Small business: I’ll drink to that. Rhonda Abrams on the best wines under $10

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Here’s a dilemma most wine drinkers face: You want to buy a good bottle of wine, but you don’t want to spend a fortune.

And, if you’re like me, you’d like to help support a fellow small business owner, choosing a pleasurable wine from a small winery at an affordable price. How do you figure out which one to buy from all those on your local liquor store’s shelves?

The judges of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition have suggestions to solve our dilemma. Since it claims to be the largest competition for American wines, with 63 judges spending more than four days rating more than 7,000 entries from 28 states, and with one of the only wine competitions with categories specifically for lower- and moderately-priced wines, it can reasonably be stated that they have named the “best wines in America” under $10.

Since its humble beginning in 1983 as the Cloverdale (Calif.) Citrus Fair Wine Competition, the competition has grown in prestige. Winning can be a major boost for a small winery, increasing both sales and their reputation.

“Winning puts me on the map. It gives me credibility,” said Peter Tonti, whose Tonti Family Wines 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel Artisan Series won the Red Sweepstakes award.

Tonti Family Wines  is a small business, producing only 500 cases a year. Since winning, they’ve been getting orders from Florida to Canada.

“I’m new in the business, and I’m 77 years old,” Tonti says. “I don’t know how hard I want to work, but there’s already been increased demand.”

This was truly a delicious Zinfandel, as was their slightly less-expensive Old Vine Zinfandel Reserve. Priced at $60 and $50 respectively, they were at the higher end, price-wise, of most wines competing.

The overwhelming number of wines in the competition were priced considerably lower. Judges rated wines at a wide range of price points by varietal, primarily at prices most of us look for. So they’ve done a lot of the homework in finding the “best” wines under $10, $20 or $30.

The Public Tasting of the Competition, held Feb. 18 in San Francisco, featured more than 300 wineries, so I could not only try the winners but discover some other terrific options. I particularly enjoyed the wines from a small winery in Sonoma, Calif., called Lucinda and Millie (www.lucindaandmillie.com).  Both their Chardonnay ($15) and Cabernet ($16) were organic, appealing and nicely balanced. And I’ll definitely be looking to buy the slightly citrusy Sauvignon Blanc ($14) from the small Steelhead Vineyards.

Typically, in most wine competitions, judges look for an overall winner regardless of price. But that tends to favor expensive wines. The very best cabernet sauvignon, for example, is likely to come from a winery that grows or buys expensive grapes, ages wine in first-use French oak barrels and cellars it for a number of years before release. That all costs money, making it virtually impossible for a less expensive, but still enjoyable, cab to compete.

Source by usatoday…