Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

Wine By the Label: 4 Great, Beautiful Bottles Under $20

They always say the best way to learn about wine is to drink it. So, this week, I decided I needed to do just that. The problem is, I still have a lot to learn. I was pretty lost standing in front of the wall of wines at Whole Foods, without a sense of which wines I might like and what varietals I should start with.

So I went the superficial route—picking my wines by which labels I liked the best. I know, I know: The old adage says don’t judge a book by its cover. But I’ve picked up some pretty great books because their covers drew me in, and I decided to test my luck with wine.

And turns out? I made some pretty good picks. Check out four bottles (all under $20) that definitely live up to their label art.

The Violinist Verdelho by Mollydooker

Region: Australia

Year: 2010

Price: $20

Mollydooker Verdhelo

The colorful label on this wine is a play off the winery’s name, Mollydooker, which is Aussie-speak for left-hander. The leftie violinist was made to play with her right hand so she didn’t poke her neighbor with her bow. I love the whimsy!

And while I don’t generally consider myself a white wine girl, I could definitely see myself sipping on this while lounging on my balcony on hot summer days. The smell was very green—almost like grass—and the taste was rich yet clean with a nice hint of citrus. I had never heard of this varietal before, so I did a little research: Turns out, verdelho is a lesser-known white wine most notably grown in Madeira (an island off the coast of Africa), Portugal, and Australia.

Rickshaw Pinot Noir

Region: Napa, CA

Year: 2011

Price: $18

Rickshaw Pinot Noir

I was drawn in by the graphic gears on this wine’s label, along with the fact that I generally love Pinot. As soon as I poured it, I was pleasantly shocked by its bright raspberry pink hue. The color was true to the taste—this is a very fruity wine. The winemaker says you can expect hints of strawberry and plum, but I tasted raspberry jam all the way, with a definite tangy bite at the finish.

Some might find the fruit a little overbearing, but overall I would say it’s a nice, drinkable wine to enjoy slightly chilled after dinner. As a bonus, you can feel good about the wine you’re drinking—Rickshaw donates 5% of each bottle sale to feed the hungry.

essay. Cabernet Sauvignon

Region: South Africa

Year: 2011

Price: $10

essay Cabernet Sauvignon

I was drawn in by the literary shout-out of this label, and as a writer I envisioned myself sipping on a rich Cab Sav while working on my next brilliant piece of work. What I didn’t realize until later is that the name of the winery is really a play on the country of origin—ess-ay reflecting the sounds of the letters SA, for South Africa. (A couple glasses in, this was a pretty cool realization.)

As for the flavor, this was a rich and spicy wine that reminded me of blackberries. It was very tannic—my mouth felt dry after one tiny sip—but it was a pleasant-feeling tannin, with the sensation slowly moving though my mouth and sitting nicely at the back, where it lingered for awhile. For me, the wine was a little too bold to drink on its own, but I tried it later with some cheese and thought it was perfect.

1+1=3 Cava Brut

Region: Spain

Price: $15

1+1=3 Cava

I’ve had my eye on this label for a while—I love the graphic element, and can’t help but think the designers must have topped off a bottle before doing that math. If you’re not yet familiar with Cava—well, try it out. A sparkling white wine, Cava is a great alternative when you don’t want to splurge for champagne but still want something bubbly and festive. I’m never one to turn down bubbles, and this didn’t disappoint.

Because this is a Brut (meaning dry) it’s not a very sweet wine—which I like. The bubbles were a little overwhelming at first, so I would let it sit for a moment after pouring before sipping on it. Like any carbonated beverage, though, this drink quickly loses its luster after being opened, so I recommend finishing it the same night you pop the cork. Not that it should be difficult to do so—my friend and I found ourselves pouring glass after glass.

Tell us! What’s your favorite wine with a great label?

Photo of wine bottles courtesy of Alex Brown.

A logo with "the muse" in white text.