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Grape Sense started as a wine column to educate consumers they could be drinking better than supermarket wines. There are so many wonderful and well-made wines in the $12-$18 range. But an e-mail arrived after a recent column as a reminder some people have no desire to spend more than a ten spot or can’t afford it.

Grape Sense LogoThere are plenty of good wines in the category. The only drawback is if you avoid names you know and pick up a bottle for an interesting name or cute label, you might be picking up one of the worst things you’ll ever drink.

So, today’s column is intended to shine a light on some sure-fire winners.

There are a handful of supermarket, liquor store labels which consistently deliver great value and decent wines. I have two favorite value labels – Robert Mondavi Central Coast and Menage a Trois.

Menage a Trois is a mass produced wine which doesn’t offer a lot of complexity but will surprise with its balanced flavors, good finish, and ability to pair with food. The label, with some 15 different wines, is one of the fastest growing brands in the value category.

IMG_0940 (1)Menage a Trois is all about red blends. The red and white blends have been around for a number of years. The more-recent Midnight and Silk have really expanded the portfolio. The Midnight is bigger and bolder while the Silk lives up to its name of super smooth sipping goodness.

Midnight, a blend of Cab, Merlot, Petite Sirah, and Petite Verdot was the most successful new red blend of 2014.  Silk is a crazy-sounding blend of Pinot Noir and Malbec which works. This is the red wine for your non-red-wine-drinking friends. It has the nose of a Pinot and the rich flavors of a Malbec on the palate. It’s a bit of a stunner.

The Menage a Trois brand is owned by wine giant Trinchero Estates. Trinchero also owns the second-largest U.S. wine brand, Sutter Home.

The Menage a Trois wines are almost always under 14 percent alcohol, a rarity. But more impressive is that the tasty and drinkable wines have a suggested retail price of $11-$13. But wait, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Menage a Trois on a shelf over $10. A price check the week of Dec. 7 showed the Midnight, Red, and Silk all at $8.99 or less locally.

Menage a Trois is consistently in the Top 20 wines in the value wine category. Google the name and you’ll consistently find reviews with words like “great value label, wonderfully balanced, medium bodied wine, and great finish.”

Mondavi’s Central Coast scores with its line of wines selling at $9.99. Mondavi’s wines are individual varietals. They score big in my book for consistently delivering value wine which is varietally correct. In other words, the Cab tastes like Cab and Pinot tastes like Pinot. That can be a big problem with many wines under $10.

Other labels delivering for less than $10 include: Bogle, Blackstone, Mark West, Mirrasou, and Clos du Bois.

There’s nothing wrong with many $8-$9 wines. Just buy names you’ve heard before. Hopefully these suggestions will provide some guidance.