Wine on Wednesdays — How to Find Good Inexpensive Wines

I am always on the lookout for inexpensive red wines that taste great.

Over the years I’ve had to kiss quite a few proverbial frogs before finding some winners, but after a lot of trial and error I’ve gotten pretty good at being able to tell if a wine is going to be pretty good or fairly horrible without knowing anything about it.

This one was actually pretty good. $6.99 at Trader Joe's.

For example, I have a $7.99/bottle limit for my wine buying. If a bottle costs more than that, unless it’s a very special occasion, I’m not buying it.

But my experience has been if a wine costs less than $4.99/bottle, it’s probably going to be pretty bad. I’ve found only one or two exceptions since I first started buying wines 15 years ago, but they were more expensive wines that had been discounted for some reason.

If wine comes in a jug or a box, it’s probably not a good idea to drink it. These wines are usually made from the grapes that are left over after all the quality grapes have been bought by other winemakers. In many cases, they are then rushed through the production process in order to get them to market more quickly. The result is a bad tasting wine that will give you a headache.

Generally, if a wine has a silly drawing on the label or if it seems like its being marketed to children, it’s probably not too good. Similarly, if very little thought or design went into creating the label or if it has a name that sounds like mad-libs — such as “Turning Leaf”, “Harvest Ridge” or “Mountain Lake” — you probably aren’t going to enjoy drinking it.

Wines that are marked for clearance are, in most cases, there for a reason. Maybe the demand wasn’t what the store expected or maybe there was an opportunity buy that didn’t pan out the way is should have. In any case, if the store is practically giving the wine away, it’s probably no bargain.

It used to be that wines with screw tops rather than corks were generally not very good, but this is not a reliable indicator now. Many high quality wine producers are now bottling their wines in bottles with screw tops. Although I think it denies the wine drinker the joyful ritual of removing a cork from a bottle of wine, screw tops definitely make it easier to store and prolong the life of partially filled bottle.

In many wine stores, liquor marts and super markets, where the wine is physically located can be an indicator of how good or bad it is. It tends to follow this protocol:

Really great wines — Located either on an upper shelf or even locked up behind plexiglass. These are wines I’ve never bought.

Pretty good wines — Eye level shelves or bins.

Just okay wines — Lower or bottom shelves.

Truly terrible wines — Grouped together with the jug and box wines, even when they are in bottles.

Next time you visit the place you normally buy your wine, check this out and see if this isn’t true. I think you’ll be surprised how universal this placement is.

When you will only buy wines that cost $7.99 or less, like I do, you develop a sixth sense when it comes to finding decent wines. Maybe that’s why I get so excited when I actually find a really good wine at that price point.

Time to share: How do you choose wines? Is it by price point? Do you ask the store clerk? Do you wait for suggestions? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

3 thoughts on “Wine on Wednesdays — How to Find Good Inexpensive Wines

  1. Apologies in advance for an essay of a comment. I hope you do not mind!

    My interesting observation would be about bubbly – I have (by trial and error and oh the error!) discovered that wines made by traditional champagne method are only good if they are pretty expensive. Cheap champagne-method wines are terrible, be they champagne, cava, or cream de B – however! Cheap prosecco, which is not made by champagne method, can, and often is very good! 🙂

    I live in Sweden, where alcohol is sold by the state monopoly (Systembolaget). Systembolaget’s purpose as a government agency is not to make a profit, but to encourage healthy alcohol habits among population (believe it or not, in this case it actually really works well!). As such it discourages frivolous buying but encourages wine-drinking over beer or hard liquor. Meaning, most wine is reasonably priced and they never have “sales” because they don’t want to encourage people to buy more alcohol than they plan to. Therefore, their pricing is fairly representative of what the wine is worth. I generally go by 1. the pricing and 2. the little pictorial explanations of how fruity, dry, sweet, etc. the wine is, and what they suggest to have it with (I may or may not have it with that, but it tells me what the wine is like). So far we had a lot of good wines, and some disappointments, though I think those may have been because the wine was not to our taste, rather than it being bad. I guess there are advantages to buying wine that has been selected by a panel of tasters and buyers (and Systembolaget buyers are good).

    The wines are grouped by type (white, red, rose, dessert, fortified), then by price range – so the really expensive ones are displayed on fancy reclining wood tables, and the rest is shelved with their own buddies. The shelf-placement is not really relevant here. 😉 Oh and the wine in the box stigma appears to not exist here, as a lot of the “pretty good wine” category can be bought either in bottle format, or in a box-with-tap to keep in the fridge. Vacuum packing of those makes them last for a far longer time, so I often pick a box of our favorite wine to keep around (especially if it is a white and should be chilled anyhow).

  2. Pingback: Wine on Wednesdays – Charles and Charles Red Wine | Budget Cooking Blog

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