From Paso to Napa, the 13 Best California Red Wines for $15 or Less


California is known as The Golden State of wines, vineyards and wineries in the United States. As one of the largest wine producers in the country, it’s home to hundreds of red varieties and popular favorites.

From light and fruity Pinot Noirs to lavish, aromatic Zinfandels, here are the best red wines to enjoy from California for $15 or less.

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Bonny Doon 2019 Le Cigare Volant Red (Central Coast); $15, 93 points. A delicate color in the glass, this blend of 56% Grenache, 30% Cinsault, 13% Syrah, and 1% Petite Sirah pops with bright raspberry, crushed rock, turned earth, and lilac aromas on the nose. The palate is tense with rocky edges and yet zesty with pomegranate and strawberry flavors. Best Buy. —Matt Kettmann

Chronic Cellars 2019 Suite Petite Petite Sirah (Paso Robles); $15, 92 points. A dense cassis aroma manages to be both ripe and balanced by floral undertones on the nose of this affordable offering. Hearty flavors of black currant and blueberry are spiced by caramel, vanilla, and mace, providing a thorough experience. Best Buy. —M.K.

Gnarly Head 2019 Merlot (Central Coast); $12, 92 points. This widely available bottling impresses on multiple levels, beginning with a ripe and rugged nose of boysenberry, cherry, leather, iodine, and smoke. There’s compelling texture to the sip, where smoked meat, mocha, and coffee flavors sink into the deep, dark fruit. Best Buy. —M.K.

Bogle 2019 Pinot Noir (California); $11, 91 points. Rich black-fruit notes fill the aromas and flavors of this saturated and full-bodied wine. Gorgeous black cherry and blueberry flavors are wrapped in fine-grained tannins for a mouth-filling effect. Best Buy. —Jim Gordon

Oak Ridge 2019 Ancient Vine Estate Grown Zinfandel (Lodi); $15, 91 points. Smooth, supple and concentrated, this lavishly fruity and jammy wine coats the palate with blackberry syrup, maple, and boysenberry flavors. It’s velvety and viscous, and might best be appreciated after dinner. Best Buy. —J.G.

Plungerhead 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon (Lodi); $14, 91 points. Concentrated, focused, and ultrasmooth, this well-polished wine is a winner. Velvety fine-grained tannins bolster deep blackberry and black-currant flavors while light oak spices of vanilla and cinnamon accentuate its complexity. Best Buy. —J.G.

Castle Rock 2019 Pinot Noir (Monterey County); $14, 90 points. There’s a hefty amount of raw meat funk on the nose of this bottling, which also exhibits aromas of baked cherry, star anise, and cardamom. Toasted oak flavors lead the palate through the roasted cherry, dried meat, and hickory spice flavors. Best Buy. —M.K.

Cline 2019 Ancient Vines Mourvèdre (Contra Costa County); $15, 90 points. Quite ripe and packed with black-fruit flavors, this full-bodied, smooth wine also adds notes of chocolate, vanilla, and cinnamon for extra complexity. It’s mouth-filling and luxurious in texture. Best Buy. —J.G.

Highlands 41 2019 Black Granite Red (Paso Robles); $15, 90 points. Big, booming aromas of black cherry, vanilla, caramel, cappuccino, and dark soil show on the nose of this ripe, powerful blend. Black cherry and blackberry jam are rich on the palate but also comforting. This is sure to satisfy those seeking robust flavors. Best Buy. —M.K.

Matchbook 2019 Red Gravel Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon (Dunnigan Hills); $15, 90 points. This full-bodied and moderately tannic wine is well-packed with ripe blackberries and blueberries on a velvety, mouthcoating texture. Good concentration and ripeness bring a warm, rich impression to the palate. Best Buy. —J.G.

Ryer Estate 2018 Red (California); $10, 90 points. Broad, rich, and mouth-filling, this full-bodied wine offers a tasty blend of ripe strawberry and raspberry flavors with stylish and light oak accents like ginger and nutmeg. Best Buy. —J.G.

Kirkland Signature 2018 Red (Napa Valley); $11, 88 points. This is a brawny and earthy blend of 47% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec. Together, they offer a seamless core of oak and blue fruit in a serviceable, affordable package. Best Buy. —Virginie Boone

Oak Grove 2019 Family Reserve Winemaker’s Red (California); $9, 87 points. This rich and full-bodied blend based on Cabernet Sauvignon is packed with blackberry, chocolate, and blueberry flavors on a smooth texture. It’s light in tannins and easy on the palate. Best Buy. —J.G.

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Published on October 6, 2021
Topics: Buying Guide