More flavor, less money: Buying wine on a budget

Penny Pincher n. informalSaving Pennies
Someone who is excessively careful with money (who pinches every penny before letting go of it).

Although most are loath to admit it, we all want to squeeze as much value from every dollar, even if we’re rolling in it. I have a friend who doesn’t want for much, but games the sales and savings cards systems with the giddy relish of a child at Chuck E. Cheese. I’ve not graduated to her level of discount-dom, but I admire and perhaps even aspire to her level of value vigilance. For bargain clothes, Groupons and anything household, she is my muse.

Cheap wine (ahem… inexpensive wine), however, lies firmly within my savings skill set. More and more Americans are drinking wine on an everyday basis, a trend I applaud with glee. But most people can’t fork over $20 per night for this daily pleasure.  So I’m here to serve up my favorite wine regions for super affordable, tasty wines to pair with dinner or to scratch that end-of-the-work-day relaxation itch we all have.

I need to go on record to say that producing wine under $20 is no easy task. Growing, harvesting, fermenting, aging and bottling wine takes loads of time, effort and love (read more about winemaking here). To bring you a great glass of wine, one or many of these steps must be modified to fit a less expensive model. The majority of the time, corner-cutting happens in the growing and aging department where it can be filed under “things that average wine drinkers don’t care so much about”. The magic happens under a skilled winemaker who knows how to balance everything out. If it tastes good, it sells. No worries.

Chilean wine – the land of all things plenty

Chile isn’t just for spicing things up in the kitchen. This under-respected wine region grows a myriad of grape varieties really, really well and is fast proving that they’ve got winemaking hutzpah. A good example of this prowess is a newly launched Concha y Toro brand, Gran Reserva. For around $12, highlights include 2010 Gran Reserva Cabernet, with dried black cherry, peppery, vanilla oak tannins, dried herbs, and a soft, smoky, lush finish;  2011 Malbec  which smells like buttered popcorn, plums and roses but tastes of blueberry, chocolate, oaky vanilla, cedar box and cherry. Both taste like they were made by a loving winemaker who didn’t cut corners. And the dangerously-drinkable, light-heartedly wonderful Concha y Toro 2011 Sauvignon Blanc is laden with lime zest, lemongrass and tropical papaya with smooth acids.

Un-famous French wine regions

Since wine flows in their blood, the French can conjure vinous magic out of any grape. Esteemed regions like Burgundy, Champagne and Bordeaux turn heads but also come with a Ferrari price tag. But once you migrate away from those celebrity regions, beautiful winemaking is happening. It didn’t used to be this way – in years past, wines from France’s less hip southern reaches, Languedoc  especially, were where generic wine rose from the vineyards like a bad plague. But when land prices in those high-fallutin’ areas became insulting, crafty winemakers began turning the dreadfully unpopular growing regions into discos-grade hot spots where people line up around the block. In only a few years, the wild-west Languedoc has transformed into an area where wines like Fat Bastard Shiraz roam free and happy. Look for wines from the Pic St. Loup region and the super affordable wines labeled Vin de Pays. A fantastic Rhone value is La Ferme Julien Blanc 2011 ($6 -not a typo), available exclusively at Trader Joe’s.

So whether you’re scrimping and saving to make that big down payment or you inherited the scrimp-and-save gene, it’s okay to want to wring the value clean out of every dollar. No reason your taste buds have to take the hit.

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  1. 14 hands from the Horse Heaven Hills area of Washington makes a wonderful white and red blend selling for around 9-11 in San Antonio,so try it., and see.I like very good wines,but we drink 4-5 bottles a week,so we have found that under $12 there are a lot of good wines.
    I am on my way to a nearby Trader Joes to try that Rhone. Thanks for the heads up!

  2. Ted – if you have favorites under $12, I’d love to hear about them.

  3. Handcraft Petite Syrah is full bodied with an earthiness and long finish defying its typical $10-$12 price tag. The Wolfgang Puck 2010 Reserve Red Blend is also excellent and can be had for around $12. Liberty School Cabernet is consistently good and is occasionaly on sale for $12-$13 range.

  4. Jay: great suggestions! Been a fan of Liberty School for years.


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