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Why can't Americans have good cheap wine?

c
comestible Dec 3, 2008 08:24 PM

I'm not a regular in the Wine board (I've posted elsewhere on CW) but I've been reading responses here about inexpensive wines, Trader Joe's, etc.

Having traveled in Europe, one thing that has always struck me is how available really GOOD cheap wine is there. France comes to mind, of course, but even the Czech Republic, which I get to visit on business. I remember French supermarket wines at about 4 bucks, really interesting and sometimes made from unfamiliar grapes with unusual (to us) flavor profiles, In the Czech Republic you can go to a "vinoteka" and they'll fill you up a plastic liter bottle with something bulk but decent for next to nothing, or you can spend a bit more on something like a botttled Moravian Tramin, totally delightful. The rock-bottom bar wines there are thin and acidic, however.

I guess it's the difference in our cultures. It's as though Europeans believe everybody has a right to nice wine, even if you can't spend a lot. American sub-$10 wine, including the jugs, is so often uninteresting, maybe even flabby, flat or unbalanced, and even many standard imports are not that great.

A possible exception: I imagine the situation in California is similar to the European, just because you're so close to the wine-making areas, yes?

I remember grousing about this to a friend whose response was, "In Europe, wine is a sacrament. Here, it's just a business." That was his take on it, anyway.

Not many great wine shops where I live. There's no TJ around here...I should get to the Manhattan store, but it's a schlep. I do get to Warehouse on Broadway when I'm in town. The best I can do near home is a big store in Elizabeth, NJ. There's a Portuguese community there, and the Portuguese (and Spanish) wines are some of the best bargains. And not just vinho verde (too distinctive, I feel, for everyday use) but decent dao, douro, palmela, and others. They range from $4 on up, and some of those $4 wines are just fine. I've bought them by the case.

Would like to hear your thoughts.

  1. kaysyrahsyrah Oct 9, 2009 09:53 AM

    It's tragic that we cant get wines of comparable quality and price to those of France, Italy, Spain. But we cant. American customers are stupid enough to bid up the prices, and American wineries are stupid enough to take out massive loans to buy up the most expensive vineyard property in the world just to get started.

    4 Replies
    1. re: kaysyrahsyrah
      d
      dgris Oct 9, 2009 12:39 PM

      Good handle and good comment. Will they go down with the great recession. There is major worry for the new vinyards and wineries here in Oregon. I've noticed a number have introduced second labels. AtoZ has done a great job of using excess production of grapes for their wines. they are good and several $ cheaper.

      1. re: dgris
        PolarBear Oct 11, 2009 03:38 PM

        Agree about AtoZ, great QPR. Visited Airlie this past August and was impressed with their offerings as well, Riesling, Muller Thurgau, and "7", a blend of all seven white varietals that they grow. Added bonus, 25% case discount on the already low prices.

        1. re: PolarBear
          d
          dgris Oct 11, 2009 05:32 PM

          Need to check out Airlie for the whites as my wife and friends are major consumers. Raptor Ridge pinot gris is the latest on the radar and rated well in the wine issue of Oregon Magazine. Evolution is another good QPR as well as Twin Forks Allegra NV, a second lower priced brand from Laurel Ridge.

          1. re: dgris
            PolarBear Oct 12, 2009 07:33 AM

            Also picked up a couple of bottles of their Pinot Noir and a red varietal that was new to me, the 2006 Marechal Foch, which we were told is one of the few red grapes with red flesh. Great folks btw and nice out of the way setting.

    2. cockscomb Jan 23, 2009 09:59 PM

      why? a major reason is greed and gluttony. as the rising interest in wine has sweeped the us, so has the entrepeneur's interest grown. it's more about money than making quality wine now in the us.

      watch the movie "mondovino" and it should give you some insight to this

      1. wineglas Dec 31, 2008 01:35 PM

        One of the best reds under $15 to date for me is the 2005 Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet. I got it for $9.99 on sale and of course bought several cases.

        On the whole I buy Washington State Reds over California but the best deal was the 2006 Stangeland Willamette Valley Pinot Noir for around $15.

        The Cotes du Rhones are good value but Bordeaux in this price point is just bad!

        1. c
          catnip Dec 30, 2008 09:18 AM

          Just back from Great Barrrington.Ma. where I purchased Lindemans 2007 Merlot for $5.00/bottle.
          Also got a decent PeppeerwoodGrove Pinot Noir for $6.00/bottle.
          Both these wines are cheap and good.
          You just have to go to a big outlet and look around and ask for some help to find where the stores keep the "cheap" wines.
          Wine shops want to sell wine and although they may not display their cheaper wines you can find out where they keep these fine wines by asking store employees.

          2 Replies
          1. re: catnip
            z
            zin1953 Dec 30, 2008 02:30 PM

            >>> You just have to go to a big outlet and look around and ask for some help to find where the stores keep the "cheap" wines. <<<

            I don't think you need to go to a "big outlet" at all. In fact, I've gotten much better wines from small(er) wine merchants than I have at the "big outlet"/"big box retailers," always in the same price range -- i.e.: if I'm looking for a wine in the $5-6 range, I'll find a wine in the $5-6 range at BOTH a big outlet and a small(er) wine merchant, and the odds are that I'll find a better wine at the latter.

            1. re: catnip
              SteveTimko Dec 31, 2008 07:20 AM

              There may have been some thread drift here, but I think the point is that the wine is bottled in the United States, not sold here. Lindemans is Aussie. Pepperwood Grove pinot is USA but also Australian and Chilean.

            2. pikawicca Dec 18, 2008 05:34 PM

              I could not disagree more. While living in France off and on over the last 4 decades, I have to say that I very rarely found a cheap wine that I would describe as "drinkable." There are many inexpensive American wines that fit the bill. (Not, however, the utterly wretched 2 buck chuck, which is swill.)

              15 Replies
              1. re: pikawicca
                Chinon00 Dec 19, 2008 02:37 AM

                Restricting our conversation to red wines for the moment, which $10-$15 American wines would you prefer to drink versus say a $10-$15 botttle from the southern Rhone? I've personally found very little that I can enjoy in that price range here versus what I can get there between Côtes du Ventoux AOC, Côtes du Luberon AOC, Côtes du Rhône AOC, Vacqueyras, Rasteau . . .

