GM and sommelier Matthew Conway is the guy to find at Restaurant Marc Forgione in New York to discuss wine. He's been with the New American eatery since day one (and, fun fact, here's also a coffee sommelier!), curating a wine list heavy on bottles made from sustainably farmed grapes that stylistically best represent the region in which they are grown. In the winter his list skews red, and in the summer it naturally leans white, but one will always find a range of options priced high to low. Below, Conway recommends some of his favorite value wines $15 and under.
Q: Do you have any recommendations for buying great wine on the cheap? Also, what are your top five favorite wines under, say, $15?
Conway: Looking for inexpensive wines that deliver quality and pleasure consistently is a very tough job. However, it is a task that I love! Rather than lean all toward one category or style, I tried hard to spread it around geographically and stylistically. I think what great value wines all have in common is that they are delicious and over deliver in their price category. They are also wines that can be appreciated and enjoyed by a large audience. Hopefully that’s you! Below, I’ve selected two whites, a rosé and two reds that are fantastic under $15.
Let's start in Austria, the home of Grüner Veltliner, one of my favorite white grapes. To many people it drinks like Sauvignon Blanc, so if you usually drink Sancerre this is a good bet. Here at Restaurant Marc Forgione, we have worked with a producer they call the "King of the Kamptal" (the region in which he makes his wines). His name is Fred Loimer. We have poured his Kamptal Grüner Veltliner exclusively out of mangnum here for a couple years. His entry level Loimer "Lois" ($12) is crisp, fresh and very typical of the varietal.
You might be a bit more familiar with my next selection: Pinot Grigio. This grape gets a bad rep because there is so much that is poorly made. Not because it can’t be interesting. My friends from Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder, Colorado are Friuli fanatics and set out to make a great Pinot Grigio at a better price than much of the swill. Sommelier Bobby Stuckey and Chef Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson have a gem with their Scarpetta Pinot Grigio della Venezia, Italy ($13).
Rosé is a favorite of mine year round and there are so many to choose from, so I went with something a little off the beaten path. The Cune Rioja Rosato ($15) is made from 100 percent Tempranillo in Spain. It has dark color and an enjoyable simplicity to it. Drink it at anytime, anywhere, with anybody! Probably best served with whatever you have coming off the grill this summer.
You likely have never heard of the grape Counoise before and that’s because you’re not a geeky Châteauneuf-du-Pape junky. This is one of the grapes that they can use to blend into these legendary wines. Usually they make a very small percent, if any at all, and I have only seen one bottled 100 percent Counoise. Try Domaine Monpertuis Vignobles Paul Jeune ($15), which is a dark, spicy and fun wine from the south of France. It will make you wonder why there aren’t more out there.
Jumping down to the Southern Hemisphere I will touch on another popular varietal that gets a bad rep, Malbec. Like Pinot Grigio, there are many poor examples made by people who hopped on the bandwagon during its popularity craze to make a buck. Not Laura Catena! She is a wonder woman that was born and raised into Argentinean grape farming. She wrote the book Vino Argentino and prides herself on making a restrained wine with a sense of place. Her Catena Zapata Malbec ($15) from Mendoza, Argentina hits that mark!