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Nice $10 wines for dinner

School’s under way. You’ve taken out loans for the $30,000 tuitions and bought the $50 backpacks, the $80 textbooks, the cutting-edge fashion that must be worn or your teenager’s social life will be ruined.

The government is open again, but the shutdown gobbled a chunk of your paycheck. The holidays approach, with all their joy, good will and spending.

It’s time to foray out in search of pretty good wines at $10 and less. I’ve always said anybody can buy a good $50 wine, but it takes some moxie to buy one for $10.

These are wines for weeknight meals – meatloaf, spaghetti with meat sauce, tuna casserole and 37 ways of preparing the inevitable breast of chicken.

Let’s face it: On average, you won’t get wines as good for $10 as you would for $50. They’re likely to be less intense, because they’re made from grapes grown at 10 tons per acre rather than four; likely to have the word “California” on the label as their source rather than the high-priced real estate of Sonoma or Napa – meaning the grapes might have come from anywhere in the state; probably wood-aged by having giant tea bags filled with oak chips dipped into them rather than having been coddled for months in $1,000 French oak barrels; more likely to be “nonvintage” rather than having a year attached, to give winemakers more flexibility in blending; more likely to be under screw caps rather than corks – although this is actually a red herring. Some truly fine wines – sauvignon blancs from New Zealand and others that don’t need long aging – come with screw caps.

Still, we can take hope from the fact that a wine called “Two-Buck Chuck” – a 2005 Charles Shaw Winery Chardonnay priced at $1.99 a bottle – won the “Best Chardonnay in California” award over wines priced up to $50 a few years ago at a prestigious professional wine competition. And the judges stood by their ratings.

There are some nice wines out there for $10 or less. Wines of many varieties, from light-and-lively whites to ribeye-ready reds. Let’s go find some.


•  2012 Beachhouse Sauvignon Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa (sauvignon blanc and sémillon): light, lively and crisp, with white grapefruit flavors; $10.

•  2011 Cline Cellars Oakley 82 Reds (syrah, petite sirah, barbera, cabernet franc): aromas and flavors of black cherries and black pepper; $10.

•  Nonvintage Turning Leaf Pinot Noir, Calif.: soft and light-bodied, with black cherry flavors; $8.

•  Nonvintage Barefoot Cellars Zinfandel, Calif.: aromas and flavors of red raspberries, full-bodied, rich and spicy; $7.

•  Nonvintage Camelot Pinot Grigio, Calif.: crisp and light, with aromas and flavors of ripe peaches and mangos; $7.

•  2010 Veramonte Reserva Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley, Chile: light and crisp, with aromas and flavors of peaches and apricots; $10.

•  Nonvintage Turning Leaf Cabernet Sauvignon, Calif.: soft and ripe, with flavors of black raspberries and spice; $8.

•  Nonvintage Barefoot Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Calif.: light and lively, with aromas and flavors of green apples and lemons; $7.

•  2011 Bodega Ruca Malen Malbec, Mendoza, Arg.: aromas of violets, flavors of black cherries and milk chocolate, big, ripe tannins; $10.

•  2012 Blue Loon Moscato, Calif.: lightly sweet, aromas and flavors of oranges, peaches and honey; $8.

Fred Tasker has retired from the Miami Herald but is still writing about wine. He can be reached at