Wine Enthusiast Podcast: Best Buys for the Holidays

Illustration by Paige Stampatori

It’s just about that time again—the end-of-the-year holiday season, when we’re looking for the best bottles to buy, share, drink and gift, all without breaking the bank.

What better occasion than now to tap into the expertise of Wine Enthusiast Tasting Director, Alexander Peartree, and talk about everyone’s favorite list of the year, The Top 100 Best Buys of 2020.

From classic Old World bottlings like Bordeaux Blanc and Italian Chianti to New World gems from Australia, South Africa, the Americas and beyond, we’ve got you covered with this list of the best accessible and available value-minded wines to snap up today. And Top 100 list aside, be sure to also check out all of our recent reviews for wines designated as Best Buys.

If you also happen to be looking for something beyond the everyday pleasure, perhaps a special bottle for a special someone, consider looking through our Top 100 Cellar Selections of 2020 as well.

Get ready to make all your holiday wine-shopping needs a breeze.

 

 

Episode Transcript

Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.

Speakers: Lauren Buzzeo, Alexander Peartree

Lauren Buzzeo 0:08
Hello, and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast, your serving of wine trends and passionate people beyond the bottle. I’m Lauren Buzzeo, the managing editor here at Wine Enthusiast, and in this episode, I’ll talk with Tasting Director Alexander Peartree about everyone’s favorite list of the year, the Top 100 Best Buys. That’s right. It’s that time again, the end of the year when we’re all looking for the best wines to buy, share, drink and gift, all without breaking the bank. From classic Old World bottlings like Bordeaux Blanc and Italian Chianti to New World gems from Australia, South Africa, the Americas and beyond, we’ve got you covered with this list of the best accessible and available value-minded wines to snap up today. So get ready for some serious tips to make all your holiday wine shopping needs a breeze.

But first, a quick word from our partner, Total Wine, perfect for all your best by sourcing needs. Total Wine is a holiday wonderland of over 8,000 wines, 3,000 spirits and 2,500 beers. And with prices this low, you can afford to explore. The choices are awe inspiring, but not intimidating, especially if you think of Total Wines’ knowledgeable staff as friendly guides on your expedition. Wondering what goes with turkey? Pinot Noir is a natural, but if you want something a little more adventurous, try a buttery Chardonnay or fresh Beaujolais. Looking for a wine to pair with pumpkin pie? Zinfandel is a natural. You can always count on their experts for spot on recommendations. Total Wine also offers lots of easy ways to shop, including online, in-store or curbside pickup, plus same-day delivery and shipping. Go to totalwine.com to check out options available in your area. Step into a wonderland of wine, spirits and beer in store or online at totalwine.com.

Okay, so I’m here today talking with our Tasting Director Alexander Peartree and we are talking one of my favorite subjects. It’s the most wonderful time of year. It’s time to talk Best Buys. So in the November issue is when we release our highly anticipated Top 100 Best Buys of the Year. It’s a list that’s culled from our tastings and our ratings over the past year. And it offers some of the best values and best bang for your buck that you can find out there. Perfect timing for holidays for gifting, for everyday drinking, for anything that you need. So Alex, thank you so much for joining me and talking Best Buys today.

Alex Peartree 2:53
Yeah, happy to be here.

Lauren Buzzeo 2:55
Is this your favorite subject too?

Alex Peartree 2:58
I mean, I do love a best buy wine. I mean, how can you not? They are wines that are typically widely available and they’re wines that people just enjoy on a day to day basis. They’re usually just wines you want to have with pizza or pasta. They’re pretty casual. But they can span many regions or many wine styles. So it’s a very exciting category to get into.

Lauren Buzzeo 3:26
Sure, because who doesn’t love feeling like they found the ultimate value and gotten the most for their money when it comes to buying wine? Right?

Alex Peartree 3:34
Absolutely, yeah. A Best Buy, for us, these are wines that are $15 or under. And they fall within a specific price-to-score ratio.

