In tough times, we continue the search for good, inexpensive wines.

While spring may seem far away to those in the Northwest, sunshine is just a corkscrew away. Here’s five wines under $15 to get you thinking about sunnier times.

The 2010 L’Ecole No 41 Chenin Blanc marks a turning point for the winery. This is the first released wine that bears the winery’s new label (read a post about the new labels here). Additionally, this wine has been rebranded from ‘Walla Voila! Chenin Blanc’ to simply ‘Chenin Blanc.’

2010 was a challenging growing season in many areas of the state and especially so for white grapes. Grapes in numerous areas saw mold and rot issues, decreasing tonnage significantly in some spots.

L’Ecole has previously sourced its Chenin Blanc from Willard Farm near Prosser using vines planted in 1979. For the 2010 offering the winery also used fruit from Phil Church Vineyard near Sunnyside to compensate for the decreased tonnage. These vines were also planted in 1979.

Difficult growing season? No matter. The 2010 L’Ecole Chenin Blanc is as dazzling as the new packaging that it comes in with delicious fruit flavors and bright acidity. While the wine stays true to previous vintages with 1.5% Residual Sugar, there is a whopping 9.3 g/l of acid making the wine come off as drier and crisper than previous vintages. A proper salute to L’Ecole’s new label, this wine is a winner.

Hogue Cellars is one of Washington’s older wineries, founded in 1982. The winery is also one of the state’s largest, producing 650,000 cases annually. Hogue has been a strong advocate for alternative closures, using screw caps on most of their wines. The 2009 Sauvignon Blanc was aged mostly in stainless steel with a limited amount (12%) aged in oak for four months. The result is a well-priced wine that almost demands oysters to accompany it.

Covey Run Winery was also founded in 1982. The winery has two tiers, Columbia Valley Reserve and the Quail Series which focuses on the value end of the spectrum. Kate Michaud serves as winemaker. Somewhat shockingly given the overwhelming number of winery websites that say little about the winery, the winemaker, or the wines, the Covey Run website gives a compelling, detailed description of Michaud (bless you). Other wineries take note! Gewürztraminer is a somewhat seldom seen varietal in Washington and the 2009 Covey Run bottling is an enjoyable wine at a can’t be beat price.

Chateau Ste. Michelle is the world’s largest producer of Riesling, making over 1,000,000 cases annually (they make over 600,000 cases of the Columbia Valley Riesling alone). The winery makes up to eight different styles of Riesling, displaying this varietal’s versatility. The 2010 Harvest Select Riesling is made in a medium-sweet style. Of note, Chateau Ste. Michelle recently announced its 2011 concert series.

The 2009 Bandit Wines Riesling is one of a limited number of Washington wines to come in an alternative package – in this case a 1000ml Tetra Pak carton. The carton is made mostly of paper and, according to the winery’s website, sports a product-to-package ratio of 96:4 compared to 60:40 for bottled wine. The winery’s website says, “Bandit Riesling is made from premium wine from one of Washington’s best growing regions – The Columbia Valley.” Hmmm…

Read previous Five Under $15s here.

L’Ecole No 41 Chenin Blanc Columbia Valley 2010 $14
Rating: * (Excellent) Light in color. Delicate aromas of fresh cut hay, lime, honey, and Golden Delicious apples. Palate is tart with pink grapefruit, mineral notes, and a zing of acidity. Lingers long after the last sip. 100% Chenin Blanc. Willard Farms, Phil Church vineyards. 1.5% Residual Sugar, 9.3 g/l acid. 13.5% alcohol. 2,122 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Hogue Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Columbia Valley 2009 $11
Rating: + (Good) Aromatics marked by grass, gooseberry, and herbal notes. Crisp and clean with citric acidity. Loses a bit of rhythm in the middle before coming back together for a crisp, citric finish. A refreshing, enjoyable wine. 94% Sauvignon Blanc, 6% Semillon. Aged in stainless steel and oak (12%). 13.9% alcohol. 25,000 cases produced. Recommended

Chateau Ste. Michelle Harvest Select Riesling Columbia Valley 2010 $9
Rating: + (Good) An aromatic wine marked by floral notes, white grapefruit, tangerine, and honey. The palate has a weighted feel with a fair amount of residual sugar but enough acidity to hold it together. 4.98 g/100ml Residual Sugar. 0.82g/100 ml Total Acidity. 10.5% alcohol.

Covey Run Gewurztraminer Columbia Valley 2009 $9
Rating: + (Good) Pale in color. Aromas of honey, white flowers, and orange rind on a pleasingly aromatic wine. Off-dry on the palate with a zing of acidity. Thins out a bit on the mid-palate but overall an enjoyable bottle of a seldom seen varietal in the state at a can’t be beat price. 97% Gewurztraminer, 3% Muscat. 13.0% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.

Bandit Riesling Washington State 2009 $11
Rating: . (Decent) Abundant floral notes, nectarines, red apples, and a whiff of lime on a appealing aroma profile. Palate is fleshy with a touch of sweetness but falls a but flat on the mid-palate, looking for a bit more acidity to lift it up. 100% Riesling. 12.5% alcohol. 12.25% alcohol, TA: 0.75 g/100 ml, 1.95 g/100 Residual Sugar. Note: 1000ml box