                Thanks

                1. re: Chinon00
                  j
                  jpc8015 Dec 19, 2008 03:11 AM

                  There are so many quality domestic reds in that price point I am not going to waste the space by naming them all.

                  1. re: jpc8015
                    z
                    zin1953 Dec 19, 2008 06:21 AM

                    Oh, that's a silly answer . . . there are also too many French reds to NAME THEM ALL. Who asked you to "name them all"?

                    Go ahead. Name three. If you're feeling REALLY daring, name six.

                    1. re: zin1953
                      vanillagorilla Dec 19, 2008 09:41 AM

                      I sure can't name many. The $10-$15 range is a black hole for me in America. There are plenty of wines made here that are drinkable, but they are boring and generic. Once I get above that I find plenty of American wines I like. And below that price, I don't expect the wine to have a lot of character; it just needs to not taste like swill. France dominates my purchases in that price range.

                      1. re: vanillagorilla
                        d
                        dinwiddie Dec 19, 2008 10:34 AM

                        In the under $15 market for good American wines, whites dominate. However, there are producers who year in and year out produce good wine at that price. Boggle, Castle Rock, Chateau St. Jean, Chateau Sts. Michelle, Cline, Columbia Crest, Four Vines, Gallo Family, Hogue, Greg Norman California Estates, Ravenswood,Snoqualmie, Smoking Loon, Waterbrook, to name some. Of course, many of these wineries also produce more expensive wines, but there are plenty of "good" American wines that are fairly inexpensive.

                        1. re: dinwiddie
                          oolah Dec 19, 2008 11:16 AM

                          I haven't had all of these, but I'd personally rather abstain than drink Bogle, Ravenswood, Smoking Loon or Columbia Crest in this price range.

                          They're perfect examples of what I mean when I talk about cheap wine that's been over-manipulated to imitate more expensive stuff. To my palate, it ends up tasting like a ridiculous parody of good wine.

                          Like some of the posters above, I'll always go to France, especially the Loire, the southern Rhone, and the Beaujolais regions, in this price range.

                          1. re: oolah
                            Chinon00 Dec 19, 2008 05:20 PM

                            Speaking of Loire, I'm drinking a glass of Saumur Champigny 2007. The pronounced cranberry and tartness, the chalkiness, the leaness . . . the $14.99 price tag . . .

                          2. re: dinwiddie
                            z
                            zin1953 Dec 19, 2008 06:08 PM

                            >>> Boggle, Castle Rock, Chateau St. Jean, Chateau Sts. Michelle, Cline, Columbia Crest, Four Vines, Gallo Family, Hogue, Greg Norman California Estates, Ravenswood,Snoqualmie, Smoking Loon, Waterbrook, to name some. <<<

                            In the "For Whatever It's Worth" Department . . .

                            Obviously everyone has different tastes, different palates. That said -- and YMMV -- I would not recommend ANY of the wineries from a "blanket, across-the-board, everything-they-make" perspective. However, I will generally recommend the following wines year-in, year-out as solid, reliable values in the QPR Dept.:

                            Bogle: Petite Sirah, Sauvingon Blanc, Zinfandel (all California appellation).

                            Castle Rock: Pinot Noir (Monterey bottling)

                            Chateau St. Jean: Fumé Blanc (Sonoma bottling)

                            Chateau Ste. Michelle: Dry Riesling, Riesling (Columbia Valley)

                            Cline: while it IS possible to find Cline wines for under $15, most (if not all) carry a list price of MORE than $15, and so I do not list them here. Some can, however, be quite good.

                            Columbia Crest: While clearly their "Grand Estates" bottlings are superior to their "Two Vines" designatons, THIS winery -- of those you mention -- comes the closest to getting my own "across the board" endorsement.

                            Four Vines: I know some people really like these wines, and I will recommend their Old Vine Zinfandel to people who like that style, but I pass . . .

                            Gallo Family: Uh, no -- I pass on this label, butt I do recommend the Gallo of Sonoma label Zinfandel.

                            Hogue: Generally, I love Washington wines, but I have a more difficult time with this winery than the other Washington wines on your list.

                            Greg Norman California Estates: Not for me.

                            Ravenswood: Again, we run into the list price problem. Their "Vintner's Blend" label is not worth the price, IMHO, and their Sonoma bottlings list for greater than $15 . . .

                            Smoking Loon: Not on a bet.

                            Snoqualmie: See Hogue.

                            Waterbrook: Chardonnay, Mélange (red), Merlot-Cabernet (all Columbia Valley).

                            Again, these are MY opinions. Others may disagree.

                            Cheers,
                            Jason

                        2. re: zin1953
                          j
                          jpc8015 Dec 19, 2008 07:54 PM

                          Bogle Petite Sirah
                          Bogle Cabernet Sauvignon
                          Bogle Merlot
                          Chauteu Ste Michelle Syrah
                          Mary's Playgrouns Zinfandel
                          Columbia Syrah

                          There's six quality red wines between ten and fifteen dollars. This idea that you have to spend fifty dollars to find a drinkable domestic wine is patently absurd.

                          1. re: jpc8015
                            z
                            zin1953 Dec 20, 2008 07:56 AM

                            Let's stay on topic, shall we? Where did the $50 price tag come into play? Whoever said "you have to spend fifty dollars to find a drinkable domestic wine"??? (Oh, you did.) After all, the original poster was speaking of:

                            >>> American sub-$10 wine, including the jugs, is so often uninteresting <<<

                            I agree with three of your choices, but -- as I said in my reply to dinwiddie above -- we all have our own tastes, our own preferences. And for whatever it's worth, I agree: I think spending $50 IS "patently absurd," but to the best of my knowledge, no one has suggested that . . .

                            The crux of issue is where one can find better values -- higher QPR. For me (and dare I say, it seems as though I am not alone in this), the better values in the "under $15" category come from Europe.

                            Cheers,
                            Jason

                            1. re: zin1953
                              maria lorraine Dec 20, 2008 05:11 PM

                              ...the better values in the "under $15" category come from Europe...

                              No question. Best buys for me in this price range are Rhones, and some of the (non-marketed) "obscure " Italian varietals.