Lauren Buzzeo 3:48
So they have to be of a certain caliber and certain quality as it pertains to their rating on our 100-point scale relative to their price, right?

Alex Peartree 3:56
Absolutely. Yeah.

Lauren Buzzeo 3:57
Okay, so just for context, this list is the top 100. How many Best Buys did Wine Enthusiast award over the past year?

Alex Peartree 4:08
Over the past year, we actually had one of our highest numbers to date. We tasted about 1,500 that were eligible for Best Buy.

Lauren Buzzeo 4:19
Wow. So for anyone that’s thinking that wine is becoming more expensive and the quality is maybe subpar in a certain price range, it couldn’t be further from the truth, right? Still plenty out there for everyone to choose from.

Alex Peartree 4:34
Absolutely, I mean, I’ve been watching this number grow year over year, so there’s definitely plenty of great wines to buy that are $15 and under.

Lauren Buzzeo 4:43
Love it. And we’re talking about all wine, so we’re talking about reds and whites and roses and sparkling and even some desserts on there.

Alex Peartree 4:52
Yeah, even some desserts, even some sherries so yeah, it spans the whole gamut of wine, which is quite astounding. You would usually think that maybe red wines are more expensive, but no. The list is pretty heavy on red wines, pretty heavy on white wines, and then there’s a little bit of peppering in on some interesting rosés, sparklings and a Sherry, actually.

Lauren Buzzeo 5:19
So what actually is the balance for this year’s list in terms of red and white or stylistic breakdown?

Alex Peartree 5:26
So on this year’s list, we have 48 red wines, 36 whites, nine rose, five sparkling, one sweeter wine and one Sherry.

Lauren Buzzeo 5:41
So we can go and we can drink across the spectrum for $15 or under—love it.

Alex Peartree 5:49
We always try to get a nice array of styles and regions in here. So we have 16 countries on the list that span everything from wines that are made domestically in California, Oregon, Washington, New York, spanning to Germany, Spain, Argentina, and we even have an Uruguayan wine on the list today.

Lauren Buzzeo 6:15
Nice. I’m glad that you said that because I’m sure a lot of people would actually assume that the majority of the Best Buys are coming out of maybe more New World regions, the Americas, maybe Australia. But in fact, you can find Best Buys and values at Old World and New across, right?

Alex Peartree 6:36
Absolutely. Yeah, I mean, the list has a lot of Old World selections from France, Italy, Spain, as I already mentioned. So it’s not just domestic wines, or New World wines, that typically people might associate with lower costs. The classic winemaking regions of the Old World actually have great value, too.

Lauren Buzzeo 7:01
I love that. So I know that we can’t get into too much detail and reveal all of our tricks. As as the former tasting director, I know some of what goes into it. But Alex, as the current tasting director, tell me, if you have 1,500-plus wines that are designated Best Buys, how on Earth do you create this list of the Top 100? What do you look at? What do you do?

Alex Peartree 7:26
Well, obviously there’s lots of lots of looking at spreadsheets, which is always a fun thing to do. But when when taking a look at the lists, we try to take in a lot of variables that our readers often look for. One of the main ones is availability. We generally want to get wines on the list that are widely available, so that anyone who’s looking at the lists can be like, ‘Oh, I’ve seen that wine already on the shelves,’ or ‘Let me take a look and I’ll go search for it online’ and you’ll see a bunch of retailers around you that actually have the wine. So availability, I think, is quite key to this list.

Lauren Buzzeo 8:11
Yeah, for sure. So in addition to already being designated a Best Buy, which obviously all of these wines are, and you already talked a little bit about considering some of the balance, geographically, stylistically, accessibility, this is a list of wines that you can actually go out and find and buy. And I think that that’s why so many people love it.

Alex Peartree 8:33
Absolutely, yeah. In this day and age, I think this list is actually super key because a lot of these wines are available via online retailers. So you don’t have to go out anymore. You can just have them shipped direct to you.

