We’ve been conditioned to believe that in life you get what you pay for. Our company sells a lot of great and expensive wines, so I am quite comfortable attesting to the fact that sometimes you have to spend more to get something great. That said, I’ve also come to realize that there are ways to game the system; a collection of insider knowledge that can help you drink really good wine at absurdly low prices. We want to share these insider tips and provide insight and knowledge that will help you down the path of getting your hands on some really good cheap wine.
#1: Clarify the Job Description
Wine is an enormously “contextual” product – that is to say that your enjoyment of and experience with a given wine has a ton to do with the environment you’re in which you drink it. I’ve found that the #1 factor influencing my enjoyment of a glass of wine is the sum total of my surroundings, the food it’s matched with and overall tone of the occasion. Plenty of wines taste great with a casual Wednesday night pizza or Sunday afternoon at the cottage that just don’t deliver the same pleasure in a more formal setting. It’s tough to start shortlisting candidates before you’ve got a decent job description in mind.
#2: Location, Location, Location!
The first thing that many of us look at when picking up a bottle of wine is the name of the grape variety (or varieties) that it’s made from, however this is a huge mistake if you’re looking to hunt down great value wines. Rather than grape, the first thing I’d recommend you focus on with wine is where it’s made – this is often the best clue to unlocking great value choices. Places like Spain, Portugal, Argentina and South Africa consistently offer great bang for the buck. When looking at more popular regions like France or California try and focus on emerging regions or appellations like Lake County, California, or wines from Languedoc in France.
#3: Love the Word “Declassified”
Have you heard the word “declassified” applied to wines before? This description is a great clue that you’re on to something that often worth more than it’s selling for. In many parts of the world, winemakers will choose the very best parcels of wine or grapes to go into their most prestigious and expensive bottlings. The rest of the wine, which is often almost as good as the top selections, will be declassified and bottled under a separate name and label. These wines often deliver stupendous value – pedigree, complexity and flavours that are nearly as good as wines selling for 2 or 3 times higher prices. This is a great source for good cheap wine.
#4: Back To School
Whether you make a list of wines you loved (as well as wines that you didn’t) or keep a detailed journal complete with tasting notes, having a record to go back to will serve as an extremely useful tool if you’re looking to get more bang for your buck. Getting into the habit of making notes will help you remember the brands, regions, grapes and wine styles you loved. Often I purchase a single bottle from a shop and by the time I get around the opening it, the wine has sold out when I go back to try and buy more. Sometimes weeks or months go by before anything resembling this wine returns to stock – having a list of wines I want to buy can be a very useful in making sure I don’t forget about new discoveries.
#5: 10 for 10
With so many delicious new wines out there to try, it can be tough to get around to all of them. Why not invite 10 friends over for a wine tasting party and ask each one to choose a bottle of wine that costs less than $10 that they’ve never tried before. Tasting wines next to each other often gives me a clearer perspective on how much I like a given wine than tasting a single wine on its own. I’ve found this idea also works great around a particular food pairing theme; try asking your guests to pick their favourite wine under $10 with pizza or cheese. By the end of the night, you may well discover a good cheap wine pairing for one of these foods.
#6: Embrace the unfamiliar
Brand loyalty and a tendency to stick with what we know and like are two of the strongest drivers of the way most of us buy and choose wines. However, this approach is not the best way to seek out great value and maximize bang for your buck. New and emerging wines from lesser known producers, regions and grapes are often introduced to market at special low prices to encourage consumers to give them a try. As wines gain popularity and sales the prices tend to go up. By embracing new and diverse flavours and trying wines made in places or from grapes you’ve never heard of is simply one of the best ways to drink good cheap wine.
#7: Make A New Best Friend
Another great way to get the inside scoop on new and exciting value wines is to make friends with an expert, like a Sommelier at your favourite restaurant, a member of the staff at your local wine shop, or an importer, like yours truly. Professionals working in the wine industry have regular access to tasting opportunities, industry research, data on new wine trends and a professional duty to be aware of new up-and-coming wines and wine styles. Making a contact with a wine professional who you can tap for updates on what’s new and delicious is an outstanding way to make sure that you’re getting your hands on the best value wines.
#8: Steer Clear of the Cool Kids
This final rule might the most important one on this list – if you’re looking for great value wines you need to steer clear of the trendy or popular grape varieties, regions and producers. The popularity of hot commodities of the day drive prices up quickly and producers capitalize on the fact that consumers will naturally gravitate to things that are comfortable, familiar and popular. Rather than reaching for a bottle of Pinot Grigio by habit, why not explore wines made in the same style from other grapes or places; the world is full of delicious and well-made light and unoaked white wines that offer every bit as much drinking pleasure at better prices.