                              In the interests of a fair cost comparison...Because I'm on the West Coast, California wines may be less expensive for me than for others living elsewhere. Also will mention that French/Italian imports may be more expensive than elsewhere, given transportation costs. So even with California wines being cheaper and the imports more expensive, they're still the better QPR. If I lived on the East Coast (I have), where California wines are priced expensively (compared to here), and the imports are even cheaper, then, holy smokes, there would be no question.

                              1. re: zin1953
                                j
                                jpc8015 Dec 20, 2008 07:53 PM

                                I realize that nobody had brought up the $50 price tag specifically, I was using the reductio ad absurdum type argument here. Certainly there are those on this thread that believe you must spend more money on a domestic wine to get a quality product then you would need to spend on a European wine. I am just not buying that argument. I do believe that as a whole the quality of European wines have a better quality than domestic ones, most likely because the American wine industry is in it's infancy compared to the European wine making business. But that's not to say there aren't fantastic American wines out there and there are very good wines to be had at a value. I am also really excited about some of the products coming out of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Chile.

                                1. re: jpc8015
                                  Chinon00 Dec 20, 2008 08:17 PM

                                  "But that's not to say there aren't fantastic American wines out there and there are very good wines to be had at a value."

                                  No one on this thread has disagreed with that.

                              2. re: jpc8015
                                Chinon00 Dec 20, 2008 08:10 AM

                                I hear what you're saying and I guess it comes down to what you like. But over the years I have come to discover that for terroir expressive wines, wines that taste more like unmanipulated agricultural products, I can just find them much more easily from the places that I've mentioned in the price range that we are discussing. I'm not saying that you must share my tastes though.

                                1. re: Chinon00
                                  girobike Dec 20, 2008 02:38 PM

                                  Chinon,

                                  I fully agree with what you say being a Californian transplant into Europe by marriage.

                                  But you also have to realize that trying to convince the majority of people otherwise (in the English speaking world) who have not had the time and opportunity to experience what you've had would be largely a waste of your time.

                                  Tastes notwithstanding, of course.

                      2. wineglas Dec 12, 2008 09:02 PM

                        Are you kidding me. All these posts and you can't find a good inexpensive wine for under $6. Hello one person mentioned Columbia Crest Two Vines. I taste a ton of wine and no one in the world is making their quality for the price period!

                        I can get two vines new vineyard 10 for 5.25 a bottle on sale. If you can't spring for the $2 more then why are you buying wine? And why should we care about $4 wine. People pay $2.50 for a cup of overprice coffee so why can't spend $6 on wine?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: wineglas
                          Vetter Dec 12, 2008 09:44 PM

                          Buying Columbia Crest just gives money to a tobacco company, though. Check out the dreary website: http://www.ustinc.com/ The same holding company bought Erath, a winery whose wines I used to really enjoy. No more. Sniff.

                          And back on topic, tobacco costs us all money. Externalized costs are still costs.

                        2. c
                          cimui Dec 12, 2008 05:33 PM

                          the u.s. actually imports a lot of passable, cheap wine -- think vineyards like jacob's creek, which can be had for $4.50 a bottle in many places (including the wine warehouse near astor place, nyc). i agree with posters who say that labor costs and general standard of living costs keep wine prices low in certain parts of europe (including the czech republic, hungary, romania, bulgaria and others), at the same time that a long history of winemaking ensures that quality does not drop *too* low. in other parts of europe, high labor prices and the VAT actually inflate wine prices beyond what we pay for the same bottle in the U.S.

                          comestible, if you're looking for decent, dirt cheap wines, look into wines produced in jumilla, chile and probably still argentina, australia and even s. africa. you probably won't find anything worth drinking in the $2 range, but about $5 is completely doable.

                          1. SweetPeaSurry Dec 8, 2008 06:37 PM

                            We actually have vinyards here in Nebraska. I do a tour every year to the various vinyards here in NE, in IA and in SD ... it's interesting to taste the various flavors. Cheapest wine is in the state where you live. Check those out.

                            12 Replies
                            1. re: SweetPeaSurry
                              z
                              zin1953 Dec 8, 2008 06:40 PM

                              >>> Cheapest wine is in the state where you live. <<<

                              You lost me. Can you explain? Are we talking carbon footprints or something, as opposed to retail price??? (Obviously, I've had a rough day!)

                              1. re: zin1953
                                c
                                cimui Dec 12, 2008 05:51 PM

                                i'm not sure this is entirely true anymore. transportation costs certainly factor in, but transportation shouldn't add *that* much to the price (I'd guess a few dimes). it used to be that states would charge a tax for wines sent in from another state, but a few years ago, the supreme court found this practice unconstitutional (because it discriminates against people from different states, violating the commerce clause). so nowadays, the only reason -- other than adjustments for price of living -- why a wine produced out of state might cost more than one produced in state would be transportation, which actually doesn't account for that much.

                              2. re: SweetPeaSurry
                                c
                                cimui Dec 12, 2008 07:34 PM

                                hey sweetpea, do the vineyards in NE actually grow the grapes they make wine with? i'm not sure why this happens, but i've visited a good number of self-advertised 'vineyards' across the middle of the country that make the wine on site in a particular state, but actually import the grapes for winemaking from places like california. if NE actually grows its own grapes i would be so impressed!

                                1. re: cimui
                                  Aromatherapy Dec 18, 2008 09:24 AM

                                  I've visited a few wineries in NE. Yes, grapes growing right there. Mostly hybrids IIRC.

                                  1. re: Aromatherapy
                                    z
                                    zin1953 Dec 18, 2008 02:40 PM

                                    Yes, but many wineries ALSO bring in grapes from California . . .

                                    1. re: zin1953
                                      c
                                      cimui Dec 18, 2008 05:30 PM

                                      i can't tell you how disappointed i was to find that the 'famous' (self proclaimed) nantucket 'vineyard' i biked 8 miles to get to last summer imported all their grapes from CA!

                                    2. re: Aromatherapy
                                      c
                                      cimui Dec 18, 2008 05:28 PM

                                      that's pretty rockin'. maybe the vineyard i have growing in my nyc apartment stands a chance... ;)

                                      have you tried them, aroma? it seriously sounds interesting. how cool would it be if vineyards spread far and wide across this continent?