Lauren Buzzeo 8:50
That’s right. And especially in this day and age, the more convenient we can and the easier we can get our wine shipped to us deliver to us safely, the better. Everyone’s looking for those opportunities and those avenues right now. So it’s a great time for this list. So tell me, let’s start at the top, man. Tell me a little bit about what this year’s number one wine is.

Alex Peartree 9:12
Yeah, so this year’s number one wine is actually from Spain. It’s from a historic Rioja estate called Montecillo. And this year, it was the Montecillo 2016 Crianza. The vintage 2016 was actually pretty great across all of Europe, and for a region in northern Spain like Rioja, this translated to some of their more economic bottlings just having the power to to show a little bit more quality behind them. So, this is a an entry-level Rioja, but it definitely has a lot of weight and a lot of heft behind it, which isn’t too typical for many crianzas is on the market, but this one definitely fits the bill.

Lauren Buzzeo 9:23
And entry level doesn’t necessarily need to translate to lesser quality, because we’re still talking about a 90-point wine. Yes, it’s $11, but doesn’t that just make it even better? You read the review and fresh berry, red plum, with a little bit of oak spice, vanilla. And then you also have the mention of of ample punchy acidity for that balance. It has all of the great characteristics and the elements that you’re looking for in a fine wine. And this is something, at $11 and 90 points, you can drink that all week long.

Alex Peartree 10:42
Absolutely, yeah. I had this wine actually recently, and I was blown away by it just because it was so inexpensive. For the quality, it’s quite astounding. And this wine is, is available nationally, so it’s pretty easy to get your hands on it.

Lauren Buzzeo 11:01
Love it. And this is one of eight Spanish wines on the list. So if Tempranillo or classic Rioja or even maybe more modern Rioja isn’t necessarily your thing, there’s other wines that you could check out from Spain on the list to whet your palate.

Alex Peartree 11:18
Yeah, absolutely. There’s, from a little bit further south, there’s a Monastrell from Jumilla. And if you like something a little bit richer, a little bit fuller, a little bit more dense, that’ll definitely entice you a bit.

Lauren Buzzeo 11:37
Love it. So this is 90 points. Just curious, what’s the average rating of all of the wines on this list? Is it around there?

Alex Peartree 11:48
Uh, yeah, it actually is right around there. So the average rating is just over 89 and a half points. So the scores generally range from low 90s going into, like, 87. On our scale, wines that are from 87 to 89 points are good quality and great value, so that’s what these wines display on our list.

Lauren Buzzeo 12:21
I believe they’re actually classified as very good wines, Alex.

Alex Peartree 12:24
Oh, very good. Wow.

Lauren Buzzeo 12:28
Well, average rating actually of 89, over 89 and a half, I think it’s like 89.65 you’ve got this year, I have to tip my hat to you, sir, because I believe that you have the highest average rating on this list that I can recall, even for my tenure over the past. Kudos to you for raising that bar so unbelievably high. I don’t know how you’re going to top it next year. So good luck, but thanks for this year.

Alex Peartree 12:58
We will have to see how next year goes.

Lauren Buzzeo 13:00
You’ll pull out some tricks, I’m sure. So over 89 and a half points, almost 90 points average. And then what about the average price? The number one wine is $11? Is that around what the list averages?

Alex Peartree 13:13
The list average is around $13. So a little bit more than the number one wine but obviously not not too much of a price hike there. The prices range from $15, probably down to $8, I think is one of the lower ones.

Lauren Buzzeo 13:31
Wow. And I know that we also, I guess if you’re talking about per 750 milliliter bottle, we also have some boxes on the list, is that right? And that figures out to even less than that per 750, right?

Alex Peartree 13:43
Yeah, we have the Bota Box. I mean, I can’t really do the math in my head right now what that comes out to. Making me do math, Lauren…

Lauren Buzzeo 13:54
I mean, I think it’s $23 for three liters, so that’s like a little under $6 for 750ml.

