For overachieving, underpriced bottles of wine, stifle your local pride and look beyond the state’s borders—way beyond. Decades of (largely well-earned) hype and the homogenizing effects of a $23-billion-a-year business mean that it can be difficult to find a California wine that boasts its own distinct character but doesn’t cost more than a 20 spot.
“California is tough,” says Steven Sherman, owner of William Cross Wine merchants in Russian Hill. “Fun and small producers are coming out with wine, but you have to catch them” before glowing press causes their prices to explode. You’d fare better with the old World, where table wines tend to be less overripe and manipulated. For simple wines made well, look to northern Italian regions like Trentino and Piedmont, parts of France like Beaujolais, or northern Spain.
Sellers like William Cross, Biondivino, and the online Somm Select all make an effort to stock affordable European wines.
Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco magazine