                                      1. re: cimui
                                        z
                                        zin1953 Dec 18, 2008 08:38 PM

                                        >>> how cool would it be if vineyards spread far and wide across this continent? <<<

                                        They already have! There are wineries in all 50 states. Between Vitis vinifera, V. labrusca, V. aestivalis, V. rotundifolia, and various hybrids, there are vineyards in almost all of the 50 states . . .

                                        1. re: zin1953
                                          alanbarnes Dec 19, 2008 05:56 PM

                                          And don't forget ananas comosus, the "grape" responsible for Maui Blanc. Eeeewwww...

                                          1. re: zin1953
                                            maria lorraine Dec 20, 2008 04:54 PM

                                            thanks for v. specifics...

                                            why, I'm not familiar with r. rotundfolia...but will check it out.

                                            santa cheers...

                                            1. re: maria lorraine
                                              z
                                              zin1953 Dec 20, 2008 09:19 PM

                                              ML, it's basically grown in the South . . . Scuppernong is the best known example, and while it may be worth it to say you tasted it . . . .

                                          2. re: cimui
                                            Aromatherapy Dec 23, 2008 07:14 AM

                                            I tried a few, solidarity and all that. Most were quite drinkable, esp. considering these were new operations with young vines. I don't think this is the next Oregon or anything, but if I lived there I'd support them occasionally.

                                    3. s
                                      Somnifor Dec 7, 2008 03:48 PM

                                      Wine growing is massively subsidized in the EU through the common agricultural policy. This has led to overproduction and a glut of every day caliber wine. Gluts of unsold product tend to lead to low prices. Much is turned into industrial alcohol.

                                      Does anyone know if the US has price supports for wine grape crops? My guess would be no due to anti-liquor sentiment but I don't know. I know California sells nearly all of the wine it produces.

                                      I think a lot of the price differences have to do with supply and demand issues.

                                      1. SteveTimko Dec 4, 2008 10:11 AM

                                        The 2007 Talley Riesling is $11.20 a bottle at the winery if you belong to the wine club. Killer wine.
                                        Part of the problem in the U.S. is that they use so much new oak and oak costs money. IF they did a better job in the vineyard and grew grapes appropriate for the terrain and weather they wouldn't have to spend so much covering it up with oak in the winery.

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: SteveTimko
                                          girobike Dec 6, 2008 02:40 AM

                                          This is my personal opinion, but after having spent some years in Europe, I think you might have something there. When I try US wines in general, they taste largely "the same" across the price ranges discussed and varietals - what my family and I typify as "power wines".

                                          I just don't get the variations that I get in European low-mid-range wines. The US wines taste "engineered", while the European wines are more "crafted".

                                          Anyway, here's some of the things we're drinking at the moment as "table wines" based on this discussion.

                                          Whites:
                                          Brugel 2006 Silvaner (Franken, Germany): 5 Euros/bottle. Excellent stuff for that price. The owner actually delivers it to your door personally once a month.

                                          Schnaitmann 2007 Riesling (Fellbach, Germany): 10 Euros/bottle. Again, a bargain for that quality of wine. His higher price offerings are completely sold out.

                                          Reds:
                                          Bodegas Palacio 2004 Rioja "El Portico": 4.99 Euros/bottle. This was a sale at a drugstore around the corner for us. Excellent quality. Apparently, the drugstore contracts with little known wine producers in Spain to bottle their own wines.

                                          Gran Delmio Primero Gran Riserva 2000 "Linea Oro": 4.99 Euros/bottle. Ditto.

                                           
                                           
                                           
                                           
                                          1. re: girobike
                                            oolah Dec 6, 2008 01:20 PM

                                            Yes, I think that's exactly it. Because the US isn't as wine-centric, and because you really can't grow wine in a lot of our states, there's more emphasis on particular grapes. So people seek out the familiar Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay rather than just whatever grows best in their region. Those just happen to be among the most expensive to grow and vinify.

                                            So unlike France or Spain or Italy, where you have many regional grapes and styles, we have two or three dominant flavor profiles that are reproduced at all prices. The cheap good wine in France isn't Bordeaux and Burgundy — it's the lighter regional styles, the Gamays, the Grenaches, the Cab Francs, etc that aren't trying to be something else. In the US, the cheap wine is an oak-chipped Cab Sauvignon imitating a more expensive Napa Cab Sauvignon.

                                            Consequently, our cheap wines are either not-so-cheap or just plain bad, AND you have a lot less variety.

                                            1. re: oolah
                                              Chinon00 Dec 6, 2008 02:02 PM

                                              And I think that as a nation we think of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling and other grape varietals as "flavors" and not vehicles to reflect a place as Europeans do. That expectation is satisfied by a very uniform product which as you stated deviates in quality only.

                                              1. re: Chinon00
                                                m
                                                makotot Dec 7, 2008 01:54 PM

                                                When I was a student (15 - 20 years ago), I was drinking jug wine which costed $4 - $5 for a litter or a gallon (i.e. Carl Rossi, etc.). I don't drink these wines any more but wonder these are still available. These wines are made in Central Valley in California with stainless steal tanks by big producers like Gallo, etc. I think that in the U.S. or at least in California, people don't buy these wines and at least spend $12 - 15 but usually $20 - 30 for a bottle of wine.

                                                1. re: makotot
                                                  z
                                                  zin1953 Dec 7, 2008 06:12 PM

                                                  >>> I don't drink these wines any more but wonder these are still available. <<<

                                                  Why wouldn't they be available? Of course they are! Only the prices have changed . . . they've gone up, like everything else!

                                                  You can find the various offerings from Carlo Rossi selling for $3.99 for a 1.5L, $7.99 for a 4.0L jug. So, too, are the various wines under Gallo's Livingston label -- the "replacement" forwhat used to be the "old" Gallo label.

                                                  Almaden wines, as always, are a bit more money -- $5.99 and $12.99, for the 1.5L and 4.0L bottles, respectively; their 5.0L boxes are $10.99. Paul Masson stalwarts, Emerald Dry and Rhine Castle, are $6.99 per 1.5L bottle. And you can find Inglenook Navalle generics for $10.99 per 4.0L jug, while their varietals like Colomard and Chenin are $5.99 for a 1.5L, but only $8.99 for the 3.0L size . . .

