It's finally starting to warm up enough to sip wine on the patio, but those cooler evening temperatures keep us reaching for bottles of red instead of a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Mandy Oser, owner of Ardesia wine bar in New York City, shares her picks for affordable red wines ($15 or less) that bridge the gap between winter's chill and the first sunny breezes of spring.
It might be a mouthful to say, but Zweigelt, Austria's most widely planted grape, makes a wine that's a pleasure to drink. With its light-bodied flavor and peppery notes, Zweigelt is ideal with cured meats like dried salami, or even a pepperoni pizza. Oser recommends seeking out recent vintages when shopping for Zweigelt. You can easily find great bottles for under $15; check out the Zweigelt from Austrian producer Nittnaus Blauer. Find a bottle.
The spicy grape known as Grenache in the U.S. and France and Garnacha in Spain makes for appealingly tart but velvety spring reds. Its lip-smacking fruitiness and gorgeous ruby red hue are on display in Artadi's 2012 Artazuri Garnacha from Navarra, Spain ($12). Throw some smoky gouda or cheddar on your burger for a great pairing. Find a bottle.
The wineries of New York's Finger Lakes are an often-overlooked resource for bottles like Lamoreaux Landing's 2011 Cabernet Franc ($13). Its light color and body are reminiscent of rosé, but this wine has a deeper palate that showcases tart rhubarb notes. Look for unoaked Cabernet Franc when seeking out bottles, Oser says; she also recommends trying Loire Valley versions. Find a bottle.
Although it has become a popular (and pricey) grape on the West Coast, Pinot Noir from Argentina ($15) is still a good value. Saurus Pinot Noir from Argentina's Familia Schroeder is one of Oser's favorites for its bright cherry flavor, but it has enough hearty backbone for cooler nights around the fire pit. Find a bottle.
Oser admits to being obsessed with Sicilian reds lately, and she loves the complexity of the Nerello Mascalese grape varietal found in Feudi Branciforti's 2011 vintage ($12). With earthy, floral notes that bring out the wine's berry flavors, this is a stellar choice for pairing with grilled meats. Find a bottle.
Another Sicilian red wine to try this spring is the 2012 Occhipinti 'Tami' Frappato ($15), which showcases the distinctive but lesser-known Frappato grape, an Italian varietal with hints of strawberry. This lighter-bodied, thirst-quenching red would be ideal for outdoor barbecues right up through Memorial Day weekend. Find a bottle.
Once considered more of a punchline than a serious wine, sparkling red Lambrusco has been making a comeback in recent years. High-quality Italian Lambruscos offer effervescence and grown-up refreshment that's not overly sweet. Oser suggests uncorking the dry but fruity Becco Rosso Lambrusco from Fiorini winery ($15) as a happy-hour starter or cheese-plate pairing. Find a bottle.