We think you're ready to graduate from the Two-Buck Chuck you've been drinking since college or that Fresca-and-white-wine concoction that's become synonymous with "summer." But wanting something and making it happen aren't always the same thing, especially when there's a couple of zeros added into the cost equation. Fear not, vinophiles! We turned to self-professed wine geek Caroline Helper, the grape-soaked blogger behind Forget Burgundy, to put together a recession-proof list of some of the best bottles available around town for $15 or under. "If you're just starting to experiment with wine or hoarding your cash for a wardrobe upgrade, there's no reason to spend more than $15 on a bottle of wine," says Helper. And lest you think Frasier-types will call you cheap, "there are plenty of producers making wine in this price range that are both interesting and delicious." So, whether you need a Pinot Noir for a dinner chez vous with the boy, or a bottle of Syrah Rose to make that pier picnic pop, check out Helper's picks (and where to buy 'em) to get the best bottle bang for your buck.
BelleTerre Estate Pinot Noir 2008, $15
"This Pinot Noir hails from the Languedoc region of Southern France. The Languedoc was the source of much of France’s simple table wine (read bad) until fairly recently, when producers started making excellent wines at attractive prices. Pinot Noir is hard to find in the area, and this one is delightful, with juicy red fruit and a surprising amount of structure that makes it more complex than many other Pinot Noirs at this price point."
Available at Pour, 321 Amsterdam Ave. 212- 501-7687
Sparkling Blanc "Ze Bulle" Zéro Pointé 2009, $10.96
"Looking for good gifting wine? Rather than go with boring old Champagne or Prosecco, try this gorgeous sparkling wine from France’s Loire Valley. Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, it’s got a pretty orange tinge, a perfume of wild flowers, sweet notes of ripe yellow plums, and the zip of tangy Meyer lemons."
Available at Astor Wines, 399 Lafayette St. 212-674-7500.
Pinot Blanc Alsace Jean Rosen 2009, $13
"Pinot Blanc is not to be confused with Pinot Grigio. While the latter makes light crisp wines, Pinot Blanc is a dry full-bodied white wine that sings with floral notes, taste of ripe apples, and finishes with a tinge of minerality (think Perrier)."
Available at Best Cellars, 1291 Lexington Ave. 212-426-4200.
Sibilla Falanghina 2009, $14
"If you love big, buttery Chardonnays you should definitely try this Falanghina. It’s a smooth rich wine that recalls the way some Chardonnays can fill up your mouth, but without all the oak that’s become so hard to get away from. Laced with subtle spice and pleasant vanilla aromas, it will stand up without a chill on a hot day if you’re in a rush or away from a refrigerator."
Available at Greene Grape, 753 Fulton St. 718-233-2700 .
Cave de Morgex Valle d'Aosta Organic 2008, $15.49
"Okay, this wine is so worth the extra ¢49. Valle D’Aosta is a northern region of Italy that sits right on the Swiss border. The grapes are grown at a high altitude and survive brutally cold winters. The result is a crack-the-whip crisp white wine that is as delicate as the thin air in which it is grown and tastes of melted snow."
Available at PJ Wine, 4898 Broadway 212-567-5500.
Domaine de la Chevalerie Bourgueil "Cassiopee" 2009, $14.99
"Made from 100% Cabernet Franc, this is one of those rare red wines that benefits from a slight chill. Cabernet Franc is a weird little grape that, even in the hottest years, never loses a certain “green” quality that sets it apart. This particular bottle has a pronounced smell of cool wet leaves and notes of violets. Bright berry flavors dance around and, on the finish, you’ll detect the grape’s signature rush of green peppers."
Available at Wine Therapy, 171 Elizabeth Street 212-625-2999.
Broadbent, Vinho Verde 2010, $9
"Fun, flirty, and even slightly effervescent—doesn’t this wine describe you on a good day? It has got flavors that tend to be citrusy and green, like freshly grated lime zest or sweet cut grass. Tastier than Sprite and with the added benefit of a buzz, just try to find something better for a Central Park picnic."
Available at UVA Wines, 199 Bedford Ave. 718-963-3969.
Washington Syrah Rose Charles & Charles, $12
"This is some serious rose—so much more than the girly pink stuff you drank when you weren’t legally allowed to. Juicy and flavorful as ripe watermelon, this rose is as easy on the eyes as it is to gulp down."
Available at McAdam Buy Rite, 398 3rd Ave. 212-679-1224.
Domaine de Boischampt Beaujolais-Villages 2009, $15
"If the only thing that comes to mind when you hear “Beaujolais” is the fruity sweet stuff that accompanies your Thanksgiving turkey, you probably should probably run out to grab this bottle STAT. Real Beaujolais is a light, bright, dry, and effortlessly delicious red that it also undeniably feminine."
Available at Bottle Rocket, 5 West 19th St. 212-929-2323.
Benaza 2009 Monterrei Mencia, $12.99
"Mencia is pretty obscure grape, usually used for blending, so bringing a bottle of this pretty Spanish red wine will surely impress even the snobbiest wine geek. Mencia is slowly showing up more and more all by its lonesome and with good reason—it’s a light-bodied wine that has juicy flavors of raspberries and cranberries, some lingering spice, and bright acidity that makes it go swimmingly with food.
Available at Chamber Street Wines 148 Chambers St. 212-227-1434.