                                                  >>> I think that in the U.S. or at least in California, people don't buy these wines . . . <<<

                                                  Then who does?

                                                  I agree that the people who regularly participate on these pages probably do not, but yes! sure! these wines are sold in the Us, and in California . . .

                                                  Cheers,
                                                  Jason

                                              2. re: oolah
                                                c
                                                cimui Dec 12, 2008 07:26 PM

                                                this is a really good analysis, oolah. my only contribution: we don't actually have less variety in the u.s. we grow less variety, true, but because we don't have the same restrictions on wine importation that some countries do, we actually end up with more variety.

                                          2. c
                                            catnip Dec 4, 2008 09:14 AM

                                            I'm looking at a 1.5 litre bottle of Vendange Merlot(Californaia,2006 vintage) that cost me $4.99.
                                            I just pulled out next a bottle of Peter Mertes ,product of Germany,Liebfraumilch,2001,that cost me $1.49..
                                            My final selection is a bottle of Fox Brook Merlot,California 2006,750ML,which cost me $3.49.
                                            All cheap wines ,all good-tasting to some degree,and all cheap price-wise.
                                            There are plenty of cheap wines out there imo;youj ust have to find them

                                            6 Replies
                                            1. re: catnip
                                              c
                                              comestible Dec 4, 2008 09:41 AM

                                              Catnip, of course I hunt for inexpensive wines this way too. As you say, you just have to find them, but part of my point was that it's a lot easier to find good ones if you happen to live in Europe. You don't need an internet forum to help you find them. :)

                                              1. re: comestible
                                                c
                                                catnip Dec 4, 2008 01:13 PM

                                                I haven't been to Europe but i agree with you because my son lives there and he says the same thing you are saying.:)
                                                Do you think this is because our boy says the water is so bad in so many places over there that wine is drunk like water in so many places?
                                                Curious Catnip

                                                1. re: catnip
                                                  z
                                                  zin1953 Dec 4, 2008 01:26 PM

                                                  >>> Do you think this is because our boy says the water is so bad in so many places over there that wine is drunk like water in so many places? <<<

                                                  Uh. No.

                                                  It is because, historically, the US was NEVER a wine-consuming nation -- populated, mainly, by the English, Irish, Scotish . . . and then German and Scandanavian immigrants . . . ALL of whom have, traditionally, favored beer and/or distillates. Wine was not only something foreign (only Madeira was truly popular in Colonial America), but ALL alcohol was part of the pervasive "Demon Rum" viewpoint that resulted in the 18th Amendment and Prohibition.

                                                  On the other hand, Europeans -- especially in and around the Mediterranean -- have historically viewed wine as an everyday part of life. It is something as staple to the meal as bread, regularly consumed at lunch and dinner, and given to children diluted with water at meals when still quite young. Indeed, it is not UNcommon to see older Italians and Frenchmen have a shot of grappa or brandy with their coffee in the morning -- especially if they begin work in the very early morning hours . . .

                                                  1. re: zin1953
                                                    Chinon00 Dec 4, 2008 03:05 PM

                                                    While we're on the topic could we clear up the whole issue of Europeans during the Middle Ages drinking alcohol instead of water due to most water being polluted? So during the Middle Ages your choices were to either be a complete alcoholic, suffer acute dysentery or die of dehydration?

                                                    1. re: Chinon00
                                                      z
                                                      zin1953 Dec 4, 2008 03:32 PM

                                                      The only connection that I know of to drinking wine instead of water is this:

                                                      During the Roman Empire, the Roman Legions would routinely fill their canteens / potable drinking water with a mixture of local water-and-wine. The low pH of the wine, coupled with the alcohol, would kill most of the microorganisms in the local water supply, rendering the water safe to drink and unlikely to cause gastrointestinal distress . . .

                                                      Other than that, the "We're having wine cuz the water be bad" is just . . . . well, you know.

                                                      1. re: zin1953
                                                        carswell Dec 4, 2008 03:57 PM

                                                        "We're having wine cuz the water be bad"

                                                        Thash my story an' I'm sticking wi'it. <hic>

                                            2. c
                                              CurtA Dec 4, 2008 08:22 AM

                                              It's generally more than $4, but I think that the quality of Columbia Crest products, across the board, is very good for only a couple of dollars a bottle more. I also look to Chile, Argentina, and Australia for some nice compromises in the less than $10 range.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: CurtA
                                                s
                                                steve999 Dec 5, 2008 09:59 AM

                                                I wouldn't consider Chilean wines to be a compromise. They are producing some of the most consistent wines on the market. Apparently Chile has solid, reliable weather for grape production.

                                                One of my favorites - Concha y Toro Cab, can be found at Trader Joe's for $8 a bottle.

                                                http://www.conchaytorousa.com/wines/d...

                                                1. re: steve999
                                                  z
                                                  zin1953 Dec 5, 2008 10:05 AM

                                                  Keeping in mind that, first and foremost, it is YOUR palate that determines what you like, and no one else's . . .

                                                  Chile DOES indeed make some very tasty, afoordable wines that score high on the mythical "QPR" scale (Quality-Price Ratio). But you have to like what they make! I certainly agree that many of that nation's wines are sound, well-made, and worthy of consideration. But their wines are very low on MY personal list of what to buy in the "under $15" price range. This has little to do with quality, and everything to do with taste: I vastly prefer the wines from France, Spain, and Portugal in this price range.

                                                  YMMV . . .

                                                  Cheers,
                                                  Jason

                                              2. z
                                                zin1953 Dec 4, 2008 06:29 AM

                                                It's no secret as to why there is no "good, cheap wine" in the US . . . THERE IS!

                                                BUT . . . . (and it's a BIG BUT!)

                                                First of all, although unrealistic in today's pricing, long ago the US wine industry broke prices into several categories, based on the retail price per 750ml (standard) bottles. These are: under $3, $3-7,$7-10, $10-$14, and $14-25, and $25+.

