Monday, March 4, 2024
Food & Drink

Five unforgettable California wines for the home cellar

When you go to a restaurant you can easily spend $50 on a very ordinary bottle of wine. But what kind of quality could $50 get you for your home cellar? Here are five hand-chosen, made in California, recommendations.

Walking into a wine store can be quite overwhelming—with all the options and busy labels to navigate, it’s like speaking another language. Not only is there the grape variety, the region it’s grown, the year it’s harvested, how it’s made and stored—all variables of how a wine will taste—but personal taste is a HUGE factor all its own.

As an avid wine drinker who wears comfortable shoes, I am here to make things simple and to give strong suggestions for your next $50 wine purchase. Do I believe to have a wonderful bottle of wine that you need to spend $50? No, but if you want to get something of excellent quality and impressive complexity then this price point is a guarantee.

Below, I have selected five wines I find exceptional at around $50 that are grown and produced in California.

Not only is California one of the best known wine regions in the United States, it also has a wine culture that is in constant evolution. California does not live under the same restraints of tradition and law as European Winemakers do. California can grow whatever grape they want and make the wine in experimental ways if they feel so inclined; without any repercussions. Within this free space experimentation leads to innovation and creative expression, something that every culture, industry or business needs to progress. 

Here are some California girls that are undeniable (Katy Perry reference!) 

The Banshee Heintz Vineyard 2015

So this Chardonnay-nay-nay is a total beach babe; grown on a vineyard only 8 miles from the Pacific Ocean in Sonoma  County. This is everything you want from a weekend on Fire Island, straight summer (not a sexual preference just an expression boys). This is what summer dreams are made of… ripe Meyer lemon and salty minerality.

Please take note you must get the HEINTZ VINEYARD Banshee because Banshee makes a Chardonnay labeled Sonoma coast. Here’s a quick wine theory lesson, when a wine is sourced from multiple vineyards within a region and not a single vineyard the quality goes down (not that they are bad!). When a wine is made from a specific vineyard on a certain plot of land the wine has more complexity and character because it really reflects the terroir (please look that word up, it’s one of the most important).

The Heinz Vineyard Chardonnay is from a certain plot of land which allows the winemaker to make the wine accordingly with knowledge of how that specific area’s grapes were effected by the growing years weather, sun, soil, temperature (terroir). 2015 yields from this vineyard were extremely low but that made the grapes more concentrated with flavor and the quality of the wine AMAZING! The wine has an acidity that has been described as electric and could be aged for 10 to 20 years! A Chard for now and a Chard for later! Wow, I’m out doing myself!

Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2014 North coast, California

Everyone loves Bubbles! You, me, babies, dogs, housewives on Bravo… so basically everyone. Not all bubbles are created equal and Schramsberg popped right into my mind when thinking of this list.

First of all, let’s clear up what ‘Blanc de Blanc’ means. Literal French translation is white wine from white grapes. But you know the wine world with all of its language that infers something we should know but never do. 

The term Blanc de Blanc comes from the Champagne region in France (yes, champagne can only be from Champagne in France which is a place) where most champagnes are made form chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. Blanc de Blanc lets the consumer know it was only made from white grapes, primarily chardonnay and sometimes other obscure grapes not necessary to know for this lesbian, I mean lesson! In this case, the wine is made from only chardonnay grapes and is made by the same methods of Champagne. 

Methode Champenoise (ANOTHER WINE TERM!) means that the second fermentation happens in the bottle, creating more complex and desired flavors. By the way, second fermentation is what what makes bubbles bubble that make us feel fancy, sexy and cool.

Baletto Pinot Noir Sexton Hill Vineyard, Russian River CA

This pinot noir is the best sexton I have ever had! It’s a single vineyard wine that just keeps on giving, like a relationship we’ve always wanted.

Grown in Sonoma’s prime real estate for pinot noir called the Russian River Valley. This Russian had nothing to do with the election and all to do with perfection. Hot days and cool nights allows Sexton to preserve acidity and have a precise balance of fruit. When you stick your nose into this tall glass of Sexton you can smell a spicy musk, dry earth and black tea; an instant flash back to the partying days of the 70’s. Sexton has a long and intense finish which I know we all prefer.

Jokes aside, the wine if F-ing fantastic and even better is the people who make it. The Balletto Family are real hard working farmers with great senses of humor; which I have seen to be rare in California. My experience in California showed me that there are many vineyards are owned by trust fund babies that have a vineyard as if it were trendy accessory. I admire that this is their livelihood; they make fantastic wine with a humble and welcoming attitude. Plus we are friends on Instagram, I like all their photos and they like all of mine. Point and case.

Niner Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Paso Robles CA

Where to begin…

This Cab is absolutely a man. He’s in his late forties, smack in the middle of his prime, well established and knows himself. Niner Cabernet Sauvignon reminds me of an early 2000’s version of George Clooney; neither overly masculine or incredibly fruity. On the nose you smell dried herbs, dark fruit and tobacco just like a really good hangover. The palate is dark chocolate covered cherries and sage, just so f-ing delicious. This wine’s tannins, fruit and boldness of flavor are effortlessly balanced.  Two to three glasses will go down with out a thought as if you were drinking a glass full of Clooney.

Grown in Paso Robles, an understated Wine region within California. The Paso Robles region produces tons of wines at reasonable prices for the incredible experiences it delivers to the palate. They are far from the gluttonous high priced big brother wine from the Napa region.  

I’ve spent sometime with the owners son Andy, that is never selling BS just facilitating a honest experience.

The winery is consciously self sustaining in utter respect to the environment, the opposite of Scott Pruit.

Chapplet Mountain Cuvée 2015 St Helena, Napa California 

If a wine could embody the smoothness of Nina Simone and Justin Timberlake, the Mountain Cuvee is it. Grown in the mountains of Napa Valley this wine is crafted in St. Helena. 

This blend has all the red grape varietals grown in Bordeaux; Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc. With contributing aspects of each of these grapes it allows the wine to be very much alive with classic soulful notes.  Not only will the Spicey red fruit and cacao flavor ‘show you a good thing’ but the mouth coating smokey long finish will ‘put some sugar in your bowl’.

This wine is perfect for a small bougie gathering or for a night alone on the couch catching up on the latest Drag race.

if you’re a light weight and can’t finish the bottle, no problem  you can keep this bottle open for days. It gets better and better kind of like Nina Simone’s music; it will withstand the tests of time. 

So what I’m saying is try this wine and thank me later!


FULL DISCLOSURE: Prices are always different in every market, so if you look these up online and the price seems so low it’s probably too good to be true. Shipping will cost $15-$30 depending where it’s shipping to and where it is coming from. Don’t be a cheap kween and go support your local wine stores. 

Kelly Egan-Thorpe

Kelly Egan-Thorpe is a wine consultant working and living in the New York metro area. She drags a bag full of wine around Manhattan most days while dreaming of far off vineyards. Her unconventional perspective on the worlds drink culture gives a hilariously relatable and inclusive approach. Kelly is currently working on many projects aimed towards revolutionizing pop culture and how it relates to wine.

Kelly Egan-Thorpe has 2 posts and counting. See all posts by Kelly Egan-Thorpe

One thought on “Five unforgettable California wines for the home cellar

  • ❤️❤️? great article Kelly. Looking forward to more.


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