Alex Peartree 14:01
That sounds perfect.

Lauren Buzzeo 14:05
I mean, who doesn’t want that? And that’s 89 points. $6, basically, for 750ml at 89 points. You can’t go wrong with that. So tell me some of the more discovery items on this year’s list. I know we always have a couple that are like, oh, that’s cool. I want to try that. I haven’t heard of that. Can you think of any off the top of your head that you were like, ‘Oh, that’s really cool. I want to try that. I don’t know that so well.’

Alex Peartree 14:31
Um, yeah, actually, our number four wine was really interesting for me. It’s a wine from Argentina. The producer is Passionate Wine. And it’s their Malbec-Syrah blend. Typically when you when you hear Argentina you’re just gonna go straight Malbec. So many don’t know that they also make blends with Syrah or they even incorporate Cabernet Franc or other Bordeaux grapes, but this one kind of blew me away because it’s not your typical flashy, oakey Argentina wine that that many are familiar with. This one was more on like pure berry flavors. I’m not sure if it actually sees any oak at all. When I had it, it was just like drinking delicious adult juice. Nothing wrong with that at all, though.

Lauren Buzzeo 15:27
Definitely not. I know from my perspective, I love seeing the number 44 wine, which is a rosé from Rousillon, which is in the south of France. Yes, I tasted it, so that’s why I was excited to see it there. I remember being excited as I pulled it out of the bag and it was revealed when it was after my ratings were set. I was like, oh, this is delicious. 91 points, $15. It’s the Res Fortes 2019 Rosé, again, from Rousillon. I think that that’s a lovely example of like a kind of emerging region for a lot of consumers that they don’t have too much familiarity with, but there’s a lot to offer and a lot of value to be found in a lot of those wines. They’re definitely more known for their red wines, which are pretty fruit forward and robust. It is a pretty generally warm climate. But the rosés also are just stunningly beautiful. Beautiful balance, you have that ample acidity, and those ripe fruit characteristics. I was super stoked to see that that made the cut. Thank you, sir. I also have to say that I love that you always notice, talking about like emerging regions, Bulgaria. There’s always there’s always a wine from Bulgaria on the list. They’re always really well reviewed, super quality-to-price ratio. This year, I think it’s a Pinot Noir. Yeah. So it’s super cool to see these different things that you know that I’m sure people haven’t necessarily tried. But if this offers an opportunity for people to think outside of the box and try something new, I think that that’s awesome.

Alex Peartree 17:08
Yeah, and going on Bulgarian wine, you might think that from a region that you’ve never heard of for wine production, it’d be hard to find. But actually, not 10 minutes from where I live in New Jersey, this wine was fully stocked one of the big box stores. So this wine is readily available.

Lauren Buzzeo 17:37
So I’d love to ask you, as you review some of the Italian wines along with our Italian Editor Karen O’Keefe, but I noticed that we have a pretty good amount of Italian wines on the list. And I think that that’s something that’s a little bit surprising, because it’s not necessarily a region that a lot of people associate maybe with value. So can you just tell me a little bit about the selections from Italy? Are there specific areas that are maybe more known to have those value wines or value-minded wines that people can turn their attention to?

Alex Peartree 18:47
Yeah, absolutely. From regions that Karen O’Keefe covers for us, I think one of the most iconic regions that has pretty good value is Chianti in Tuscany. This year on number 86, we have the Piccini 2019 Mario Primo, which is a pretty easygoing, classically savory and cherry-driven Chianti coming in at 88 points and $13. But as far as other regions that are more value driven, I would have to say the regions that I cover myself, like Puglia and Abruzzo, are probably some really good areas to focus on for more value minded wines. And so for Abruzzo, at number 88, we have the Umani Ronchi 2018 Podere. It’s a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and this wine in particular is very cherry driven, but it has that classic mentholated herb quality that I find Montepulciano has. Not a lot of oak, but it has just sort of this nice balance of plush fruit with bright acidity, which makes it a really, really great weekday red to enjoy alongside red sauce or pizza or even like some grilled fare if you like.

