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rules for buying cheap wine (under $10)

So i was reading another forum and it got me thinking, i typically buy pretty cheap stuff. i'm young and broke but love to relax with a glass or two at night :) so sue me, right?

anyways are there rules to buying under $10? like, avoid reds from australia or look for domestic whites... i don't know, you all are the experts! just thought i'd ask.


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  1. I actually don't think there are particular rules of that nature. From what I've experienced, the best way to approach wines under $10 is to go brand by brand. Do a little research on a particular brand and then give it a taste.

    Ultimately, with any wine, it's going to come down to personal taste anyway.

    Wine Reviews at Classic Wines

    1. Sorry, no rules. It's more important that you find what you like to drink and go from there. For instance, some people love Central Coast and Santa Barbara pinot noir, and understandably so. Me? I much prefer Oregon and even New Zealand. But to be honest, I'll take a bottle of Rhône syrah over a pinot just about every day of the week.

      That said, I think I'd prefer to go region by region. And no reason to avoid Australia, or any other country. There's good wine coming from all over the world. Here are a few value regions and winemakers to get you started within your budget.

      Côte-du-Rhône, made from grenache, mourvèdre, syrah, and about 20 other grapes I promise one day I would remember. E. Guigal, Paul Jaboulet Aîné, M. Chapoutier all make very good, everyday drinking stuff.

      NZ Sauvignon Blanc. Villa Maria, Kim Crawford, Babich, and lots of others.

      Muscadet (Loire), made from mélon. I always have at least a bottle of this at home for takeout sushi. Domaine de la Pépière should be available in lots of places. It's also my favorite.

      There are plenty of others that the more knowledgeable folks here will be able to recommend.

      1. Well, I'm no expert, but as for reds from Australia, I buy them under $10 all the time. Yellowtail is one I always keep around.

        1. a couple of "guidlines" i use. not necessarily rules.

          australian shiraz is usually a good bet for under $10 wines.

          a really good bargain right now in my opinion are malbecs from argentina. lots of them out there for less than 10 bucks. still haven't had a bad one.

          i also like to buy blends. so if i see something labeled "table wine" or "red blend" i usually go for it. in my experience, these tend to be nice, tasty little wines. not super complex, just good to open that night.

          1. Bogle makes some pretty good California wines in the $8-$12 range. Their zinfandel & petite sirah are pretty good values.

            Falseco Vitiano is a very drinkable Italian red that you should be able to find for $10 or less. Banfi Centine is another Italian red worth look for. It may cost a dollar or two more.

            I don't think there are any golden rules to follow. You just have to try a number of wines to find the ones you like.

            1. I don't think there are any hard and fast rules, but I'd say that in 99% of cases, the big three varietals in the US like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at this price point will be pretty bad. Best to experiment with other varietals from places other than the US when seeking things out for $10 or less.

              I've had some success in the $8-$10 range with Spanish wines, easy-drinking Italian wines like Montepulciano or Sangiovese, Argentine Malbecs, and French wines from lesser known hard-to-pronounce regions like Languedoc or Roussillon. You can also find some decent Rhone wines like Cotes-du-Rhone. All this may change in the coming months since the dollar is so weak, but for now, you can still find bargains.

              I personally don't care much for cheap Aussie wines or Chileans, but your taste may differ, so give those a shot too, since they're easy to find in the $10 and under range.

              1. Polly
                I think the consensus is that you should drink what you like in the price range you can afford. Only snobs or insecure people alter their tastes to suit other people's opinions.
                My only suggestions would be to write down what you like and why you like it . After a while, you will have a very personalized list of what Polly likes. You may find that your income grows but your tastes remain the same.:-}

                1. The best rule(s) I have found is to look for one of the following:

                  1. Wine from a less-renowned but nevertheless established region. Broadly speaking, there is great value to be found in Chilean and Argentine wines, as well as South Africa, Portugal, and (to a somewhat smaller degree) Spain. For garden variety cab and merlot, South America is your best way to go. Cousino-Macul Merlot and Cabernet, as well as Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot, and even Alamos Pinot Noir, are some personal favorite budget wines. In my humble opinion, you get a better bottle of wine for your dollar from the above regions than you do from Australia, California, or Europe.

