Our definition of a “best buy” is $15, for red or white. With the cost of doing business, it’s extremely difficult for winemakers in Washington and Oregon to make red wines for much less than that. Quality grapes, oak barrels, bottles, labels, winemaker salaries, marketing costs, wholesale prices and other expenses begin to add up quickly, meaning profit margins become extremely thin for red wines below $20 per bottle.
Here are several inexpensive red wines we’ve tasted recently — including one that comes in a can. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant (particularly groceries) or contact the wineries directly.
Three Rivers Winery 2013 River’s Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $14: This example of a food-friendly, everyday wine starts with alluring aromas of blackberry, black cherry and black olive. That leads to smooth flavors of blackberry and blueberry, which finish with firm tannins. (13.7 percent alcohol)
Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2013 The Expedition Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, $15: Napa-trained Bill Murray crafts a wine that’s filled with sweet aromas of baked cherry, toffee and chocolate treats such as Milk Duds and Whoppers. There’s also a sweet, hedonistic angle — thanks in part to the influence of Syrah (9 percent) — to the drink that’s focused on red cherry, plum and cocoa powder. (13.8 percent alcohol)
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Bergevin Lane Vineyards 2012 Calico Red, Columbia Valley, $15: Here’s a stunning wine worthy of stocking up on. It’s a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The theme is one of black cherry, blackberry and dark plum backed by dark chocolate, black olive, allspice and black pepper. A wisp of smoke and tobacco leaf add complexity. (13.9 percent alcohol)
Kennedy Shah 2012 La Vie en Rouge Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $14: This bargain red by Woodinville winemaker Jean Claude Beck is just the latest in a seemingly never-ending string of approachable reds streaming out of The Woodhouse Wine Estates and its marketplace tier. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Syrah reveal aromas and flavors of tones of blackberry and black currant, which are backed by chocolaty tannins, blueberry acidity, black tea, vanilla and black pepper. (13.7 percent alcohol)
Columbia Crest 2012 H3 Les Chevaux Red Blend, Horse Heaven Hills, $15: This wide-ranging blend leads with Syrah and follows with Merlot and a handful of other varieties. The nose of cocoa powder, red cherry and raspberry includes cola and toast. Inside, it’s an easy-drinking summertime wine that’s ideal at barbecues, bringing smooth flavors of black currant, plum and cherry with frontal tannins and pomegranate acidity. (14.5 percent alcohol)
Union Wine Co. 2013 Underwood Pinot Noir, Oregon, $12: Tualatin, Ore., winemaker Ryan Harms has more than tripled production of his entry-level Pinot Noir in the past three years, a growth curve sparked by the following created by his dropping much of the juice into 375-milliliter cans — making him the first in the Pacific Northwest to do. It’s built for ready enjoyment, and the experience begins with a nose of Bing cherry juice, raspberry and rhubarb cobbler, along with violets and a dusting of cocoa powder. On the palate, it is youthful, fresh and juicy with Rainier cherry, boysenberry and red currant amid an elegant mouth feel and luscious finish. The price listed is for the 750-millilter screwcapped bottle, while the four-pack of cans sells for $24. (13 percent alcohol)
Washington Hills 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington, $9: Washington Hills marks its 25th anniversary with this vintage and this approachable Cab. There’s a theme of red plum, Van cherry and cassis that pick up flakes of Herbs de Provence. It’s very light and smooth on the palate with minimal tannins and well-managed oak that make this a nice introductory, everyday Cab — especially at the price. (13.5 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning news and information company; www.greatnorthwestwine.com.