Lauren Buzzeo 20:23
I also noticed that there’s a lot of, a good amount of, white wines from Italy. That was really exciting for me to see. Like the number five is a Soave Classico. And at number nine we have a Prosecco. I think it’s just really exciting—Prosecco being sparkling, Soave being white. But there were some other still whites I noticed later in the list. I think there was one from Mezzacorona, so you’re talking about Trentino. Of course, the Pinot Grigio, which who doesn’t love a good Pinot Grigio? We even have a Gavi at number 73, which I think is another wine style that was maybe previously a little bit more popular than it is currently but I love to see it coming back and a little bit of a resurgence of interest. Tell me a little bit about that wine at number 73.

Alex Peartree 21:12
The Bricco dei Guazzi is a really great value pour. As you said, many people kind of associate Gavi with this passing fad of maybe 10 years ago. Just kind of wrote it off as maybe like another Pinot Grigio type wine, very innocuous in a way. But I think Piedmont whites, which often get overshadowed by the more boisterous Barolo and Barbaresco wines from Piedmont, but Piedmont whites are definitely something something to look out for. Gavi offers a lot of value, especially for the price. So I think number 73 represents, I think, that exactly.

Lauren Buzzeo 22:02
I also have to give, you know me, I have to give a little shout out to the number 95 wine, the Excelsior. It’s the 2018 Cab from Robertson in South Africa, of course, South Africa being near and dear to my heart. But the thing that I wanted to say, aside for that, which thank you for letting me say it. The thing that I want to say that I love about this list, actually, is after reviewing it for so many years, or even as a reader, if you come back year after year, you notice that there are certain brands that can reappear, that just have that reputation of consistently offering high-quality wine for reasonable, accessible prices. Excelsior, to me, is one of the pinnacles of that type of brand and winery. Across all of their offerings and the varieties, I think they’re entirely line priced at $10. They’re all really at good to very good in terms of rating on our scales, and they offer just tremendous value. I love looking through this list and identifying those brands. I feel like Aveleda out of Portugal is another one that we constantly see on this list with the Vinho Verde. Were there other ones that you noticed or that you’ve picked up on and you have a soft spot for?

Alex Peartree 23:25
Yeah, absolutely. There’s the Bogle as well. Bogle constantly pops up on these lists. And I think for good reason. They price their wines so well. They’re super competitive. And then the quality is there. Absolutely, the quality is there. Another one that I that I believe pops up is the Foris Pinot Gris from Oregon. That one’s a smaller producer when you’re when you’re comparing it to Bogle, of course, but still amazing nonetheless. That one coming in at number 14 is 92 points and $14, which is an amazing steal.

Lauren Buzzeo 24:11
I love it because you’re talking also about a great variety from a region that’s known for it. So the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon, Oregon being a great spot for quality Pinot Gris production. It allows people to have entry into that variety, that region for, again, a really high quality for a really reasonable price. Which always thrills us to bring people, you know, into new things, into new wines. It’s exciting. I think also just like another brand, the J. Lohr we see very often on this list, the Kirkland Signature, which talking about availability and accessibility, we all know and love that Kirkland brand coming out of Costco. That’s another one that we constantly see with high-quality wines and accessible prices popping up on the top list. So there’s there’s really these pinnacle brands that I love seeing consistently year over year, make their way onto this list. It’s San Pedro out of Chile. That’s another great classic winery.

Alex Peartree 25:18
Dr. Loosen, another one.

Lauren Buzzeo 25:20
Oh yeah, oh yeah. So we covered Chile, Germany. What else did we cover? Oregon…

Alex Peartree 25:28
Argentina, Italy…

Lauren Buzzeo 25:29
California….

Alex Peartree 25:32
There’s A to Z.

Lauren Buzzeo 25:34
Oh, A to Z.