                  2. Look for lesser-known or less prestigious varietals in your price range. I agree completely with a previous post about malbec. Cabernet franc fits into the same category. Lemberger from Washington, or marsanne or gros manseng from from France are varietals I've had luck with in the past. Snoqualmie Chenin Blanc is an utterly nondescript white wine, but it is absolute bargain basement in price and is a great summertime quaffer.

                  3. In a combination of the above, look for a well-known varietal from a region that is not known for growing it. The above-mentioned Alamos Pinot Noir is an example. Or merlot from Oregon. Robertson Gewurtraminer from South Africa is a wine I still buy by the case.

                  Also (and you probably know this), if a favorite restaurant of yours has an inexpensive wine by the glass that you like, take note of it and buy a bottle or two for yourself.

                  As I mentioned earlier, I like to buy wine by the case, but that habit was actually started when I was on a very tight wine budget. Buying cases can net you a 10, 20, or (sometimes at wine sales) 30 percent discount, essentially giving you two free bottles for every ten you buy at regular price.

                  Again, these are VERY broad rules with many exceptions, but after many years in the restaurant and bar business, I can say that there is at least something to them. Of course, personal taste always trumps rules or, for that matter, anything I or anybody else has to say.

                  And remember, buying cheap wine is liberating in a way, because even if you buy a big bottle of crap, the most you're out is $10.

                  1. Rules, schmules. I can only give recent examples:

                    2006 Domaine La Hitaire Blanc Les Tours, Côtes de Gascogne (Vin du Pays), by Armine & Remy Grassa, $9.99 Excellent!

                    2007 Tintero Moscato d'Asti $ 9.99, idem.

                    2006 Picpoul de Pinet Hughes Beaulieu $7.99, decent.

                    2006 Caves Alianca Vinho Verde $ 6.99, good.

                    2006 Clos Roche Blanche Touraine $13.99 (slightly off-limits) Very Good!

                    2005 Dingac Vinarija Plavac (Coastal Region Croatia) $10.99, terrible. Stay away!

                    2002 Chateau Tour Grise Fontenelles Saumur Blanc $10.99, Excellent!

                    2003 Abadía Retuerta Rívola Sardon de Duero $ 13.29, Excellent!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: RicRios

                      Just a note on Dingac, it is a great wine area-with fairly limited capacity for wine production (yield is about 0,6kg grapes per stem-but with ot of essence), but chosen winery (vinarija) is real junk, if you can get Grgic Plavac (famous californian wine-enthusiast has a winery in Croatia, his old homeland) or Stagnum or Badel Dingac,

                      one note - unfortunately even in Croatia you cannot get good plavac under $20

                    2. wow thanks for the suggestions! i'm going to try a malbec or two as well as follow the repeated advice to chill (like a nice glass of chardonnay :) and throw caution to the wind when picking out my cheap everyday bottles. if i find anything particularly tasteworthy i'll make sure and post back.

                      13 Replies
                      1. re: polly parker

                        Good for you! Just remember: Someone's "excellent" might well be someone else's "terrible"...
                        Follow your tastebuds...:-}

                        1. re: Tay


                          You are on the right track and I am going to go one step further with this.

                          Buy wine becuase you like the price.
                          Buy wine becuase you like the name.
                          Buy wine because you think the label is nice.
                          Buy wine becuase you think it will impress your friends or look cool.

                          Wine is a complex experience that each person has differently. Have it your way. The only good thing about knowing any rules is that then, you can break them on purpose.

                          1. re: ellaystingray

                            "Buy wine because you think the label is nice.
                            Buy wine becuase you think it will impress your friends or look cool."
                            You're kidding, right?

                            1. re: Tay

                              No. I am actually very serious. I suspected this might happen so this is really long in order to clarify.

