Great wine doesn’t have to cost a fortune. In fact, experts say that finding a top-notch, value-priced bottle isn’t as hard as you may think.
“There better be a real good reason why you’re spending more than $25 on a bottle of wine today,” says wine and spirit expert Michael Green, who’s also a former wine consultant for Gourmet Magazine.
When it comes to finding the best wine for your wallet, Green says to first begin by pinpointing what you like. From there, you can narrow your search to find bottles at stellar price points.
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“If you can isolate and truly understand the style of wine that you’re looking for, you can find an undervalued region or undervalued grape that is going to give you the biggest bang for your buck,” he says.
If you’re new to the wine world and aren’t exactly sure of what you’re looking for, you’re not alone. (Green says that most people actually have no idea of what a wine will taste like before they buy it.) To identify your own personal wine style, try starting a monthly wine tasting club with friends. Feature a specific region, like Tuscany, and enjoy tasting a variety of wines from that area. After a few get-togethers, you should have a pretty clear idea of the types of wine that appeal to you.
If you’re a red wine drinker…
When it comes to finding an inexpensive alternative to expensive wine, be open to exploring different regions. “For example, if you're a fan of full-bodied Napa Valley cabernet sauvignons, you need to realize that Napa Valley real estate is quite expensive,” says Green.
Some of the best, under-the-radar cabernets actually hail from Chile. Will a $6 Chilean cabernet get the job done? Probably, but going for a $15 bottle is much more likely to knock your socks off.
“The wine will be excellent and can hold its own with Napa Valley cabernets, or even grape Bordeauxs priced at $50,” Green says.
But not all red wines are created equal. Laura Maniec, master sommelier and co-founder of New York City’s Corkbuzz, says to be wary of cheap Pinot Noir.
“Pinot Noir is a really difficult grape to grow,” she says, adding that it’s nearly impossible to find a great bottle on the cheap. “The yields are really low, so the grape’s price is expensive. If you do see an inexpensive bottle, it might be a little bit inferior.”
Fear not, Pinot Noir lovers. Cru Beaujolais wines stand out as a great alternative. Made in France, Crus are typically found in the U.S. for under $25. The kicker? Even master sommeliers mistake them for Pinot Noir wines.
Red wine drinkers looking for a bargain may also want to check out malbec wines, which are somewhat similar to cabernets and syrahs. “The grape is inexpensive to grow, so you can usually get better inexpensive malbecs,” says Maniec. “They’re really the best value for the money.”
If you’re a white wine drinker…
Whether you’re into red wine or white, the same rules apply. The good news is that snagging inexpensive alternatives doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Maniec suggests first finding a region that you like, then drawing a big circle around it. The idea is to try wines from inside of that bigger circle.
“For example, there’s a Spanish wine region in the north by Barcelona called Priorat that most people know of,” she says. “It has a premium price tag, but there’s a region right outside of Priorat called Monsant, and it’s much better value.”
The same idea applies to those who love the fresh, crisp flavors of Sauvignon Blanc. Why limit yourself to only French wines?
“Instead of spending the money on an expensive sauvignon blanc from Loire Valley [in France], you might want to go for a sauvignon blanc from Casablanca, Chile or Marlborough Valley, New Zealand,” says Green, who says these regions are the ones that are undervalued.
You can also broaden your search by considering different grapes.
For instance, Maniec says that chardonnay lovers may want to think about a less pricey grape. “There’s a grape in France called Aligoté that’s not as regal as chardonnay, so it’s less expensive,” she says.
Aligoté may not be as revered as chardonnay, but don’t be so quick to dismiss it. The grape has been described as rich and lemony with hints of roasted hazelnuts.