Alex Peartree 25:35
A to Z Chard!

Lauren Buzzeo 25:39
Oh, and of course, it started with Excelsior, South Africa. So no matter where you want to go, no matter what you want to drink, no matter what style you’re looking for, I think that this list not only helps you with those individual wines, but also becoming familiar with those brands that you can really trust and turn to for high quality and accessible wines.

Alex Peartree 26:03
Absolutely, yeah. And to toot my own horn here, because I have to.

Lauren Buzzeo 26:10
Toot away.

Alex Peartree 26:14
There’s some great New York wines on this list. I don’t think many people would associate New York with wines that are $15 or under, but actually, this year, there were a good number of wines to choose from. And I think when you mention New York, one of the main regions that comes to mind is the Finger Lakes. If you were to pick a variety, it’d be Riesling. And yes, there is a wonderful example of a Finger Lakes recently on this list at number 63. It’s the Lamoreaux Landing 2018 Semi-Dry, but there’s also a Gewürztraminer, which is another variety to look out for, and a Cab Franc rosé. So it’s got everything.

Lauren Buzzeo 27:06
That’s awesome. I think that’s a really cool, really good point. And you could apply it to other areas too. I know that you have a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on this list. You might even have more than one. I’ve just spotted number 77, which is the Villa Maria, again, another classic, high-quality brand that everyone can know and trust. Villa Maria 2019 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc, 89 points, $14. That’s from New Zealand, from the Marlborough region, sort of known for Sauvignon Blanc production. But, if you keep on going, you notice the Oyster Bay 2018 Merlot fom Hawke’s Bay at number 98. What? A Merlot from New Zealand? What’s happening? So there’s a lot more to discover. And and we try to offer that in this list, right?

Alex Peartree 28:07
Absolutely. Yeah. Speaking about that Merlot, not many people know about Hawke’s Bay. That area of New Zealand is moreso known for its red wines, its Merlot or Bordeaux-style blends that incorporate Merlot and Cab Sauv and Cab Franc.

Lauren Buzzeo 28:28
Even some Syrah.

Alex Peartree 28:29
Exactly, yeah. So there’s lots of discover on here.

Lauren Buzzeo 28:35
Love it. All right, well, we can probably talk through every wine on this list if we had the time to, just because we’re dorks and we love it. But I guess for now, to save listeners some of that, we should just let everyone know that the list is available. It’s live on winemag.com. So definitely everyone should check it out. There’s tons to discover, tons of exciting things to go and seek out and the good news is you won’t have to seek that hard because that is the nature of this list.

Alex Peartree 29:11
Absolutely. Yeah.

Lauren Buzzeo 29:14
All right, Alex, thank you so much for talking Best Buys with me today. And I guess until the next list, thank you so much for putting this together.

Alex Peartree 29:24
Thanks for having me, Lauren.

Lauren Buzzeo 29:29
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Wine Enthusiast Podcast. Clearly we love our top 100 lists, especially Best Buys, and there’s so much deliciousness just waiting to be tasted. We definitely talked about a lot of different selections from the list today, with so many exciting recommendations worth checking out throughout the full 100, but also in our Best Buy designated wines. Be sure to visit winemag.com/podcast to learn even more about these selections and more. You can also pick up our November issue, with the Top 100 Best Buys of 2020 included, available now on newsstands and also through digital issue providers like Apple News Plus and Zinio. Subscribe to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast on iTunes, Google Play or wherever you find podcasts. And if you liked today’s episode, we’d love to read your review and hear what you think. And hey, why not tell your wine loving friends to check us out too. You can also drop us a line at podcast@winemag.com. For more wine reviews, recipes guides, deep dives and stories, visit Wine Enthusiast online at winemag.com and connect with us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @wineenthusiast. The Wine Enthusiast Podcast is produced by Lauren Buzzeo and Jenny Groza. Until next episode, cheers.

Published on November 11, 2020
Topics: Podcast