                              Wine is a more complicated experience than just how it happens to taste. You should buy wine with any criteria that makes sense to you and brings you pleasure. I sometimes buy things that I find visually appealing that are not always the best product. While bad food probably isn't going to taste GREAT with proper presentation, great food is that much better when it looks right. Most things, of whatever quality, are perceived as higher quality—if only marginally—if the appearance is good. I think it is even more relavant when we are talking about wines under $10. Visual appeal can play a disproportionate role.

                              Most wine on the shelves of major grocery and retail in this country is perfectly sound--meaning not flawed. So what tastes good is relative. And, of the small percentage that is flawed, it has nothing to do with price point, production, provenance and knowledge on the part of the buyer--cork taint just doesn't care. So what tastes good is simply a matter of relative taste, and our taste buds are influenced by many many things. If some one usually swims in the under ten dollar pool, it is of much less concern to that person how those wines taste in relation to the $50 examples yet that is how we rate wines—against the world class examples of that particular grape, region etc.

                              Am I saying that a good way to shop for quality is by seeking out pretty labels? No, of course not. But simply liking a label is a perfectly good reason to give a wine a shot. How else are you going to decide? Highly involved consumers scour magazines, message boards and books learning about wine--but by far, BY FAR, most wine is purchased by people who do not care--and they shouldn't feel obliged--to spend that time.

                              The wine aisle is a risky place. There are hundreds, sometimes thousands of wines, in the average American grocery store. No other aisle in the store comes close to the fragmentation of the wine department. Most wine shoppers don’t hold the minutia in their head about which producer is doing what these days with which label—they just want to get their wine and finish shopping. But somehow the industry has saddled people like Polly with the idea that there are some rules for how to buy wine. Are there rules about how to buy soup?

                              All the information in the world is out there for those who want to seek it. But I find buying wines under $10 to truly be a journey of exploration in the wine aisle rather than in books or on message boards. In these cases, the less rules the better. If it feels right to buy a specific wine because some one on here mentioned it, that works too. But I am simply saying that the rules in this situation should be your own and some one needs to give people the right to buy and drink whatever they want based on whatever criteria is important.

                              FYI—I have purchased wine just because I liked the package and I have purchased wine to impress people. I haven’t lost any sleep over it.

                              This is an interesting link to some recent research done on how price, for one, effects perception of wine.

                              1. re: ellaystingray

                                ANY reason to pick up a bottle and try it is a good one, but I will say that -- rather than going to a grocery store and spending your $10 on a bottle, one is much morelikely to discover a bottle of higher quality for their money at a small wine retailer than at Safeway, Trader Joe's or Gelson's.

                                1. re: zin1953

                                  Yes. I've bought many a bottle at TJ's or the grocery store for about $10 that I ended up pouring out or cooking with. OTOH, I'm sitting here on my deck, watching the BBQ, with a glass of Spanish red that I got for $9.99 at my local wine store. I'm thinking of buying a case, I like it so much. The suggestions you can get from a small wine merchant help your money go much further IMHO.

                                2. re: ellaystingray

                                  I'm glad you took the time to 'flesh out' your original posting which seemed to be ridiculous. The expanded version makes much more sense. Great post.. Just change "less rules" to "fewer rules" and I'm on board. :-}

                                  1. re: Tay

                                    I am always happy to "expandd" myself. ;)

                                    1. re: ellaystingray

                                      lol! ...fair enough...
                                      I really enjoyed your post

                                      1. re: Tay

                                        I may be stating the obvious, but I would avoid wines from prestigious regions such as Napa, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Sonoma, Barossa, Rioja, etc...The cost of land in these regions necessitates higher prices (not to mention the consumer tolerance for paying for prestige).

                                        I'd look for wines from upcoming regions like Mendoza (Argentina), Languedoc (Fr.), Jumilla (Spain), or Maipo (Chile). In these less prestigious wine regions, you will have your best chance at finding good wines at less than $10.

                                        Oh, and remember to avoid the critter/gimmick labels. While there is probably a decent cheap wine available somewhere with a label featuring a penguin, kangaroo, frog, or sad, fat French clown, most wines with such labels lack any distinction whatsoever.

