From my emails, I received an overwhelming number of responses, some of which I cut so you wouldn't get overwhelmed by choice, but for the sake of sharing all this wonderful knowledge, I've created two categories below: suggestions from my wine consultant and suggestions from others.
Obviously, "affordable" can be a wide-ranging category, so accordingly, these wines will run the gamut. Generally, though, they range between $5 and $20. Additionally, given that my sample pool was located around the country (Chicago, California, New York, Georgia, etc.), I tried to follow up with some online prices to give you an idea of cost, but you very well may be able to find these locally or online at different prices if you look around.
Suggestions from friends, bartenders, restauranteurs, and wine-savvy acquaintances:
• Man Vintners Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend (South Africa): "Absurdly drinkable and beloved of the staff." Available for around $10 per bottle.
• Torre de Ona Crianza 2009 Tempranillo (Spain): A bar manager friend reports, "A totally fantastic, classic Rioja. We almost always have this on, and I love it." Around $15 per bottle.
• Domaine de Fontenille 2009 Grenache-Syrah (France): "Big and muscular without California sweetness." Around $15 per bottle.
• Bedrock Shebang (California): From a review on K&L Wine: "A blend of 80% Syrah and the rest Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a few white Rhone varietals such as Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and Marsanne, it is a delicious, consumer-friendly wine offering an attractive dark ruby color, lots of spicy, peppery, berry fruit, and a silky, supple mouthfeel." Around $16 for a one-liter bottle.
• Chateau Ksara Reserve du Couvent 2005 (Lebanon): This southern red Rhône blend comes highly recommended from my friend and clocks in at about $8 a bottle.
Whites and sparklings:
• Rey Santo 2011 Verdejo (Spain). My bartender/restauranteur friend noted that this was a definite summer hit, but depending on what you serve, it could transition to fall. Around $9.25 per bottle.
• Feudo Arancio Grillo 2009 (Italy): According to Tastings.com, "Golden straw color. Aromas of honeyed apples, dried peaches and toasted orange nut bread with a silky dry-yet-fruity medium body and a refreshing creamy citrus custard and praline accented finish." Around $10 per bottle.
• Domaine Guajal de St. Bon 2011 Picpoul (France). "A strange little Languedoc… dry and a tiny bit tart." Around $10 per bottle.
• Hugl Gruner Veltliner (Austria): A solid, Austrian white that is more suitable for winter. Around $13 for one liter.
• Espiral Vinho Verde (Portugal): A friend of mine swears by this clean, crisp, and slightly tart wine. Available at Trader Joe's for around $5 per bottle.
• Mont Marçal Brut Reserva 2008 (Spain): If you want some bubbles without the price of champagne, the Mont Marçal is a delicious option. In the words of the Wine of the Month website, "The fruits, threaded with vibrant citrus, are generous, clean, and clearly delineated. On the palate a finely beaded texture of delicate, almost creamy bubbles carry the flavors through to a satisfying and mouth-refreshing finish." Around $13 per bottle.
• Segura Vidas Brut Reserva Cava (Spain): Some dry, enjoyable, if simple, bubbles. Also good for cocktails! Around $9 per bottle.
Suggestions from my wine consultant, Gregory Fulham at Binny's in Chicago:
• Chateau L'Ermitage Victor Rouge 2010 (Costieres de Nîmes, France), $9.99: It's a GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) with a lean to the Syrah (50 %). Great Fruit. Very smooth. Very drinkable.
• Chateau Roc de Segur 2010 (France), $7.99: It's Bordeaux, so decant it, and let it breathe for 45 minutes. Really beautiful fruit. Unexpected, but delicious.
• Evidencia Vinho Tinto Dao 2009 (Portugal), $7.99: An amazing blend of Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) and Touriga Nacional. The Evidencia is complex and delicious and still just $7.99.
• Vini Pinot Noir 2010 (Bulgaria), $6.99: Real Pinot Noir, practically free.
• Lagoalva Espirito White 2010 (Portugal), $8.99: 25% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Alvarinho, 20% Fernao Pires, 15% Arinto. A marvel of refreshment. The Espirito Blanco has great fruit, balanced by that compelling acidity that just begs you to take another sip.
• Raats Chenin Blanc 2010 (South Africa), $9.99: Totally delicious, dry Chenin Blanc.
• Victor Blanc 2011 (France), $9.99: Dry white from the Southern Rhone. One of the best ever, and only $10!
• Cave de Tavel Chantepierre Lirac 2010 (France), $10.99: Lirac is a small appellation, next to Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the Southern Rhone. The production is small compared to Côtes du Rhone.
• Pi' Nouf Languedoc Rouge 2009 (France), $10.99: 65% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 10% Old Vine Carignan. The label actually says, "Bold Languedoc Red," and the wine lives up to that claim. Very snappy stuff for $10.99!
• Le Brume Langhe Rosso 2007 (Piedmont, Italy), $10.99: An elegant, complex blend of Barbera, Nebbiolo & Merlot. Aged in oak and in the bottle prior to release. Wonderful with meat!
• Hugel Gentil 2010 (France), $10.99: "Gentil" is the word for a field blend of all the white grapes in a vineyard. The Hugel is Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris & Sylvaner. The wine is dry, refreshing & delicious, and for an Alsatian, wonderfully affordable.
• Sigalas Santorini 2011 (Greece), $19.99: Totally delicious dry white from the island of Santorini. Made with another indigenous grape, Assyrtiko. The wine is gloriously fragrant and refreshing.
• Camille Braun Cremant d'Alsace (France), $17.99: French sparkling wine from outside Champagne. The Braun is outstanding.
• Chateau Les Roches de Ferrand Fronsac 2001 (France), $17.99: 90% Merlot & 10% Cabernet Franc. Great with a steak!
What are your favorite affordable wine suggestions?