This time of the year can be tough: the holiday decorations have been put away, there are months of sub-zero temperatures ahead, and the December bills start piling up.
Which means that while you might want -- or, depending on how bad the bills are, need -- a little something in your glass, chances are you don't want to shell out an arm and a leg.
Of course, there are plenty of wines in the $15-and-under price range that are excellent values. You can always do better than the bottled/boxed-and-blended plonk that comes from parts unknown.
And while not every sub-$15 wine will deliver a home run, they are certainly worth a shot in most categories.
Here are a half-dozen value-priced wines I tried recently. Not surprisingly, it was a mixed bag of studs and duds...
BOUVET LADUBAY NV BRUT DE BLANC (Saumur, France -- $14.74, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Made in the same traditional method of secondary fermentation in the bottle as Champagne, the Bouvet Ladubay comes from the Loire valley region southwest of Champagne and is made with the Chenin Blanc grape rather than Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir. Pale gold in colour, this bubbly delivers green apple, honey, pear and a light waxy note on the nose. It's dry and light-bodied, with that pronounced honey-note offering an interesting twist on the crisp lime and green apple notes. It's not as complex as French Champagne, but then again it's a fraction of the price. Tasty stuff. 3.5/5
PELEE ISLAND WINERY 2011 LUCKY STONES WHITE (Ontario -- $13.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
A Sauvignon Blanc-Chardonnay-Scheurebe white blend, the Lucky Stones is pale straw in colour, with herbal, red apple, lemon rind and tart peach notes on the nose. It's a crisp, light-bodied white wine driven by the tart, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc grape, while the Chardonnay adds some texture and the Scheurebe some sweetness. It's completely serviceable for the price, and would work well with lighter hors d'oeuvres, salads and lighter fish dishes. 2.5/5
J.P. CHENET 2011 RESERVE PINOT NOIR (France -- $13.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Surprisingly dark in colour for a Pinot Noir, the J.P. Chenet has a bit of an odd nose: stewed cherries and plums, caramel and light leafy notes all come through. It's light-plus bodied and leads with blueberry flavours, yet retains that slightly cooked component on the palate, with stewed plum/cherry notes persisting and with some light tannin. Pinot Noir rarely succeeds at this price point; unfortunately, the Chenet is no exception. 1.5/5
FEUDO BADALA 2011 NEGROAMARO (Puglia, Italy -- $11.23, Liquor Marts and beyond)
While the Feudo Badala was the cheapest... er, most "value-priced" of the wines tasted this week, it was among the best. Black cherry, blueberry, toffee, raisin and spice notes on the nose show good complexity and ripeness. It's a medium-plus bodied, juicy red, with plum, blueberry and blackberry flavours playing well off light acidity and tannins. There's an underlying plush, mocha note to the Feudo Badala that adds to the complexity, which (for the price) is quite impressive. A great pasta or pizza wine. 3.5/5
NEDERBURG 2011 WINEMASTER'S RESERVE CABERNET SAUVIGNON (Western Cape, South Africa -- $13.49, Liquor Marts and beyond)
While many entry-level South African reds run a bit too smoky/tarry for my liking, this Western Cape Cabernet Sauvignon brings good balance. Cassis and spearmint are charming on the nose, while that hint of smoke works well with black pepper and leather aromas. There's plenty of ripe dark berries on the medium-plus bodied palate, as well as dark chocolate, mocha and, yes, a hint of smokiness, but it's not overwhelming. Try with a hearty stew. 3/5
BARON PHILIPPE DE ROTHSCHILD 2010 MOUTON CADET (Bordeaux, France -- $13.05, Liquor Marts and beyond)
This entry-level Bordeaux blend is mostly Merlot, with the balance made up of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Plum, espresso, blackberry, blueberry and white pepper notes are pretty aromatics-wise. It's a full-bodied red that brings plum, blueberry, and cassis, with good underlying structure thanks to the tannin. Like the Bouvet Ladubay, the Mouton Cadet doesn't have the complexity of pricier first-growth Bordeaux, but an impressive wine for the price. 3.5/5