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In Trying Times, 20 Wines Under $20 That Revive and Restore

If you are tired of drinking the same old thing, these bottles, from nine different countries, represent the wide range of great values now available.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

The hours of daylight are shrinking, and the nervous tension grows.

These are strange days in which the daily cocktail of pandemic, politics, protest and natural disaster continually challenges the capacity to endure. “When you think that you lost everything, you find out you can always lose a little more,” as the Nobel laureate Bob Dylan once put it.

I’m not here to tell you that wine will make anything better. But good food, good wine and engaging conversation seem as necessary to getting through 2020 as riveting books, binge-worthy shows and walks among the trees. They relieve, heal and restore, because tomorrow will doubtless raise the ante again.

Of all these balms to the spirit, good wine may seem the most difficult to come by. The choices can overwhelm. Prices of old favorites keep rising (thank you, American tariffs on certain European wines). And just maybe, after months spent largely at home, the same old bottles are getting you down just as my own cooking is me.

Here’s the good news: Regardless of everything else that’s going on in the world, there has never been a better or easier time for escaping the wine rut. Great wine is being produced around the world, so much so that the moment everybody rushes toward one great wine and prices rise, a new one is ready to step in.

Just recently, shopping online in Manhattan retail stores, I found 20 wines, all under $20 a bottle, that surprised, delighted and, yes, fulfilled a restorative role they were not intended for but which I assigned to them.

These 20 bottles came from nine different countries, reflecting the rising level of quality just about everywhere. They were not merely sound wines that succeed by not offending. They were interesting, distinctive, even provocative, meaning that all of them will not be to everybody’s taste.

In pursuit of good wine, that’s a risk worth taking. The reward is bottles that will turn your head and demand your attention.

I’ve made the case over the years that spending a little more for wine, say $15 to $20 rather than $8 to $12, brings an exponential rise in quality and interest. These bottles again make that case.

Most of them are new to me, sterling examples of both tradition and innovation. Several are old friends in new vintages, because one of the most wonderful things about good wines is the way they reintroduce themselves from year to year, like an old friend with a new hairstyle and an unexpected nose ring, but the same heart and soul.

Many are from family estates, and so are made in relatively small quantities. That is understandably frustrating when intriguing bottles are hard to find. It’s another trade-off because, while large-scale production does not automatically diminish the quality of a wine, it often does. Compromises in farming and production, economies of scale and other cost-cutting measures can mean the difference between soulful and innocuous.

What’s the solution? These 20 bottles simply represent a cross-section of what’s available on the market today. In most cases, good wine merchants will be happy to find you an analogous bottle or suggest other replacements.

If you don’t patronize a good shop, you may be missing out on the most important step you can take toward drinking better wines. Leave that supermarket behind.

Try consulting previous 20 Under $20 columns. Those wines continue to be interesting, though some may have crept up slightly in price.

Best of all, in representing the vast pool of good wine out there, these 20 bottles are an invitation to make your own discoveries. Nothing is more satisfying or healing than making your own new friends.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Feudo Montoni Sicilia Nero d’Avola Lagnusa 2017 $19.99

I often find nero d’Avola a tough grape to love. While I have had some great varietal examples, like Arianna Occhipinti’s, too often the wines just seem heavy and thick. But here is another excellent version from Feudo Montoni, which practices organic viticulture at its vineyards in central Sicily and ferments the grapes in concrete. The result is a spicy, herbal, lightly tannic wine that might be nice with eggplant Parmesan. (Wilson Daniels, Napa, Calif.)

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In Trying Times, 20 Wines Under $20 That Revive and Restore