Dining Out 5 minutes 02 October 2020

Top Affordable Wine List Picks

We ask sommeliers from MICHELIN-recommended restaurants across California to recommend something great to drink for the season.

sommelier California wine

If you find yourself drinking more wine these days, you’re not alone. Retail wine sales across the US are through the roof. Unfortunately, the pandemic has decimated restaurant wine sales (and put a lot of sommeliers out of work or on furlough), but thanks to revised carry-out laws, restaurants that have re-opened for takeout or outdoor dining are also opening up their coveted cellars for at-home consumption. We asked sommeliers and wine directors at six MICHELIN-recommended restaurants across California to spill on their favorite wines for $50* or less. These are hidden gems from some of the country's top wine lists—perfectly paired with that restaurant's takeout or as an elevating finishing touch to your home-cooked meal.

*Prices in this list are based on restaurant beverage menus and were correct at the time of writing. Restaurants have markups on beverages; it's how many stay afloat. These bottles may retail for less—if you can find them!

Iris Rowlee. Photo courtesy of Iris Rowlee.
Iris Rowlee. Photo courtesy of Iris Rowlee.

Iris Rowlee

Certified sommelier and wine director at Kore Restaurant Group, which operates One MICHELIN Star Octavia and MICHELIN Plate Frances in San Francisco.

THE WINE: 2018 Listán Blanco, ‘Trenzado’, Suertes del Marqués, Tenerife, Canary Islands (RPWA rating 93+) — $50/bottle

"There are 40 magnificent and little-known indigenous grape varieties growing on the Canary Islands. Most of these gnarled vines are over 100 years old, and some are as old as 250. Due to the island’s isolation, these vines were never exposed to the root louse Phylloxera, which destroyed 90 percent of the world’s grape vines in the late 19th century. This white wine is primarily Listán Blanco (known as Palomino Fino in Jerez, Spain, where it’s the main grape used in sherry production) with a small amount of Pedro Ximénez and a “vidueño” (field blend) of other indigenous varieties." 

TASTING NOTES: The flinty, volcanic minerality, zesty citrus and herbal aromatics lead to a lifted, slightly nutty note on the finish that would pair well with something like an almond and olive gremolata-drizzled grilled fish. The wine feels as if those centenarian vines are talking through it—great complexity, lots of character, no pretense, and they take their time. Give this wine a decant, let it settle in, then pour a glass and be patient as its story unfolds. It’s worth it. 

: 2018 Teroldego Rotaliano Kretzer, De Vescovi Ulzbach, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy — $38/bottle

"One of my favorite late summer/fall rosés is this deep hued beauty from the far alpine reaches of northern Italy, in a region called Alto Adige (South Tyrol). The grape is an ancient, hearty-skinned mountain variety related to Syrah. The family producer De Vescovi Ulzbach has been in the little sub region of Campo Rotaliano since the mid 1600s. This area, considered Teroldego’s grand cru, is a fertile plain fed by the rocky, granite alluvial deposits brought down from the surrounding Alps’ peaks by the Noce River on one side and Adige River on the other."

TASTING NOTES: I love this wine just on its own. It has a knack for disappearing quickly once opened, but its beauty is how well its full and savory palette pairs with a diverse array of dishes to which a lighter style would not hold up. With mouthwatering wild strawberry and dried alpine herbs, it pairs well with the likes of slow roasted rosemary pork and fall root vegetables, and makes a great Thanksgiving aperitivo. 

Joo Lee. Photo Courtesy of Saison.
Joo Lee. Photo Courtesy of Saison.

Joo Lee

Certified advanced sommelier and Masters candidate; wine director at Two MICHELIN Star Saison in San Francisco. 

THE WINE: 2010 Château de Brézé, Clos Tue-Loup, Saumur Rouge — $48/bottle

"It’s no secret that wine lists at MICHELIN-starred restaurants can be pretty intimidating. At first glance, they seem like long manuscripts with unpronounceable words and incredible prices. While high prices cannot be avoided with most wines coming from regions like Burgundy and Bordeaux, I promise you, there are always hidden gems embedded in these dissertations. Château de Brézé is a historical estate in the Loire Valley that was leased to the Lambert Family in 2009. Since then, they’ve been producing some of the best expressions of Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc from the Anjou-Saumur for amazing value."

TASTING NOTES: This 2010 Cabernet Franc has notes of dark berries with savory green herbs that are perfumed with red flowers and subtle tones of mushrooms. With a decade of age, this bottle is great with foods that have been touched by fire, and is one of my favorite styles of red with green vegetables.

: 2017 Domaine Gerard Charvin Côtes du Rhône, Le Poutet — $48/bottle.

"The full Angler wine list is available at Saison Smokehouse [a casual barbecue collaboration between Saison and sister restaurant One MICHELIN Star Angler]. Domaine Charvin has been around since the late 1800s but it wasn’t until 1990 that Laurent Charvin began bottling and selling their own wines. I love these wines for being some of the most traditional, cleanest, and transparent impressions of Grenache at affordable prices." 

TASTING NOTES: This 2017 bottling is riding the wave of recent good vintages in the Rhône Valley. It displays the juicy, red fruited qualities that Grenache can offer while still having sweet scented blossoms that finish with just the right amount of tannins. This is a great style of wine for barbecue.

Jim Rollston, MS. Photo by Kelly Bylsma.
Jim Rollston, MS. Photo by Kelly Bylsma.

