Total Wine Challenge: Red Wines Under $12.99

25 Jan

My friend Justin Koury of Bevfluence asked me to join in a wine challenge; I accepted. 

The Challenge was to find six “good or better” wines in the $12.99 and Under category from a national retailer. 

I was assigned Total Wine & More, (TW) a merchant that I commonly use with clients for their personal shopping. With 214 retail locations in 26 states, they are a vendor I use regularly for clientele because they make it easy for me to find wines to meet a customer’s desires. What’s different is that I normally look in higher price ranges of $15-$25 and $25-$50.  So while I know the merchant, I had little other background or idea what I’d be buying or tasting. 

While ideally I’d prefer a “mom and pop” style stores, Total Wine’s buying power allows them to deal directly with a winery which is a win/win, for the winery, for TW, and for the consumer. Additionally, TW has a multi-bottle deal called “Mix6” which is a 10% discount on more than 6 bottles marked Mix6. This is the incentive a smart buyer is looking for: a discount on the lesser-known bottles. But the same smart buyer can look for either a shelf-talker or a rating or score to help them take a chance in tasting something new. 

My rules, (set for myself) 

  1. I would not review wines I have previously tasted.
  2. I would look for small producers in regions known for good value. 
  3. I would avoid the the two most popular red grapes: cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
  4. I would take advantage of the Mix6 discount, since I knew I needed six bottles (Three red, three white.)   


So I’m not the average buyer, but these are wines I don’t know in the entry-level category. So I thought I’d start by looking at Spain and southern Italy for wines in these price ranges. And I quickly found what I was looking for. 




San Gregorio Single Vineyard Las Martas Garnacha 2018, Calatayud DOC, Spain. 15% ABV, $9.99/bottle, ($8.99 Mix 6 Price)

Color is magenta, shifting into purple; the nose offers red plum, black cherry, and a hint of mocha. The initial taste provides a solid mouthfeel of black plum, black cherry, stewed prune, with some heat across the mid palate. Wine shows solid tannic structure, drying across the front palate. Secondary notes of forest floor, cinnamon, wet earth, clay, and limestone. Downturn on the finish works nicely for this garnacha. Tasting this 2018 over the course of a week, with grilled meat, burgers, roast turkey, flatbread pizza, as well as Thai and Mexican. Garnacha, aka Grenache in other areas, is hugely planted across the globe in hot dry areas and is often used as a blending grape, like merlot and cabernet franc. It’s rare to find a single vineyard garnacha in this price range. The end result is that wine drinkers find great flavor for a great value. 


Latitud 42 Rioja Ecologica 2018, Rioja DOC,  Northern Spain. 100% Tempranillo, 14.5% ABV,  $9.99/bottle ($8.99 Mix 6 Price)

Color is bright ruby. Aromas of spice, bright cherry, and dried tobacco leaf on the nose. Bright red fruit (red plum, cherry) and acidity are delivered quickly to the front palate. The acidity starts mid-palate and moves back, as the finish arrives early and stays late, with vanilla, clove, clay, and granite, with a pleasant note of sour cherry holding to the end. Fun, a touch sweet, easy to drink. Ideal for pairing with tapas, Pan Con Tomato (tomato on grilled bread) grilled seafood (octopus, shrimp, turbot), sofritos, and paella come to mind. I enjoyed this with a margarita pizza on night one and beef stew on night two. Tempranillo is under-appreciated in the USA, and that’s one reason why you can get this wine at such a good price! 





Marchese di Borgosole Salice Salentino Riserva 2017, Apulia, Italy.  13.5%ABV, $12.99/bottle ($11.70 Mix 6 Price) 

Color is a deep purple center with light ruby edging. The nose offers rose petal, fresh pepper, and black stewed fruit.  On the palate, black plum and black cherry with a hint of raspberry up front. Secondary notes are of lavender, forest floor, tobacco leaf, and smoked paprika. If you’ve never had the  Negroamaro grape or don’t know Italian wines well, this is a great entry to Italian wine. You could buy a case of this and be surprised at just how well the wine pairs with food types across the board- it would be an excellent house red! I paired this wine with roast beef & vegetables, salmon, bruschetta, Mexican, Thai, even chocolate. Anything I threw at it seemed quite happy.  Having the last sip on day 5 after being opened, the salinity was a bit forward but the wine still delivered and paired nicely with pasta bolognese. I would have expected this wine to price at $20 or more, and it exceeded my expectations! The bottle image quickly got response from social media, from followers really liking the label. What’s not to like? 




For wine lovers who are looking at solid values for daily drinking, a mixed case of these three reds is a no-brainer to me. They pair so easily, and would also be a very appropriate gift wine for a friend or neighbor. 

If you try one of these wines, please reply to this post and let me know! 
Do you shop at Total Wine & More?

Do you buy using their Mix6 approach?

Do you have other suggestions for customers to find great deals or values? 












à votre santé!

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