                                                No one (IMHO) can touch California wines in the lowest category. But how many people here are actually buying jug wines on a regular basis? But jug wines regularly beat the pants of French so-called "zip code" wines and their equivalents from other European countries.

                                                It's when one moves UP the price scale that the US falls short. As I have often said, the best wine bargains -- even today -- come from Europe. The cost of production here in the US is much higher than in Europe for "affordable" wines (say, sub-$15 -- maybe even sub-$20), and as a result one needs to spend (again, IMHO) closer to $25-30 or more for a wine from, say, California, Oregon, or Washington to find a wine of equivalent quality from Europe -- especially Spain and Portugal! -- that costs in the $12-20 range.

                                                Just my experience . . .

                                                12 Replies
                                                1. re: zin1953
                                                  Chinon00 Dec 4, 2008 07:02 AM

                                                  "The cost of production here in the US is much higher than in Europe for "affordable" wines . . . "

                                                  Why?

                                                  1. re: Chinon00
                                                    j
                                                    jpc8015 Dec 4, 2008 09:22 AM

                                                    Americans like to think that no matter what job they are doing they should be getting paid $30/hr or more to do it. There are a lot of low skill jobs that go into taking grapes off the vine and turning it into wine on your table. In order for these winemakers to stay in business they have to pass that cost along to the consumer. So in the end you pay more for your wine.

                                                    In economics it's called the money illusion. You hear people talk about raising minimum wage all the time. That raises production costs for companies across the board. Those costs get passed on to the consumer and eventually the cost of everything goes up. In the end, the raise you just gave Joe Worker means nothing because he has to pay more for consumer goods. Maybe this is a conversation for a different forum...

                                                    1. re: jpc8015
                                                      Chinon00 Dec 4, 2008 09:31 AM

                                                      But French labor costs are some of the highest in the world.

                                                      1. re: Chinon00
                                                        z
                                                        zin1953 Dec 4, 2008 09:41 AM

                                                        But it doesn't count . . .

                                                        Keep in mind that we are talking about the differences between agriculture and industry.

                                                        In English, one speaks of the grape grower and the winemaker. One GROWS the grapes; the other MAKES the wine. They are, overwhelmingly, two different people in the US. One may own thousands of acres of land, farm the grapes using modern, expensive tractors, employ dozens of people at harvest (either hand-picked or mechanical), and so on . . . then, the grapes are purchased by a huge winery, also employing dozens of people . . . .

                                                        IN France, one speaks of "le petit vigneron" -- the little wine-grower. Wine is grown, not manufactured. Most vineyards are less than 100 acres. FAR less. The land is worked by a husband-and-wife, by the father and his son(s), or an uncle . . . often the wine is made in their basement, and later sold to a négociant. The harvest may be done by the family, or by students (along with some migrant labor). If the farmer belongs to a cave cooperative, he trucks his grapes to the co-op, and the wines are made there . . .

                                                        Costs are much less.

                                                      2. re: jpc8015
                                                        Frodnesor Dec 5, 2008 07:40 AM

                                                        *Americans like to think that no matter what job they are doing they should be getting paid $30/hr or more to do it. There are a lot of low skill jobs that go into taking grapes off the vine and turning it into wine on your table. In order for these winemakers to stay in business they have to pass that cost along to the consumer. So in the end you pay more for your wine. *

                                                        Someone more knowledgeable please correct me if I'm wrong, but I have always assumed that the California wine industry is heavily dependent on migrant labor to work the vineyards, especially during harvest, and I'd be astonished if they're getting paid anywhere close to $30/hr.

                                                        This article suggests that getting $12/hr in Napa is the "dream job" for these migrant workers and that for most, their wages are significantly less ->
                                                        http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/12/19/CMGLR9UFK61.DTL&type=printable

                                                        As to your second point, this report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that as of 2007, hourly workers at or under the minimum wage made up only 2.3% of all hourly-paid workers in the workforce, and the overwhelming majority of those are in the service industry. So I'm somewhat dubious that minimum wage increases dramatically raise production costs "across the board" or that these costs are automatically passed through in the cost of consumer goods (such as wine).
                                                        http://www.bls.gov/cps/minwage2007.htm

                                                        1. re: Frodnesor
                                                          r
                                                          RicRios Dec 5, 2008 09:04 AM

                                                          Agreed. Somehow jpc8015 seems to join a common trend consistent of blaming Joe Worker / José Trabajador for any and all malaises affecting the marketplace.

                                                          1. re: Frodnesor
                                                            z
                                                            zin1953 Dec 5, 2008 09:50 AM

                                                            >>> Someone more knowledgeable please correct me if I'm wrong, but I have always assumed that the California wine industry is heavily dependent on migrant labor to work the vineyards, especially during harvest, and I'd be astonished if they're getting paid anywhere close to $30/hr. <<<

                                                            Keep in mind that, in most cases, the vineyards and the wineries are under separate ownership. Either way, however, the HARVEST of grapes is heavily dependent on migrant labor. However, for 8-10 months (all year except when preparing for the harvest, and the actual harvest itself), the vineyard workers are employed full-time . . . either by the individual vineyard owner, or by the vineyard management company responsible for maintaining the individual vineyard.

                                                            I, too, would be surprised at a $30 hourly rate for the AVERAGE vineyard worker.

                                                            1. re: Frodnesor
                                                              s
                                                              SteveG Dec 12, 2008 04:59 PM

                                                              Well, in Napa Valley if harvest comes in a rush, workers do get well over $20 an hour. Normal vineyard work is considerably cheaper, approaching minimum wage, but during harvest the rate goes much higher because the work can't wait. It's also hot, sticky, grimy, backbreaking, and miserable work.

                                                              Especially at higher end wineries where they engage in fruit sorting, you can either have attentive pickers who are paid well to do a good job who don't pick bad clusters to begin with, or you pay other people to pick over clusters as they flow past on a sorting table.

                                                              1. re: SteveG
                                                                Frodnesor Dec 12, 2008 09:58 PM

                                                                That article was about 5 years old so I suppose the $12/hr was somewhat dated. Nonetheless I suspect it still holds that Napa in a rush harvest is the absolute top of the market. I'm still dubious that labor costs play a very significant role in the pricing of US wine as compared to other countries.