Jim Rollston, MS

Master Sommelier and wine director at Three MICHELIN Star Manresa in Los Gatos. 

THE WINE: 2016 Ziereisen, Gutedel Heugumber — $34/bottle ($24/pick-up)

"Ziereisen is a quality-obsessed grower in Germany’s southernmost sector of Baden, near the border with Alsace and Switzerland. Gutedel is the local name for the Swiss grape Chasselas, and this wine shows just how good this grape can be, with its nutty flavors and long finish."

TASTING NOTES: This wine has aromas of white flowers and tastes of tart citrus and toasted almond. It has an incredibly long finish for a wine at this price point.

: 2017 Domaine de Fontsainte Corbières Rouge — $37/bottle

"This is a wine that I have been buying at home and for restaurants for 20 years. It always delivers amazing character and distinctiveness as well as value. It’s based around Carignan grown in the best sector of Corbières, the commune of Boutenac. While Carignan can be rustic and tannic, the old vines at Fontsainte are fermented by carbonic maceration, keeping the wine lively and fresh, while the Grenache and Syrah in the blend provide power."

TASTING NOTES: Very deep purple in the glass, with a vivid pink rim. Aromas of blackberry and plum, hints of leather, clove and damp soil. The wine is surprisingly elegant on the palate considering its color and wild southern aroma.

Marsella Charron. Photo Courtesy of Harbor House.
Marsella Charron. Photo Courtesy of Harbor House.

Marsella Charron

Certified sommelier and beverage director at One MICHELIN Star Harbor House.

THE WINE: 2019 Nikolaihof 'Zwickl' Wachau Grüner Veltliner

"I am pretty excited to be pouring the Nikolaihof 'Zwickl' Wachau Grüner Veltliner 2019 from the Kamptal region of Austria right now. This wine offers some beautiful peach fruit and rocky mineral tones that I find so captivating. Nikolaihof is known for pure expressions with ability."

TASTING NOTES: Grüner Veltliner is known for its pairing versatility and its particular affinity to vegetables. This wine can also hold up to fish and meat dishes due to its rich texture. It truly can run the gamut with pairings, so I recommend exploring with it. I’ve paired it with salt-cured vegetables with smoked Laychee cheese from Pennyroyal Farm.

: 2017 Ostertag Les Vieilles Vignes de Sylvaner — both $60/bottle, $15/glass

"Another wine that I’m obsessed with right now is the Ostertag, Les Vieilles Vignes de Sylvaner 2017 out of Alsace. For being an inexpensive wine, this bottling offers so much to ponder. A creaminess akin to key lime curd, a touch of zesty bitterness, rocky minerality, richness, bright zippiness, all wrapped into one little package

: One of the greatest joys of summer in my opinion is fruit & BBQ season coming together. This wine would be the perfect companion to hot weather, a patio, and a grilled peach and arugula salad or barbecued shrimp. 

Matt Cirne. Photo Courtesy of Dora Tsui.
Matt Cirne. Photo Courtesy of Dora Tsui.

Matt Cirne

Certified sommelier and beverage director at Thee MICHELIN Star Quince in San Francisco. 

THE WINE: 2017 Azpillaga Urarte, Viña el Pago, Rioja — $13/glass, $40/bottle

"Rioja is the latest among a large number of classic appellations that are seeing a new generation of winemakers embrace organic farming and light intervention in the cellar. Viña del Pago is a great example of traditionally styled Rioja produced in this manner."

TASTING NOTES: A recent find, this is a somewhat classically styled Rioja if not a little wilder and a touch lighter than what one might expect from the region. Vinified with whole clusters the wine is both fruity and savory—complex far beyond its price point.

: 2018 Chateau Jonc-Blanc Les Sens du Fruit Rouge Bergerac — $12/glass, $39/bottle

"A phenomenal Domaine run impeccably by Isabelle and Franck Pascal in an oft overlooked wine region." 

TASTING NOTES: Sauvignon, Semillon, and Sauvignon Gris are loaded with juicy lime and tons of salinity. There is a kiss of smoky reduction that lends the wine some depth not expected at this price point. There's ripping acidity that is balanced out with weight and texture in the wine. Super versatile at the table and incredibly refreshing. 

Victoria O'Bryan. Photo Courtesy of Addison Restaurant.
Victoria O'Bryan. Photo Courtesy of Addison Restaurant.

Victoria O’Bryan

Certified advanced sommelier and wine director at One MICHELIN Star Addison in San Diego.

THE WINE: 2015 Le Rocher des Violettes, Montlouis-sur-Loire— $20/glass

: This is a style of Chenin Blanc hailing from France’s Loire Valley, a region known for its vast and enticing range of wine styles. This bottling offers a fragrant nose of yellow apples and crushed rocks with a palate reminiscent of sweet pear, wax, and honey.

: 2016 Pax, "The Hermit," North Coast, California — $25/glass

TASTING NOTES: This Syrah is a fantastic expression of California’s cooler northern climates, with savory notes of black peppercorn and olive that play nicely off a backdrop of black raspberry and tart plum.

Hero Image: Photo by LAMBROS LYRARAKIS on Unsplash

Dining Out

Keep Exploring - Stories we think you will enjoy reading

Subscribe to our newsletter and be the first to get news and updates about the MICHELIN Guide


Follow the MICHELIN Guide on social media for updates and behind-the-scenes information