You want a quality red wine at nice price.
It can be done as long as you accept good rather than great. Here are ways to go if you are splurge squeamish:
• Malbec. Best come from Argentina and are smooth, lush, moderate oak, and were values even before Argentine peso plunged to make them even more affordable.
• Non-Napa cabernet sauvignon. Paso Robles, Lodi, Washington’s Columbia Valley, Argentina, Australia, Chile all produce excellent cabs. Cab is world’s most-planted variety, so no surprise many places deliver quality bargains.
• Shiraz/syrah. France, Australia, Spain produce lion’s share of the Rhône varietal. Climate and cellar techniques deliver different wines, but inkiness and drinkability shine through no matter how the country spells the grape’s name.
• Zinfandel. Grape is primitivo in Italy, but California is where it claims the world stage and those dudes call it zin. It is a wonderful red, but also is massively successful as low-alcohol blush—white zinfandel. Some diss white zin, but I give thumbs up to whatever wine you enjoy. That said, I don’t drink white zin. Unless that is all that is available.
• Pinot noir. Why do so many people offer servile homage to pinot noir? Obsequious genuflections reflect a yearning for reds that do not pound the palate and erase all nuance. Burgundy and Washington State produce etherial PN wonders that flirtatiously pleasure your palate without marching through your mouth like a conquering army. Not cheap, but you can find some for less than $30.
• Red blends. Forget pure varietals, great wines are blends of various varietals that complement each other: Bordeaux—cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and others; Rhône blends—grenache, syrah, mouvèdre (GSM). White blends shine, too, but that is another column.
• HandCraft Artisan Collection Malbec 2012: Red wine for those not into red wine. $12
• Pascual Toso Malbec Mendoza 2013: Consistent quality, easy drinker. $14
• E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône 2010: Layer of depth; consistent GSM maker. $14-19
• Viña Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua Valley 2013: Chilean cab with splash of merlot, good value palate pleaser. $18-23
Last round: There are two types of people in the world: People you drink wine with. And people who are the reason you drink wine.