Brian Elliott: Californian wine regions friendly on your wallet

Brian Elliott goes on the hunt for wallet-friendly wines away from California's expensive Napa Valley region.

Published 24th Aug 2015
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

Wine from California’s Napa Valley is expensive. The area’s limited size (and, hence, high land prices), along with Americans’ reluctance to “cheap out” on wine, helps make it the state’s leader in price as well as quality.

Wallets, then, argue for heading instead to regions like the Central Coast AVA (American Viticultural Area). Despite a multiplicity of micro-climates and soil combinations, the vines there are still largely controlled – Napa-like – by Pacific Ocean influences.

The McManis family operation is able to produce its impressive range of inexpensive wines by sourcing fruit from areas like this across California. Consider, for instance, the perfumed and mellow 2013 Nettie Viognier (£7.49 at Majestic) with its mango and peach flavours, balancing grapefruit acidity and syrup-like orchard fruit texture.

"Wallets argue for heading to Californian
regions like the Central Coast AVA"

Another wine drawing on a patchwork of vineyards (this time all within the Central Coast region) is the juicy and aromatic 2013 Jack Hammer Pinot Noir (£16.95 at Using contributions from cool parts of areas like Monterey and Santa Barbara, it brings pinot with assertive raspberry and plum fruit, bold acidity, nutmeg and slightly earthy-centred substance and a long, leisurely finish.

South of Monterey, you will find the prime Rhône-style reds of Paso Robles but the rich 2013 Chronic Cellars Purple Paradise (£12.74 at Majestic) is zinfandel led. It combines bright, fresh and floral red plum and raspberry fruit with touches of vanilla, menthol and chocolate and unobtrusive tannins.

For my top pick from the region, head to Contra Costa at the northern end of the AVA to savour the intense and smooth 2011 Viano Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (£14.95 at Here you find bright black cherry, red currant and juniper flavours embellished with rounded hints of black pepper and cinnamon, firm acidity, but only the gentlest of tannins.

For regular recommendations on good value wines, go to my website,


2014 Domaine Bousquet Malbec
Mendoza, Argentina, 14 per cent
Organic wines sometimes have “organic” aromas but those in this example fade quickly, allowing concentrated raspberry and bramble fruit to shine through brightly. The high altitude of its homeland gives the wine nicely balanced acidity supported by a twist of tannin and herby, clove-centred mellowness. £10.50 at Drinkmonger, Edinburgh and in Pitlochry

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Borgo Molino Prosecco Brut
Treviso, Italy, 11 per cent
Treviso is south of Prosecco’s centre of Conegliano Valdobbiadene and this version has slightly less sugar than the more common “Extra Dry” versions. It also contains an attractive, dry, savoury undercurrent which supplements – rather than replaces – that classic fresh, gentle, soft apple, lively mouth-feel but also adds touches of brioche.
£10.95 at Vino Wines, Edinburgh

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