The Pacific Northwest is the queen of wine production in the United States. Whether or not this will change remains to be seen, because today’s wine selections aren’t giving an inch.
California has held the top spot for decades, followed close behind by Washington with nearly a thousand wineries to its name. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, congratulations: drinking local is as easy as throwing a rock! I’ll be doing another post on Washington-based wines in the future, but for now we’re going to take a look at some lower price point wines made throughout the Pacific Northwest. With wine still remaining inaccessible and convoluted at the best of times, every little crack in the veneer matters.
I’ll make it plain in no uncertain terms that I live on a small budget. My palette, however, isn’t exactly acquiescing. In an attempt to save and expand my horizons, I’ve decided to compile a list of affordable red and white wine brands I’ve tried over the past few months. I’ll go into the body, the flavor notes and what I like to pair them with, as well as other details like prominent packaging. Because you don’t have to go broke to enjoy a delicious, relaxing cup of pinot noir.
Townshend 2007 Merlot
Red wine is a new staple in my home. I’ll cycle through white wine and rosé depending on my mood, but I always need a robust red at my side. It’s as comforting as a cup of chai.
I’ve written a few posts about my local Washington winemakers and why they hit several high notes with me. What makes this merlot stand out is its instantaneously robust flavor: it’s packed full of little notes ranging from a savory cherry to an almost plum aftertaste, lingering on your tongue long after you’re done. I love to pair it with a baked potato covered in chives or some creamy gournay cheeses for contrast. It would no doubt make the perfect compliment to a steak with a side of greens.
Pinot noir and merlot are in a tug-of-war for my affections: they both, quite literally, bring something delightful to the table. The former is a powerhouse dry red wine, so much so it’s practically considered the default. You think of wine, you think of a rich, cherry red hailing from France. The latter is gentler, but not so much so it would be considered plain, proving that subtlety can hit just as hard.
You can find Townshend‘s red wine varieties over on their site starting at $22, as well as grocery stores throughout Washington.
I clearly need to start drinking more white wine, because I fell head over heels for this one, too.
While many white wines boast pear and floral notes, Townshend Riesling is a lesson in why apple is such a classic flavor. I’m already a big fan of hard cider and consider it one of those perfect alcoholic drinks for any season. This white wine has delicious, strong apple notes that bring out all the best memories of a cup of cider on an autumn day. Think more…golden delicious than red delicious. It’s crisp, too, and lingers just a little on the tongue. Another sip can fix that.
Sugary wine doesn’t appeal to me, overall, and is a big reason I tend to keep moscato for rare occasions. Sweet and subtle wines, on the other hand, are perfect. …It’s through writing this I’m also realizing I’m getting old. Fun fact: the majority of your sweet taste receptors are located on the tip of your tongue. Next time you try a white wine? Swish it around to bring out the flavor and take a small, focused sip instead of a swig. You’ll literally taste the difference.
You can find Townshend‘s white wine varieties over on their site starting at $18, as well as grocery stores throughout Washington state.
Firefly Ridge 2017 Pinot Grigio
I fell in love with this wine when I first tried it, concerning both the great flavor and the romantic packaging. I haven’t seen fireflies in years.
This Firefly Ridge 2017 Pinot Grigio was a gift to me by a friend and a wine I’ve been eager to relive ever since. In fact, the empty bottle is currently sitting on my clothes drawer as a visual reminder. From the first glass onward, this light and sweet white wine made it clear why it’d be remembered. It contrasts the Townshend Riesling with a bright, subtle color and profound pear notes, topped off with a smooth finish and a very gentle aftertaste. It’s not super strong, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s a proper match between budget and flavor.
It’s tough being in the middleground of wanting to try new wines and revisit old favorites. While struggling with this limbo at the grocery store one of the workers kindly explained to me the key difference between pinot grigio and pinot gris: they use the same grapes, but come from different regions in Italy. This means slightly different techniques and, as a result, slightly different flavors and finishes. If you want to go a little more tart and fruity, go with the grigio. If you want sweeter, go with the gris.
