the more decent varieties. There are, of course, some terrible, inexpensive pinot grigios and merlots, so hopefully I can lead you in the right direction.
Just as I don't care for chain restaurants, I also don't care much for the cliches that go with brands such as Woodbridge, Sutter Home and Yellow Tail. They scream CHEAP and uninteresting. So I'll steer clear of them even though they would fit the bill for $8 or less. The key is to go a bit outside the box so that your cheap wine won't give the impression of being cheap. In the end, you really just want something that tastes dreamy for the price.
I'll keep the descriptions brief, as it's been a while since I've tasted some of these, but for one reason or another, they've stuck in my mind. (Hey, eight is hard to come up with all at once!) I'll probably be featuring some of these in entries yet to come though. So without further ado, here are my eight wines for $8 or less, in no particular order.
Bella Sera Pinot Grigio
Origin: Italy (delle Venezie)
This tends to be my default pinot grigio purchase. You can't complain about the taste -- crisp and refreshing, with hints of apple and lemon. It's an inexpensive yet respectable choice.
Georges Duboeuf Merlot
Origin: France (Vin de Pays d'Oc)
For a merlot, this is nothing crazy, but not too shabby either. The bottle is simple yet elegant, adorned with a single red flower. The wine has a sweetness to it, even for a dry red, and it's easy to drink. You can hardly complain about it.
Arca Nova Vinho Verde
Vinho verde means "green wine," which very much describes this wine -- it's young, fresh and light. In case you're unfamiliar with this variety, the wine label says that vinho verde is the "classical white wine of Portugal." Its slight efferevescence is surprising, but adds a pleasant zing.
Funky Llama Shiraz
Origin: Argentina (Mendoza)
If anything, this wine is appealing based on branding alone. Its fun name and brightly-colored cork (neon yellow!) and label make you want to reach for it, not to mention that it's a great conversation piece. Underneath all that, the wine is not super-sophisticated but goes down easy. I stocked up on Funky Llama for New Year's Eve and it disappeared without a trace.
Barefoot Pinot Grigio
This is hands down the best-tasting cheap pinot grigio that I've ever tried. It's not terribly complex, but has a good amount of fruit and sweetness, finishing with a refreshing tang. (See my previous entry on this wine.)
The Little Penguin Shiraz Cabernet
Origin: Australia (South Eastern)
As I mentioned in one of my earlier entries, this is a very smooth selection, which makes it easy to drink on its own as well as with a meal -- quite a hit at my house on Thanksgiving. The adorable name and label, not to mention drinkability, will definitely leave you wanting to sample others in the Little Penguin lineup.
Origin: Washington (Columbia Valley)
I don't buy riesling often -- maybe because I'm afraid to end up with one that's too sweet. But this one has just the right amount of dolce. It's very lush and fruity but still extremely refreshing...think fresh apricot and orange. And for you sushi lovers, riesling always makes a good companion to those Japanese gems.
Screw Kappa Napa Merlot
Origin: California (Napa Valley)
Pretty much everything about this one tends to conjure up conversation. You might not know what to think of the name at first, but then you realize that it is a screw cap, which has been gaining popularity, even though I've hardly seen it on red wines. The picture on the label is that of a corkscrew with angel's wings and a halo over its head, floating into heaven -- definitely not the norm. I took a chance on this one because of its sheer cheapness and found that the wine itself is very smooth and smoky, with vanilla notes.
And that's eight. Did you know that the number eight is a symbol of prosperity in Chinese culture? Don't forget to watch the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Beijing at 8 p.m. tonight. Cheers!
*I've tried my best to keep the prices accurate, but please note that depending on where you live and if the wines are on sale, prices may vary from what I've listed. In any event, at least you'll have ballpark figures.