                                                          2. re: Chinon00
                                                            z
                                                            zin1953 Dec 4, 2008 09:30 AM

                                                            Labor is one big component. Also, land costs -- while they are certainly high in Europe, much of it doesn't change hands, but rather is passed on generation to generation. In many instances, you don't "have to" buy the grapes -- they are grown on your land -- whereas most vineyards here in the US are under separate ownership from the winery.

                                                            etc., etc., etc.

                                                            1. re: Chinon00
                                                              maria lorraine Dec 4, 2008 11:22 PM

                                                              Land is often already paid for in Europe, still on loan from the bank in the US.

                                                            2. re: zin1953
                                                              ibstatguy Dec 5, 2008 08:28 PM

                                                              completely agree with Zin's point that as one moves UP the price scale, US wines fall short in the QPR category. its a simple fact that drives me bonkers....IMHO

                                                            3. r
                                                              RicRios Dec 3, 2008 11:45 PM

                                                              In a nutshell: American market tolerates higher prices when it comes to alcholic beverages, and this is not restricted to wine.

                                                              A couple days ago in Italy, I was charged 3 Euro for a Campari at the bar in a one star Michelin restaurant. Same drink in the US in a similarly starred placed would have costed 4 to 5 times as much.

                                                              8 Replies
                                                              1. re: RicRios
                                                                maria lorraine Dec 4, 2008 11:21 PM

                                                                Hmm...I'm not so sure at all about this being tolerance for high prices.

                                                                I once sat with a brilliant winemaker and businessman, and he went through, point by point, the cost of producing wine. There's almost no way -- with the price of land anywhere in California -- to produce wine for under $10 a bottle. Sure, you can buy your fruit from Modesto, but otherwise....no.

                                                                You would not believe the costs of land, agriculture, barrels, bottles, workers, tanks, fencing, bonds, insurance, advertising -- it's unbelievably high. I look at my own winemaking spreadsheets, and man oh man the cost of things is so high.

                                                                Now, in contrast, and to agree with you, there is "cachet inflation." Trophy wines, cult wines, popular wines, trophy spirits, yes, are priced high, at what the market will bear. High-priced wines are impervious to economic downturns; in fact, wines above $65 have actually increased in sales.

                                                                Best,
                                                                Maria

                                                                1. re: maria lorraine
                                                                  c
                                                                  catnip Dec 5, 2008 02:15 AM

                                                                  I hear wht you and others are saying here Maria and I agree with you about the cost of producing wine but many i markrets are selling wine at $2.00-$6.00/bottle here and I can't figure out,given the cost of production,how they can sell the wine for those prices--- and the retailer still has to have a mark-up!
                                                                  Wine makers can't be "dumping" wines in these quantities just to get rid of them.
                                                                  There can't be that much of a glut of wine in the markets to make the price ofthe wines I mentioned so cheap.
                                                                  Anyone have an opinion why such wines are being sold so cheaply?
                                                                  Am I missing something?

                                                                  1. re: catnip
                                                                    z
                                                                    zin1953 Dec 5, 2008 06:30 AM

                                                                    Fred Franzia insists he's making a profit on Charles Shaw -- aka "Two Buck Chuck" or "2BC" -- and knowing the Franzias as I do, I believe him.

                                                                    Furthermore, although standard markups would indicate that 2BC has a case one wholesale price in California of $16/case, there is no doubt that Trader Joe's is paying substantially less for 2BC than that. My guess would be closer to $12 a case, for the sale of multiple truckloads at a time (minimum three), max. discount, and a freight pick-up allowance (i.e.: Bronco doesn't deliver, but TJ's picks up the wine themselves).

                                                                    AND it's profitable for ALL concerned.

                                                                    1. re: zin1953
                                                                      s
                                                                      SteveG Dec 12, 2008 04:53 PM

                                                                      2BC is a special case; they're buying bulk wine with booboos on the bulk wine market, and using reverse osmosis machines and such to clean up the wine. The wineries unloading the bad batches are probably doing so at a loss, and through the miracle of blending, technology, and perhaps a few artificial flavors (someone must buy from those catalogs my parents get in the mail!), 2BC ends up as something the public will drink in huge volume.

                                                                      1. re: SteveG
                                                                        z
                                                                        zin1953 Dec 12, 2008 09:17 PM

                                                                        And they do so at a profit! ;^)

                                                                  2. re: maria lorraine
                                                                    z
                                                                    zin1953 Dec 5, 2008 06:35 AM

                                                                    >>> There's almost no way -- with the price of land anywhere in California -- to produce wine for under $10 a bottle <<<

                                                                    Maria, I've never disagreed with you so much in a single day! What's happened?

                                                                    IF what you say is true, ML, then how does everyone sell their jug wines so cheaply? Clearly they are UNDER the equivalent of $10/750ml retail . . . what about all the Côtes-du-Rhônes, Languedocs, and other wines from France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal that are under $10? (And that includes much higher freight costs!) Let alone South America and Australia . . .

                                                                    OK, say we restrict this JUST to California wines . . . on the BevMo website (to cite just one example), they list 647 wines from the US which retail for UNDER $10 . . . and trust me, BevMo is making a profit at that price!

                                                                    It is VERY MUCH possible to make wine for under $10 a bottle . . .

                                                                    1. re: zin1953
                                                                      maria lorraine Dec 5, 2008 10:32 AM

                                                                      Total agreement with you on the price and value of European wines.

                                                                      Good California wines grown on land that is not owned and barrel-aged, a different story. A wine can and is made more cheaply by an older, established company, but the land is owned, vineyards have long been planted, use of oak is minimal, cheaper labels, established or piggybacked distribtion, etc -- all keep costs low.

                                                                      1. re: zin1953
                                                                        s
                                                                        SteveG Dec 12, 2008 04:55 PM

                                                                        You missed the Modesto caveat in Maria's post...

