How to Buy Good Wine at Cheap Prices
Use our helpful tips to find excellent wine at a reasonable cost
We love our glass of wine, but when it comes to buying it, we either pick one brand and varietal and stick with it forever — or get completely confused at the store and choose based on price. No more! Follow these experts' tips and you'll be more in command of your wine choices. You'll also be more apt to try new wines and find ones you like.
1. Know What to Look For
“It is possible to find decent wines for under $15 — and even under $10, but under $10 is more of a challenge,” says Ed McCarthy, coauthor of Wine for Dummies. “Forget about France and the U.S. when looking for a good, inexpensive wine. Wines from Portugal are my first choice for good value.” Other countries that makes great inexpensive wines: Italy, Chile, Argentina, Greece, Brazil and Hungary to name a few.
2. Choose With These Tips in Mind
Madeline Puckette, who writes the popular award-winning blog WineFolly, suggests keeping these tips in mind if you’re looking for a wine that costs $10 or under:
- Look for a blend. Blending wines gives the winery the opportunity to mix less popular wine varieties with expensive varieties (such as Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon) to make a balanced wine. These blends are typically less expensive but taste very good.
- Screw caps are okay. Below $10, don't be surprised to find good wines topped with screw caps. This is a much more affordable bottle-closure method and suggests that the juice inside might be higher quality.
- Whites are better than reds. “White wines tend to have a higher QPR (quality to price ratio),” says Puckette, “which means, if you're on the cheap, save your red purchases for special nights and spend $15 to $20. Drink sub-$10 white wines on your weekday nights.”
3. Break the Rules
Is red always best with meat and white best with fish? “A study in Japan was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry about how higher amounts of iron in red wine caused an unpleasant fishy metallic aftertaste when paired with fish,” says Puckette. “So, scientifically speaking, there is some evidence to support this argument." She adds, however, that the concept behind pairing red wine with red meat and white wine with white meat is more about taste balance than it is about science.
What that really means: Pick what you like and think tastes good together, rather than what’s “proper.”
4. Think About What You're Eating
When pairing wine and food follow some simple guidelines:
- Match the intensity of the wine with the intensity of the food. A BBQ pulled pork sandwich is hearty for example, so pair it with a bold Shiraz.
- If your dish has sweetness to it, such as a sweet and sour sauce, pick a wine that's sweeter.
- If you're serving something that has high acidity, like a salad with vinaigrette, choose a wine with higher acidity so the wine doesn't fall flat.
- Bitter foods tend to not pair well with high-tannin wines. (Tannins are the natural elements that make wine taste dry.)
5. Forget Vintages, Focus on Climates
“Vintages are more important for the more serious ("expensive") wines, such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo and Champagne,” says McCarthy. Instead, consider the climate where the wine is from.
Cooler climates tend to produce better wines, McCarthy adds. “Pinot Noir is good in Oregon and in the cooler parts of California, such as the Sonoma Coast. Chardonnay grows everywhere, but it's at its best in cooler climates — such as Chablis in France.”
6. Teach Yourself the Basics
Knowing the kinds of wines you like is the most important thing you can do. Learn how to taste accurately to assess your personal style by reading Puckette's How to Taste Wine and Develop Your Wine Palate. Other things you can do: Read a good introductory book (like Wine For Dummies) or wine blog (like WineFolly) which can explain everything in easy terms.
Also, consider taking a wine course and go with a friend who knows about wine who can advise you. And, says McCarthy, “Find a knowledgeable wine merchant to help you. That's vital.”
7. Learn to Describe Your Taste
If you have trouble describing what you like to a wine merchant, try this: Think about what it is that you like about certain foods such as coffee, ice cream, and fruit. When you're at the wine store say something like, "I have trouble describing the kind of wine I like, however, for food, I like eating blueberries and vanilla ice cream" or "I prefer lattes over black coffee."
Says Puckette: "This will really help the wine guy or gal to find something you'll like." That's because it tells them about your palette and the kinds of tastes you enjoy.
8. Keep Your List Handy
We know how hard it is to remember the details when you're actually in the wine aisle or gazing at a restaurant menu. That's why keeping your list handy can help.
By Ellen Breslau
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