Food & Drink

The 12 Best Wines Under $12

Because not everyone wants to spend more than the cost of Chinese take-out on a bottle of wine you are bringing to your friend Brad's friend Rachel's friend Liz's house party, we asked Jonathan Cristaldi of The Noble Rot to select four whites and eight reds that are great and under the cost of a container of beef and broccoli (with rice for two, and maybe some Peking ravioli). Here's what he picked:

WHITE

Jacob's Creek Sparkling Brut (750mL), $11
It’s time to re-train your brain on Australian wine. It’s not all Shiraz and kangaroos. This bubbly is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, two varieties that produce some sick high-end Aussie wines. It offers bright citrus and mineral notes. Saber before serving.

Franz Etz 2012 Grüner Veltliner (1L), $12
No one can pronounce this grape, but you can: Grew-ner-velt-leen-er. This international white delivers more than just stone fruit and bright minerality: it has a twist top, is low in alcohol (perfect for pint-sized pours), and boasts “perky acidity”, which means it pairs well with an array of foods and the group of awkward NYU juniors crashin’ the house party. Extra points for bringing a liter of wine over a measly 750mL.

Yalumba 2012 Y Series Viognier (750mL), $11
You've never tasted Chinese food until you've paired it with this Viognier. Candied-ginger and honey-suckle notes elevate your MSG high, and suddenly you’re buying up Chinese rice fields over eBay, because “Y” not?

Anjos de Portugal 2012 Vinho Verde (750mL), $10 
Wait, Portugal has been making wines other than Porto for the last 4,000yrs?? Yes, captain. Vinho Verde makes a light, lively, straw-colored, citrusy, and crisp white. This one is perfect as an aperitif -- consider it your Spring porch-pounder.

RED

Mark West Pinot Noir (750mL) (Any vintage), $9-$12
Go West, young man. This is the all-purpose, all-American, budget-buddy red wine -- medium bodied with bright red-cherry and sweet oak flavors, it makes for a welcome aperitif before a marathon of True Blood Detective; is superbly tangy alongside herb-seasoned rack of lamb, and has a touch of earthiness to pair with your date’s quinoa salad; or half a bottle adds that “hearty” to your hearty stew. If Mark West were a fictional character, Horace Greeley would be his God.

Atteca 2009 Garnacha de Fuego Old Vine (750mL), $9-$12
This wine is so sexy -- layered with juicy black and red berry flavors -- George Clooney once invited it to a special screening of Batman & Robin, and IT REFUSED. 

Côtes du Rhône 2012 "Rive Droite, Rive Gauche" (750mL), $8-$11
Let’s up your ambidextrous wine game. This plush and spicy red is produced by Les Vignerons D’ Estézargues, a co-op known for making natural wines. It’s a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault, sourced from the right (droite) and left (gauche) banks of the Rhone River in the South of France. Think of how impressive you’ll look if you can explain all that while swirling a glass in your right hand and then in your left, with equal precision. Tell your friends you practiced while watching Sideways, so they don’t beat you up. Or maybe so they do beat you up. You have complicated relationships.

Las Rocas 2009 Garnacha (750mL), $11-$12
“Hemingway loved this wine,” you tell an intimate gathering at the party. “And so does Javier Bardem, who shared a bottle with me at a recent Oscar party that I hosted for the King of the North.” All lies of course, but this is true: Grenache (or Garnacha, as it is called in Spain) is king among wine geeks right now and this one comes from 80yr-old vines that produce tiny berries packed with flavor and a fresh, juicy wine of dark cherry, anise, and savory notes.

Clos Siguier 2011 Cahors (750mL), $10-$12
Enough already with all those Argentinian Malbecs you keep bringing to the party -- if the people hosting know anything about wine, they’ll think you’re boring. Show up with this French gem and make sure to tell everyone: “It’s the best Malbec from France, earthy and fruity, and the French have been growing Malbec for centuries, long before Argentinian winemakers.

Alamos 2011 Malbec (750mL), $9-$12
Remember what I just said about Malbec from Argentina? I was kidding, of course. Anyone who bashes Argentine Malbec is an amateur and a traitor to wine connoisseurs. Alamos’ grapes are planted in the foothills of the Andes, as high as 5,000ft above sea level -- a view that would shame old man Hearst. The wine is full bodied and juicy with raspberry, mocha, and sweet spice notes.

Goats do Roam 2013 Red Table Wine (750mL), $9-$11
Like the goose that laid a golden egg, this South African wine estate is in possession of priceless goats -- 600 of them, who mysteriously churn out wine instead of milk. Yeah, that’s bullsh*t, but seriously, how awesome would that be? The 2013 vintage is all Fair Trade Certified grapes -- a blend of Shiraz, Mourvedre, Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan, and some grape called Durif, fermented with yeasts from the Rhône Valley, this wine will have you beh-beh-behgging for more. Sorry.

Crosby 2010 Cab Sauv (750mL), $9-$11
The guy who proclaims that there are no good California Cabs under $20 is about to be kicked in the mouth with intense blackberry, plum, and black currant flavors. Let this Cab serve as a reminder of where you began once you start dropping Benjamins on cult Cabs from Napa.

Jonathan Cristaldi is uncomfortable in anything other than a three-piece bespoke suit, of which he owns five to 10, depending on when you ask. During the first half of his decade-long NYC tenure, Cristaldi produced and performed in hypnotic, whiskey-fueled spectacles as "Jonny Cigar", before starting The Noble Rot, a clandestine traveling saloon that merged performance with "legitimate drinking". He currently resides in LA, is deputy editor at TastingPanelMag.com, and mines for gold on the weekends. Brazenly follow him @NobleRotNYC.