Have you ever wandered down the wine aisle at the grocery store, seen bottles advertised for “Only $7.99!” and felt wary of the quality of said wine? Or, have you had to choose between two more expensive bottles of wine, but didn’t know which was better? If you answered yes to either of those questions, you are not alone.
There is more great wine globally than there has ever been before thanks to advances in technology and agriculture. But, unfortunately an expansion of the market also means there are some bad wines out there. The infinite amount of choices for consumers can be overwhelming — and could lead to some well-intended, but disappointing wine selections.
But, don’t worry. We’ve rounded up some of the top wine connoisseurs to discover their best tips for finding budget bottles without sacrificing quality. Here is what can make not-so-expensive wine a great purchase, according to mid-Missouri’s experts.
Embrace the discount bins
“Wines in the discount bin at your local grocery store or wine shop should not be overlooked,” according to Drew Lemberger, a certified sommelier. “Most of these wines have been discounted simply because of a vintage change or the store brought in another brand from a supplier.”
Because retail sales are extremely competitive and shelf space comes at a premium, it typically ends up being in the best interest of the store to discount any straggling bottles. This is great news for consumers because typically that discount makes great wine more affordable.
“These incentives change with the seasons and there are very distinct patterns to these,” Lemberger continues. “Developing a relationship with the store or department manager can benefit you long term because they will look out for you and keep you abreast of upcoming sales relevant to your specific wine buying proclivities.”
Don’t settle for ordinary
Another tip from the experts? Seek out something unique. “Wine completely depends on supply and demand,” Paul Vernon, owner of Top 10 Wines, says. “You’re going to pay more for a popular wine, such as Pinot Noir, when you can get the same quality and similar taste with a Verdejo. Buy off the beaten path to get a good deal.” Vernon adds that currently Portuguese wines are some of the best budget-friendly options because most are produced on estates and cooperatives with natural techniques and little manipulation.
One of Top 10 Wines’ vendors, Jasen Foster, sales manager of Vintegrity, recommends doing some research on specific wine-growing regions prior to purchasing wine. “You’re not going to find a wine in Napa that is affordable and a great wine,” he says. “However, in Paso Robles, in central California, there are great wines for very affordable prices.”
Also look for small-scale wineries, Vernon recommends. “Wine isn’t as good on a large scale because it’s made in batches; one batch may be good, while another is not,” he warns. “For wine to have quality, it must be made in a vineyard first — with good winemaking. A lot of cheap wines out there are made in labs with additives and are not worth spending your money on.”
The best way to avoid picking a lab-made wine is to do some research on the bottle you’re eyeing, including the winery’s wine-making process.
Lemberger says that when it comes to white, rosé and sparkling wines under $20, they’re best within 6 months of purchasing. But, when it comes to dry reds, it’s best to purchase them much further in advance (one to four years) and let them age. “I know that time in the cellar will compound my savings and reward me with a wine tasting like a $40-dollar bottle even if I only paid $15,” he says.
“Many budget dry red wines can be out of balance; the flavor components of fruit, oak, tannin and acid are not integrated and the end result is a wine that is not pleasant to drink or it is just weird tasting. All the parts are there they just aren’t working together yet. Buy by the case and let time be on your side.” One of the advantages of buying wine by the case and letting it age, he says, is that you can determine how the wine is developing each time you open a bottle. To determine how long to let it age, ask the expert you purchase it from about the wine’s cellar life span.
Talk to the store’s expert
One of the primary reasons to purchase wine from a wine shop or liquor store versus a grocery store is that there is an expert on-hand to help you choose the best wine for your taste and budget. Robert Pettinger, wine manager at Macadoodles, recommends asking to speak with the store’s wine manager or expert before choosing a wine.
“They’re usually honest and will tell you what’s a good budget wine and what’s not worth spending your money on,” he says. “There’s no reason to spend a lot on wine when there are so many under $20 that are just as good as $30 or $40 bottles of wine.”
“This is actually a French wine, but it’s produced on the border of France and Switzerland so the label has the Swiss flag on it. This rosé has tasting notes of strawberry and red fruit.”
– Paul Vernon
“This is a great California wine for a good price, with tasting notes of cherry and chocolate. It’s from the Caparone estate in Paso Robles, which has been growing wine since 1979. Sangiovese is going to taste similar to a Pinot Noir, for people that have never heard of this varietal.”
– Paul Vernon
“This sparkling white wine is a tremendous value and will hold its own against sparkling wine that costs three times as much. It’s a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc and has strawberry and citrus tasting notes. This is definitely a ‘buy it by the case’ wine.”
– Drew Lemberger
“Chardonnay is the number one selling white grape varietal globally, and this specific bottle has 90 points, which means it’s a great wine. It is a full-bodied Chardonnay with notes of apricot, lemon, oak and apple. Those tasting notes make it perfect for fall and it is great with chicken or pork.”
– Robert Pettinger
“This is a great white wine to enjoy if Chardonnay is over the top for you and Pinot Gris is a little too light. This is a wine I like to challenge people who ‘only like red wine’ to try. Most of the time they enjoy it and ask for the producer name. It has tasting notes of lemon and pear.”
– Drew Lemberger
“This is a great full-bodied dry red made from nine different grape varietals: Shiraz/Syrah, Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Petite Syrah, Petit Verdot and Souzao. It pairs well with red meat and has tasting notes of blackberry. The unique thing about this wine is that the artwork on the bottle is made by a tattoo artist in New York and the name of this wine is the same as his parlor.”
– Robert Pettinger