                                        1. re: anewton

                                          One thing, though, is that this the land cost rule is not always equally applicable. Within Napa there are properties that have been bought in recent years (for huge prices) and properties that have been owned for 30 to 50 years. While they both have the same current market value, the latter situation gives the winery some flexibility in pricing. One such example is Dick Steltzner, whose Stags Leap property is worth a fortune but he doesn't charge nearly as much as some other wineries in the same area.

                                        2. re: Tay

                                          Thanks Tay. And you are correct, fewer rules are always better.

                          2. polly- if you are still keeping an eye on this thread, a bit of advice:

                            To me, there is a big difference in the wines I choose to drink when having a glass of wine all by itself and when I am pairing wine with food. 90% of the time, I'm having food and wine, so when wine tasting I am always thinking of what food would go.

                            If you are trying various wines and you like or don't like them straight out of the bottle, it's possible that combining the wine with a food may change your reaction to it, so play with this. Also, particularly with reds, a wine is going to change with air and time, sometimes in a good way. So if you try something and think ick, let your glass sit for a few hours and try it again, or even try another taste out of the bottle a day later.

                            Keep track of what you liked and didn't like. You could start a thread here or a blog or even (gasp) on paper. If you do find a wine store and person you like, then it will be easier for the person to recommend other wines if you say what you did and didn't like from their shop, specifically, or when you walk into a new shop and need a place to start the conversation.

                            Hope this helps- happy tasting!

                            1. I've had good luck buying random bottles of cheap Spanish wine, especially monastrell and old vine grenache. Sometimes these wines are good and ridiculously cheap, $5 to $6 a bottle.

                              I am also a fan of Columbia Crest Grand Estates wines.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Somnifor

                                I couldn't agree more about Spanish wine. There isn't the value there that there once was, but there are plenty of tasty reds available for around $10 a bottle. And, like you, I'm especially fond of Spanish Monastrell and Garnacha.

                              2. wow i have to say i am thrilled i started a forum on the board for such an interesting conversation on wine and beyond. you all have added wine for thought! ha. i'm typically funnier after a few glasses of vino. i'll be taking all of your recommendations regarding regions and vintages, as well as considering the psychology of branding when perusing the wine aisles at my local shop. i was an advertising major so i think it is pretty interesting. i'll report back should i find anything good. tonight i'm opening up my first bottle of malbec!

                                thank you thank you thank you. such a pleasure to consult and discuss with my fellow hounds.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: polly parker

                                  $10 is such a forgiving cost of a bottle! Who cares if you lose $10 on a bad bottle? I've had some really very drinkable bottles for under $10. As long as there are no significant flaws, how can you go wrong? 2 buck chuck had me giddy on a camping trip. There is no stress, and wine makes food taste better...

                                  If you aren't a big fan of the bottle you bought, and there are no major flaws (corked wine, oxidized wine), then sangria is a very delightful way to finish off the bottle, white or red. Little bit of brandy, a touch of fruit juice, some chopped citrus and other fruits (peaches, nectarines, grapes, the list is endless) a spritz of soda water, and voila! Magical transformation, no wastage! And such a nice way to relax after a crappy day at work! And it lasts several days in the fridge without significant degradation (if you don't just finish it...)

                                2. others may disagree.....but i really like the Kumala Shiraz. It has a nice smokey flavour that i like. (i'm no wine expert....like what i like)

                                  1. Cost Plus World Market is running a sale on some of their wines thru February 26. If you buy 4 or more bottles, the prices get VERY attractive:

                                    Falesco Vitiano (Italy) $8.09
                                    Norton Malbec (Argentina) $6.24
                                    Meridian Chardonnay (Calif.) $6.29
                                    McManis Cabernet Sav. (Calif.) $ 8.09

                                    These are by no means GREAT wines (although the Falesco Vitiano is very good), but they certainly offer nice value at those prices. You can mix & match for the total of 4 bottles.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: DavidT

                                      Yeah, Falesco's wines are a great buy, and pair particularly nicely with pasta with a rabbit ragu topped with Parm-Reg shavings.