Spring is right around the corner, so pair it with a crisp, sweet wine that compliments fresh flowers and breezy weather. You can find Firefly Ridge‘s Pinot Grigio over on Tastings starting at $7 or at your local Safeway.
Prophecy 2017 Pinot Noir
This one gets a standing ovation for just how stunning its cover is (and it’s not exactly wanting for competition). This wine brand always catches my eye on the shelf for its fanciful, swirling illustrations, hearkening to old-fashioned tarot cards and tapestries. I may just collect these bottles like Pokemon cards.
Wine teaches you about yourself. I generally prefer a stronger red wine, with heavier or downright smoky flavor notes. If I wanted juice, I’d buy juice. As it stands, the Prophecy 2017 Pinot Noir hovers in the middle by leaning toward the lighter side, smooth and gentle with just a tang of raspberry. It didn’t stand out to me quite as much as Townshend’s 2007 Merlot, but that could very much be an age reason. Even though pinot noir is often more robust, wine that’s a little older will lean toward richer tastes, so I’m not about to compare apples to oranges.
That said, don’t feel you need to empty your wallets for a century piece.
There’s a time and place for gentle reds. This could be a great wine for those that are just stepping into the fray and don’t want to go with a cup that has them coughing on the first sip. I can also see the simpler side of pinot noir working as a ‘get out of jail free’ card, of sorts, when pairing with dinner. The stronger the wine, the more specific the food, right? Give yourself some flexibility here and make sure you’re offsetting the fruity notes with something savory or salty.
Not my biggest favorite, but Prophecy wine’s sheer variety means I’ll be trying out a few more in the future. If you’re looking for a red wine that’s simple, affordable and gets the job done, you can easily find Prophecy‘s pinot noir (and their other stunning bottles) on their site starting at $7 .
Bay Bridge Red Blend
Hearkening from Lipon in California, I popped this open over some cheese and crackers to see what a low-cost table wine was all about. It was pretty much what I expected: gets me buzzed, but is nothing to write home about.
My immediate thought was that the Bay Bridge Red Blend tastes like a particularly pleasant cranberry-raspberry juice, with not so much as a whiff of an alcoholic tang. Doesn’t sound very classy, right? Since I already lean toward robust wines — with an emerging interest in tempranillo, no less — this unassuming red blend is probably the most dangerous on the list because of how easy it’d be to mindlessly chug. Ever since getting a chance to try unaged wine over at Townshend‘s winetasting event, I can now confidently say this tastes very new.
If you know someone who’s not usually a fan of wine, either for flavor or alcohol strength, this could be a useful addition to the rack. Its very light and fruity flavor is an easy transition from beer into wine, right alongside a very low price point to avoid any regret. For now, I’m going to finish this up over a few more snacking sessions out of obligation. Would I buy it again? Probably not. Like I said above: if I wanted juice, I would buy juice.
Weaker than Prophecy‘s and not as savory as Townshend‘s, this is best kept a gateway wine or guilt-free pleasure when the wallet’s begging for mercy. You might be able to find Bay Bridge Red Blend stocked at some local Pacific Northwest grocery stores like Fred Meyer and Safeway at $3, but you might not find it on online wine stores like Vivino or Wine.com.
Now for some wine preservation tips!
Remember to store wine in the fridge when you’re done, as it will spoil, and for no more than seven days. The more air it’s exposed to, the more its flavor suffers. There are wine stoppers that limit this as much as possible (and you can always stick the cork back in if you don’t have one). If you want to branch out into expensive wines, it’s best to save them for a special occasion. $25 or less, as seen above, is a great range to give you different flavor notes, age varieties and, of course, beautiful bottles to put on your shelf.
Wine is an experience. Not only do you learn more about your personal flavor palette, you learn more about your cooking skills and the world around you. Every bottle has me picking up something new, someway and somehow, even if it’s a resounding and noncommittal, “Eh.” I’ll be creating more reviews on local Washington wines in the future, so keep an eye out. I’m actively seeking out tannic and acidic wines to balance out the robust and sweet I’ve been leaning on, as well as deep-diving into merlot, tempranillo and pinot noir varieties.
Got any suggestions for affordable Pacific Northwest wines? Send them my way.