                                                                  3. b
                                                                    bclevy Dec 3, 2008 10:29 PM

                                                                    I am very doubtful that the economics of $4/bottle wine in the store
                                                                    can be worked out in the US, and I have also a hard time
                                                                    believing it works out in Europe. The cost of buying the land,
                                                                    planting it, growing the vines and tending them year round,
                                                                    equipping a winery, storing the wine, buying barrels, bottling,
                                                                    selling and distribution is rather steep. Since I am familiar
                                                                    with France, one difference is that the vineyards and winery are probably
                                                                    treated as a sunk cost there and the winery is passed from generation
                                                                    to generation. Most US winemakers are first or second generation
                                                                    so are still in the startup phase. I suspect also that estate taxes
                                                                    create a much bigger hurdle on passing wine businesses from
                                                                    one generation to the next in the US.

                                                                    One other large difference is that small wineries seem to be
                                                                    able to find distributors in France. The US distribution system
                                                                    becaue of large distances and scale seems stacked against
                                                                    small wineries.

                                                                    All this being said, if you live close to a wine producing area
                                                                    in CA, there are always deals to be had when wineries try
                                                                    to push out the older production to make space for their new
                                                                    bottlings. In Amador, I have seen Bray sell his sangiovese
                                                                    or zin for $6/bottle (normal price is about $17/bottle) to
                                                                    move his old stuff out. These are not great wines, but very
                                                                    decent every day table wines. But I view those as special
                                                                    close-out situations. As far as I can tell, to get a decent
                                                                    return on investment, winemakers need to sell their
                                                                    wine $12-$15/bottle and up.

                                                                    This is also a free market. I may be offended to see
                                                                    unspectacular Napa cabs selling for $75/bottle,
                                                                    but if the winemakers can find buyers, it means they
                                                                    are right. After all, why should they leave money on
                                                                    the table?

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: bclevy
                                                                      t
                                                                      tmso Dec 4, 2008 01:11 AM

                                                                      You're absolutely right to be doubtful of the economics of 4€ wine in France. There is some perfectly okay table wine around 4€ per bottle, of which a very large amount comes from regions in the south-west; if you were paying attention to the news last year, that's where the winemakers were in revolt last year, demanding that something be done about the bulk wine prices because they were going bankrupt.

                                                                      I have noticed those wines creeping up in price, too. So it's likely they'll end out at something more like 6-7€.

                                                                    2. c
                                                                      catnip Dec 3, 2008 10:02 PM

                                                                      I was reading a Chowhound post about buying "cheap" wine up in New England.
                                                                      Somone suggested buying "closeouts" at supermarkets while up there so I went to the local Shaw's ,Hannaford's,and Price Chopper's while in Maine and I got an assortment of "closeout" labels,almost all of them from producers in California(which seems to have a glut of vineyards) but couple were Spanish and Portugese wines as well.
                                                                      The prices ranged from $1.99/bottle to around $5.00/bottle.
                                                                      I didn't know what I was getting but I bought around a couple dozen or so bottles of Merlot,Pinot,and other reds.
                                                                      We've been sampling these "off-brands" and we've been surprised also to find out how much decent wine can be had for such low prices.
                                                                      I'm not saying that these wines are the best we've ever had but for day-to-day wine drinking these wines rate very well with us.
                                                                      Your comment about Portugese and Spanish wines being some of the best bargains was really accurate as those wines were both inexpensive and very good to us.
                                                                      Now that I know some of the brands we like I too will be buying "by the case" when we get up that way again.

                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                      1. re: catnip
                                                                        Caralien Jan 19, 2009 01:19 PM

                                                                        I've done that with the supermarket specials a few times too, particularly on longer trips to SC. I don't know why, but my local shops from Brooklyn, and now Princeton, don't have the supermarket specials even in their wine sections. The larger wine shops, like Canal's, which is similar to Sam's Wine & Spirits in Chicago, might, but I haven't seen it--yet.

                                                                        TJ's is fine, but in Manhattan it is such a zoo and so poorly maintained that you'd rather spend more elsewhere. A French friend was impressed with 2 Buck Chuck, but then didn't understand why the local wine shops in SF had nothing else at the same price point.

                                                                        S. American wines really are a great deal--many perfectly good bottles are $6-10.

                                                                        Some of my favourite American wines which used to be $7 (ie Rancho Zabaco and Ste. Michelle sparkling) are now in the $12-25 range.

                                                                        In '94, there were some good wines at Nicolas (their regional labels) in Paris for 20FF ($4); with the conversion to the Euro, decent wines at similar prices have been harder to come by.

                                                                        So yes, they can be found, but you have to look for them.

                                                                        1. re: Caralien
                                                                          c
                                                                          comestible Jan 22, 2009 07:17 AM

                                                                          Caralien, any specific suggestions for those S. American wines? The ones in the sub-$10 price range (that I can find around here) range from generic to dull (Xplorator, Santa Rita, Concho y Toro, etc.).

                                                                          1. re: comestible
                                                                            Caralien Jan 22, 2009 01:42 PM

                                                                            I really like Los Vascos, but that may be a bit pedestrian for you (no sarcasm intended). I have a tendency to try everything until I find something I like, then buy the store out over the course of a few months until I find that my current wine (or sparkling) is no longer being shipped to the US, or available in my region, or would be too much of a pain to get because I'd have to drive 50 miles each way to pick it up...in places with more restrictions on alcohol due to antiquated blue laws, the selections tend to be worse. But keep trying, then buy a case or more of what you like, and keep trying. (oh the joys and banes of finding a good daily wine!)

                                                                            I'm sorry that I can't be much help.

                                                                            1. re: comestible
                                                                              Caralien Jan 23, 2009 05:00 PM

                                                                              At Canal's today, there was a bargin bin section with wines ranging from $4 (Australian, 4 varieties) on up. In Metuchen, at the A&P, there was another good wine we found for $4, tried it, went back and bought a case (there were dozens available), but 2 weeks later, the store was out. I can't recall the name, but it's all trial and error. We have a tendency to keep a spare "acceptable or experimental" bottle in the trunk during the summer during road-trip season (I know, poor storage). Our current favourites are in the $12-18 range, but I'm always willing to try the cheaper bottles (and occasionally boxes, although I much prefer bottles), and if undrinkable to me (even if acceptable to husband), will become part of the marinade for another meal.

                                                                        2. jrsmoltz Dec 3, 2008 09:48 PM

                                                                          Even in California it is hard to find good wine for less than $10 or $15 a bottle.

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