Wine Finds — Great Bargain Bottles for Under $23 That Take You From California to Italy


Two great things about drinking wine: variety and discovery. Walk into any decent merchant and wonder up and down the aisles… and worlds open to you. Bottles from Virginia and Greece, New York State and France, Germany and Hungary, and hundreds of other lands and locales near and far.

If you keep an open mind, and palate, your life can be enriched immeasurably. Drink nothing but California Cabernet Sauvignon in the $80-plus range? Do yourself a favor and take a trip to another destination from time to time.

This week, I journeyed to Italy and California via wine, specifically to the High Valley AVA in the latter, and to Chianti Rufina and Veneto in the former. Three wines, three distinct and authentic expressions of their origin, three bottles priced fairly, suitable for everyday drinking at $22, $18, and $17. Find these wines, and plan a meal around them, which is what I did about a week ago.

First, a Prosecco from Vino dei Fratelli that you can open at 11 a.m. for brunch, 2 p.m. for an afternoon sip, or before dinner as an accompaniment to conversation. It’s dry to off-dry, 11 percent alcohol, and effervescent to near perfection. Light straw in color, mild apple on the nose, and a finish of bracing minerality.

Cheese straws and pepper jelly: That is what I served with this Prosecco, and I’d advise you to do the same. Use this recipe to make the cheese straws; it’s from Edna Lewis, and one can never go wrong cooking from her library. Oh yes, the grape in this is Glera.

California is up next, and a Sauvignon Blanc from David Ramey, a name some of you might know. He’s one of the Golden State wine world’s pioneers, a winemaker whose reputation has been built through years of scholarship and practical work. He’s a U.C. Davis  grad, and his CV includes stints at Simi Winery, Matanzas Creek, and Chalk Hill, plus his own label, Ramey Wine Cellars.


  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - Houston (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - Houston (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - Houston (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - Houston (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - Houston (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - Houston (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - Houston (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - Houston (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - Houston (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - Houston (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - Houston (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - Houston (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - Houston (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - Houston (ROOMS)

In 2014, Ramey introduced Sidebar Cellars, a line of more affordable wines geared toward younger drinkers — who become, of course, older drinkers as the years pass. The 2016 Sidebar High Valley Sauvignon Blanc is what we drank with our next course, wild shrimp sautéed in butter and a touch of garlic and parsley. A simple yet satisfying dish for a wine that is refreshing, crisp, and seems made for shrimp and garlic. (You can find it for around $22.)

Ramey sources the grapes for this wine from the High Serenity Vineyard owned by Brassfield Estate, which, at around 1,760 feet in elevation, is one of the  coolest microclimates in Lake County. This is an understated yet honest bottle — it does not scream, but it does speak of its terroir with confidence and grace. Sidebar made 1,422 cases of the vintage, and if you don’t drink it with sautéed shrimp, try goat cheese or perhaps spiced pecans. Drink at around 48 Fahrenheit.

On to Tuscany

We were ready to move to our main course, and our Chianti Rufina. It’s a 2014 from Fattoria Selvapiana, a great value at $17 retail. (The Chianti Rufina appellation is the smallest subzone in the Chianti region, comprising about four percent of Chianti DOCG production.) This wine is full of earthiness — hay, soil, and a slight touch of leather were our notes — and paired oh so well with the beef Bourguignon I served.

We first tasted this wine at about 58 degrees Fahrenheit, immediately upon opening it, and were struck by its light ruby color, bouquet of sweet cherry, and restraint. The alcohol here is at 13.5 percent. You’ll want two bottles of this, one to drink now, and one to enjoy in 2019.

For those readers who like to know a little about where their wine comes from, Fattoria Selvapiana has an interesting history. The Giuntini family has owned the property since 1827, and the land was during the Renaissance a summer residence for noble families and bishops from Florence. It’s a 617-acre estate, and includes the famed Bucerchiale vineyard.

Since 1997, the operations have been managed by owner Francesco Giuntini’s adopted children, Federico and Silvia Giuniti A. Masseti, the offspring of longtime estate manager Franco Masseti. The elder Masseti passed away in the early 1990s, and Giuntini, who had no children of his own but wanted to keep the winery in his family’s name, adopted the siblings, who now work closely with the esteemed winemaker Franco Bernabei.

I love this Chianti. (Courtesy Fattoria Selvepiana)

Our meal was a success, and we spent 30 minutes or so after the plates were cleared discussing the wines. All, as noted above, are of great value, and I recommend you pick up some for your next dinner party. And if you want the recipe for the main course, how could I refuse? Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon.

Want more wine? Check out these PaperCity stories: 

The Perfect White Wine For Your Holiday Festivities
A California Cab Made By an Englishman
Peat is Neat
Distinctive Whisky Enters a New Era
A Whisky Legend Visits Houston
A Rare Cask, Indeed
Austin Whisky, Strange Name
A Merlot That Your Snob Friend Will Love
French Couple Make a Sauvignon Blanc in California
A Perfect Afternoon Chardonnay
Terry Theise Talks Riesling
A New Wine Wonderland
Paris Wine Goddess Tells All
Rice Village Wine Bar Has a Cleveland Touch
A Texas White Blend for Your Table
A Pinot Noir Full of Flavor
This Pinot Gris From Oregon Pairs Well With Cheese
Willamette, Dammit!
A Value Rioja
Drink Pink!
Underbelly Veteran Goes for Grenache
A Man of Letters and Wine
Ms. Champagne Wants a Nebuchadnezzar
The Wine Artist Goes for Chardonnay
This American Loves Spain and Its Wines
Houston’s Wine Whisperer Has a Soft Touch
Blackberry Farm’s Somm Pours in Splendor
Mr. Pinot Noir: Donald Patz of Patz & Hall
A Cork Dork Wants to Spend More Time in Tuscany
Sommelier Turned Restaurateur Daringly Goes Greek
Texas Master Sommelier Debunks Wine Geeks
A Bottle From Gigondas Changed This Houston Man’s Life

Oil Man Falls in Love, and the Rest is Good-Taste History
Ryan Cooper of Camerata is a Riesling Man
Mixing It Up With Jeremy Parzen, an Ambassador of Italy
Sommelier at One of Houston’s Top Wine Bars Loves Underdog

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