One aspect of summertime wine sipping is cost. Much of the action occurs in convivial settings around picnic tables, where the wine and conversation flow in equal parts.
Throwing a party or inviting friends over for a casual barbecue needn't mean you have to compromise wine quality to control the cost. While we are often impressed by price when we are served an expensive bottle of wine, the discovery of outstanding wine at a low price can be equally exciting.
As the summer barbecue season heats up, I've assembled a summer cellar of 15 superb reds, whites and bubblies that retail for $15 or less. Just add a few friends, throw a few brats on the grill and enjoy the rest of the summer.
A by Acacia 2012 Pinot Noir, $14.99 — This is the second label of the iconic Acacia winery in the Napa Valley's Carneros district. Acacia was among the earliest pioneers of pinot in California and has a long and brilliant track record with the grape variety. The A by Acacia is fresh and fruity.
Alexander Valley Vineyards 2013 Rose of Sangiovese, $15 — Though the winery is best known for outstanding cabernet sauvignon over the years, quality is generally high across the board. The rose is dry, crisp and refreshing and works nicely with spicy appetizers, savory tapas or grilled salmon and meats. Extremely versatile.
Astoria Prosecco DOC, Treviso, Italy, $12.99 — This mouth-filling Prosecco from northern Italy so impressed the judges at the recent San Diego International wine competition that they gave it a generous score of 93 points; great as an aperitif, but also a good partner with spicy or savory starters.
Principessa Gavia 2012, Gavi DOCG, Italy $14 — Should you be grilling up mild, flaky white fish, lake fish or shrimp, this Gavi from the Piedmont region of northern Italy is your friend. Owned and operated by the powerhouse Castello Banfi winery of Montalcino, quality standards are very high.
Beaulieu Vineyards 2012 Coastal Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, California $10.99 — Though this inexpensive line from Napa's iconic BV is sometimes hit and miss, the 2012 cabernet is quite good and probably one of the best you will find in the $10 range.
Bonterra 2011 Zinfandel, $15 — Vintage after vintage, this winery churns out superb organic wines at ridiculously reasonable prices, and this spicy Zinfandel is no exception. If you're of a mind to smoke ribs on the grill or char some spicy brats, this Zin would be a match made in heaven.
Canoe Ridge 2012 'The Expedition' Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, $15 — Washington produces some of the very finest merlot made in America, but the price hasn't quite caught up to the quality, so there are bargains to be had.The Canoe Ridge is beautifully structured and complex, and a steal at this price.
Colome 2013 Torrontes, Valle Calchaqui, Salta, Argentina, $15 — Torrontes is a charming wine that entices the palate with an exotic, floral nose. Many are thin and watery, but Colome delivers a torrontes that has body to complement its lovely aromas. This is a perfect white for casual sipping on a warm summer night.
Concannon 2010 Conservancy Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley, $15 — In my humble opinion, Concannon is among the most underrated wineries in America. It does everything well, but one of its signature wines is the Conservancy petite sirah. It is rich and smooth, without any of the harsh, astringent tannins that so often accompany petite sirah. Bring on a thick steak!
Dr. Konstantin Frank 2012 Gruner Veltliner, Finger Lakes, $14.99 — Few new world vintners have mastered this crisp, mineral-driven grape variety native to Austria. Dr. Frank's is one of the best. Of course, Dr. Frank has been making exceptional whites in the Finger Lakes for decades, so it should surprise no one that he's got the gruner dialed in.
Dry Creek Vineyards 2013 Fume Blanc, Sonoma County, $14 — Anybody want a Sabcerre-like sauvignon without the Sancerre price? This is it. Dry Creek Vineyard is a Sauvignon Blanc specialist and produces it in a number of styles, but its basic Fume is the bargain of the bunch. How about some grilled oysters to go with that?
Light Horse 2012 Pinot Noir, Jamieson Ranch Vineyards, $14 — You will simply be amazed with the depth and richness of this inexpensive pinot noir. I don't expect the price to hang in this low at this quality level, so buy it now while you still can. Your barbecue buddies will thank you, especially if you serve it with a perfectly grilled salmon.
Louis Jadot 2012 Macon Villages AOC, $14.99 — It's no secret the Macon area of Burgundy is on the upswing, with all of the big players from the Cote de Beaune now growing grapes and making wine in the region. This Macon-Villages from Jadot has mouth-watering acidity and generous fruit, making it a perfect match for that frilled swordfish you are about to plate.
Parducci 2012 Pinot Noir, Small Lot Blend, California, $14 — Parducci, a longtime producer in California's Mendocino County, has always represented good value. That means simply that its wines over-deliver for the price. Count this fruit-driven, elegant pinot in that camp.
Peachy Canyon 2011 Incredible Red, Paso Robles, $12 — My first reaction after tasting this wine was "are you kidding me?" No way it could only cost $12. But that's the reality and this spicy, fruit zinfandel from Paso should be required stock for any serious grillmeister this summer.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru.