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Five red wines for under $10, and which ones are worth trying

It’s a mid-September evening and the field corn was starting to turn; thin green veins grasped at the lower half of the dried brown stalks. The weather outside was chilly, rainy and overcast. Perfect for wine tasting.

A nearly insurmountable task lay ahead of me. Drink five bottles of red wine under $10 and write tasting notes for you, dear reader.

After a grueling process of selecting the wine—i.e. finding a few bottles of wine under $10 and hoping for the best—my family and I sat down at the kitchen table; a batch of chicken cacciatore quietly simmered behind us while we hunted through the five bottles.

Each of the wines we tasted may be purchased locally and the cost of all of the wine is original sale price.

Wine 1 — Crane Lake: Sangiovese 2008. Cost: $3.99

A collective groan escaped all six of us when this wine was poured; the color of the wine was brown and disappointing. I reluctantly took a whiff only to discover that there wasn’t a strong aroma, rather a subtle earthiness. Based on what I’d observed so far, I was surprised by the nice big ripe fruit flavor present upfront. For four bucks all you’re expecting to get out of a bottle of wine is a label on both sides and a government warning, but this wine proves why you shouldn’t judge a book — or bottle — on its cover.

Wine 2 — Borsao: Garanacha 2011. Cost: $6.99

This wine was the only non-California wine we sampled and it more than lived up to its spicy Spanish roots. Once this wine was allowed to breathe, the presence of spice and dark fruit peeked out. However, I still needed to breathe deep to find the aromas. The mid-palate of this wine was smooth and velvety with ripe, dark red fruit that lingered on and on and finished with a nice spicy flavor. When you drink this wine you should expect to work a bit to enjoy every aspect of the wine, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

Wine 3 — Sterling Vintner’s Collection: Meritage 2011. Cost: $9.99

The magnificent dark red color — like a ripe Bing cherry — of this wine was easily the best of all of the wines. The bold aroma of this wine was dominated by a pop of ripe red fruit which was reciprocated by a smooth, full and ripe red fruit in the mid-palate that caressed the roof of my mouth. The fruit flavors transitioned into a flash of tannins and alcohol — which added a bit of bite below my cheek bones — and finished richly and smoothly.

Wine 4 — Redwood Creek: Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. Cost: $5.99

The aroma of this wine stood out among all of the others; pleasant fruits with undertones of oak dominated the aroma. By the intense aroma, I expected there to be more fruit upfront in the mid-palate, but only hints were present. However, the wine finished with delicious vanilla and oaky flavors. The wine tasted a little hotter (higher in alcohol) than the advertised 13% ABV, which lent a slight spicy bite at the end.

Wine 5 — Blackstone Cabernet Sauvignon. Cost: $9.99

Thin hints — mostly veiled — of smoke and oak were present in the mostly bland aroma of this wine, while a slight alcohol aroma lingered near the end of the bouquet. A lot of light red fruit dominated the front of the flavor, but a disappointing lack of oak and tannins followed in the finish. The label suggested that cinnamon could be found in the finish, which was true, but only long after the wine left my mouth.

Overall, among the six of us, the Borsao was voted the best of the five, with the Redwood following closely. Interestingly, the two women voted the Sterling their favorite while the Redwood was one of their least favorite; the exact opposite was true for the average of the four men. The Crane Lake was the most surprising find of the group and, for the cost, is well worth a purchase if you’re on a budget. The Blackstone was unanimously voted the worst of those sampled, proving — again — that price doesn’t equal quality.

Oh, and if you were wondering, the aromas and flavors of the homemade chicken cacciatore were the ultimate capstone to the evening.

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