                                      My wife does not like Italian wines, almost across the board. She finds them too acidic (which is what makes Italian wine so good with food). Definitely a new world palette, that gal.

                                    2. so i have to give a plug for my favorite magnum cheap bottle - frontera cab/merlot. it is super cheap and i honestly think that it tastes a lot better than some of the more expensive cabs & merlots i have had in the past. i get it to keep around during the week and it is a great wine to drink while watching tv in your slippers.

                                      1. My rules are, get close to $10 or better to $15,
                                        look at argentina and especially chile reds... there is some great stuff.
                                        buy them young (if they can age) and wait...

                                        I do not now if you can get it but Casillera del diablo is excellent, it can also take aginig if you can wait

                                        1. My advice for you today is:

                                          Go to your local grocery store that also has an large wine department. Ask customer service for the wineperson.

                                          Tell them that you enjoy wine, and are looking for decent wines from $8-$12 a bottle. Find out if they offer a half-case discount of 10% on a six-pack of wine. Give him/her 2-4 varietals that you like, and let him recommend them to you.

                                          Talk to the wineperson extensively, if they don't seem too fidgety/busy. Ask things about high-volume mass produced wines from reliable winemakers that produce consistently good results - that result in high volume sales that people (apparently) enjoy.

                                          The first time, buy the ones they recommend. Go home and drink them. Find out if you agree. If you do, you have a wineperson locally in a good environment for inexpensive wines that you know you can trust.

                                          Rinse and repeat.

                                          We are lucky locally because we have a wine store whose prices are all between $5 and $50 (99% of them). These guys know wine very well, though their tastes and mine do tend to differ a bit. People here suddenly have a reputable wine store that stocks only grower wines from small domains, and these guys only buy what they like to drink. It seems to be working for them as a plan. Their wine inventory changes fairly frequently and not always to my taste, but they always have something new coming in next week, and they have frequent wine tastings and classes. If you can find something like this local to you, you can bypass the chain grocery store.

                                          1. Anything from Spain, Chile, Argentina.....also, having great luck with the 2005 vintage of red Bordeaux...great bargains from Bordeaux Superiore region. Check out the Wall Street Journals list last month? Great wines...usually merlot, cab franc and sauvignon based.

                                            1. Someone above mentioned that who cares if the bottle of wine isn't what you liked - - I agree. You are only out $10 and you learned a valuable lesson that you will never repeat again. I really hate to see people get so locked in a box about rules. Try getting together with a group of friends and have a blind tasting party. Have everyone bring a bottle (or two) of any kind of wine with the price range of $10 or under. This way it will give you some ideas of what kind of values are out there, besides having some fun.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Walla2WineWoman

                                                I agree...just keep track so you don't accidentally buy a bottle you dislike again. A moleskine notebook works great as a wine tasting journal.

                                              2. Polly,

                                                Malbec, echoing from above is the way to go. Have had 0 bad bottles and 3 phenoms for under $10 in the last two months. Try lots and learn. When I started I loved Zin's! The value there disappeared and I moved on, now liking Southern Italy. As for where to shop, it depends if you like the adventure. I love it so Trader Joe's is the place for me. I don;t mind going through lots of average wines to find a gem. If you need results fast your local wine shops should be filtering through the masses for you. And absolutely write them down, take notes if you can, this is half the reason I blog (so I can check it at the store).

                                                Take your time and enjoy yourself. So many wines, so little time!



                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: jjrzut

                                                  Find a wine retailer in your area that offers in store tastings. It's normal here in Southern California for them to charge a fee. Try different varitals and regions to find out what your personal tastes are. Once you figure out you like something like zin, syrah, whatever then try to find values in those.

                                                2. I have had to switch to mostly whites on dr.'s orders (boo!) and don't love them, so I've been please to find good success with off-label varietals like White Cote de Rhone, Vouvray and Viognier. Trader Joe's has some excellent ones for cheap. So my advice regarding the post is to reiterate staying away from Cabs, Pinot Noirs, Merlots, etc. if you're trying to find diamonds in the cheap-y rough.