If your wallet is feeling a little light from holiday spending, yet you still need to find a few bottles of wine for parties or a midweek meal, then there still are plenty of red wines to be found in the magical $15-and-under category.
Larger wine producers tend to dominate our lists of “best buy” wines because they can make wine in larger amounts, thus cutting costs in labor, equipment, grapes and bottles. That certainly is true in this column, with such companies as Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Precept Wine and Milbrandt Vineyards crafting six of the nine wines reviewed here. All should be easy to track down at your favorite wine merchant.
Columbia Crest 2013 Grand Estates Limited Release Gold, Columbia Valley, $12: This blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot spent 17 months in 32 percent new French oak. It offers lots of freshly brewed espresso aromas, joined by notes of Chukar Cherry, dried plum and roasted plum. A pour yields rich and dark flavors of milk chocolate, sweet blueberry and raspberry. (13.5 percent alcohol)
Ridge Crest 2013 White Bluffs Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $14: This is a lightly oaked Cab with aromas of red currant, Van cherry, fresh hay and drip coffee. Inside, it features flavors of dark blackberry, black currant and plum, backed by a remarkable mouth feel of flannel-like tannins and a touch of cinnamon spice. (13.5 percent alcohol)
Sagelands Vineyard 2013 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $10: Precept rescued this brand, and its example of Merlot offers a mellow nose of milk chocolate, ripe red plum, black cherry and Assam tea. There’s a pleasant and rich approach to the palate, which brings luscious Bing cherry and black currant flavors, backed by moderate tannins and Marionberry acidity. (13.5 percent alcohol)
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $15: Aromas begin with a stroll through a North African spice market and past an espresso shop as it leads to hints of Hostess Berry Pie, Graham cracker and lime peel. On the pour, expect a youthful presentation of dark purple fruit, framed by restrained tannins, juicy acidity and finished with sarsaparilla. (13.5 percent alcohol)
Primarius Winery 2013 Pinot Noir, Oregon, $15: It’s remarkable to find an affordable Oregon Pinot Noir, and this is deliciously fruit-forward and opens with aromas of strawberry, red currant, cherry tomato and rose petal. On the palate, it takes a bright and elegant approach with cassis, white strawberry and raspberry, combining smooth tannins and pleasing acidity. (12.5 percent alcohol)
Ryan Patrick Vineyards 2013 Redhead Red, Columbia Valley, $10: Here is a blend dominated by Merlot and backed by Malbec and Syrah. Aromatic hints of blueberry, holiday spices and candela tobacco lead to an explosion of candied cherries, cranberry juice and blueberry taffy, which comes with a smooth mouth feel. (13.5 percent alcohol)
Cavatappi Winery 2014 Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $13: Here’s one of the more fascinating red wines released this year, a youthful offering that hints at aromas of blueberry jam, strawberry, red licorice and cherry-rhubarb pie. Inside, it’s packed with cherry jam, dark currant and raspberry. (14.3 percent alcohol)
Jones of Washington 2012 Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Wahluke Slope, $15: This food-friendly Cabernet Sauvignon comes with a fruit-forward nose of black currant, dusty plums, thyme and sweet pipe tobacco. There’s a nice entry to the palate with cassis and cherry that leads to bright tannins. (14.1 percent alcohol)
Strange Folk Wines NV Le Commandante Red Wine, Idaho, $7: Split Rail Winery near Boise has produced this, the Gem State's first red wine in a can, a blend of Syrah, Counoise, Cinsault, Grenache and Mourvèdre. It opens with aromas of black cherry, dried strawberry and currant with hints of coffee, saddle leather and lime peel. It continues down that darker red fruit profile with Bing cherry, black currant and raspberry in the flavors. (14 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning news and information company; www.greatnorthwestwine.com.