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Best inexpensive wine?

What is the best yet inexpensive wine? I like earthy wines, and my go-tos are pinot grigio or chianti. I am on a college budget but don't like wine that doesn't taste good, any suggestions?

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  1. Seven Deadly Zins. It's an earthy red zinfandel that sells for under $15.

    1. Bota Box Old Vines (California grapes) Zin works out to $5/bottle

      2 Replies
      1. re: kagemusha49

        Their 2012 Shiraz (CA) is also drinkable at the same price.

      2. Your question is really impossible to answer.

        However, if you like chianti, I would try the Falesco Vitiano Rosso and the Banfi Centine wines. The former should be available for under $10 and the later might sell in the $10-$12 range.

        Bogle in California produces pretty good red wines that are usually available for $10 or less (at least in California). Try their Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Cabernet to see which one you like best.

        1 Reply
        1. If you're still in Pennsylvania, WineSearcher shows Di Majo Norante is on sale there for $12 a bottle. This is made from sangiovese, which is the primary grape in Chianti.

          11 Replies
          1. re: SteveTimko

            Hell, if you're in PA, go up to Happy Valley. They win awards in worldwide competition, and prices start from about $9 a bottle.

            1. re: Chowrin

              Perhaps, but you'd still be drinking French-American hybrids and/or V. labrusca blends . . . .

              1. re: zin1953

                they also do pure raspberry wine. I definitely recommend.

                1. re: Chowrin

                  If I'm in the area, I'll do that, but Oak Knoll's Raspberry Wine (Oregon) was once described to me by a legendary Napa Valley winemaker as "the Chateau Lafite of Fruit Wines," and I've never found a reason to disagree with that assessment -- it's stunning!

                  1. re: zin1953

                    Thanks for the tip! The Happy Valley people serve Portland-style wines (it's where they retired from, I believe) -- I love the perfect balance between sour and sweet.

                    ... then again, I love sour cherries.

              2. re: Chowrin

                The Pennsylvania Farm Show and Finger Lakes International Wine Competition don't exactly constitute worldwide competition.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  I'd say that depends on the category, wouldn't you?
                  Can you name me some good Concords that aren't stateside?

                  1. re: Chowrin

                    To me, "they win awards in worldwide competition" means the awards they won were up against wineries from around the world. Their Pinot Grigio and Riesling have apparently not yet won any awards.

                    The best V. labrusca wine I've ever had was a sparkling Clinton in the Veneto.

                    1. re: Chowrin

                      Can you name some good Concords?

                      1. re: zin1953

                        Well, Happy Valley's Appalachian red is certainly to my taste (it has a bit of blackberry mixed in, which adds a good overtone to the general sweetness of Concord).

                        My husband calls it Appalachian Jug Wine, which is probably true (and perhaps indicative of my utter lack of "taste" in wine), but it's a fine example of the style (and done with actually clean equipment, which is often hard to find. Half the Catawba's I've tried have contained toxic molds etc).

                        Finger Lakes had a whole category for Concord wines, the winners are probably all good.

                        1. re: Chowrin

                          >>> Happy Valley's Appalachian red is certainly to my taste <<<

                          And THAT is all that counts! ;^)

              3. Further to what DavidT already posted, this is a frequent sort of question on the Internet (more on that below), with constant threads on Chowhound, available by search. Another recent thread touching the same subject:


                Now: Wine has been an active public discussion topic on the Internet for over 30 years (i.e., since long before Chowhound, and before most people had ever heard of the 'net). Here from memory is something I posted to such a thread about 25 years ago and dang, it still holds!

                Good Riojas and Chianti-Classicos have sustained poor but astute graduate students in a state of estimable gastronomy, even as their higher-income but less-knowledgeable peers paid top dollar for the privilege of consuming wines advertised on TV, or more recently, deemed officially hip by Robert Parker or the Wine Spectator.

                Allan Tobey once added "As we didn't quite say in the 1960s, wine will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no wine."

                1. Best value for the money in a delicious food-friendly, widely available varietal: riesling. Those aren't "earthy" wines but I think once you taste them your palate horizons will expand.

                  1 Reply
                  1. Reds only here There are a number of rich, earthy garnachas from Spain (Borsao, for one) at or under $10 a bottle. There are also smooth and rich Douro and Tejo reds from Portugal (look for Periquita, too) that are usually great values for about the same price. Malbecs from Argentina come in all price ranges, and can be dependably solid reds, but I find they often lack a little soul. Alamos, Dona Paula, Trapiche, Norton are some dependable labels. From France, Colombo's Cotes du Rhone, Perrin's reserve Cotes du Rhone (as well as their cheaper La Vielle Ferme reds and whites) fit your bill. From Italy, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo from producers like Illuminati, Farnese, and Mascarello are always worth it.

                    1. Q: "[What is the b]est inexpensive wine?"

                      A: There isn't one.

                      Rather, there are dozens, and what appeals to your palate may not be what appeals to mine, and vice-versa.

                      Don't limit yourself to California. For red table wines, I would actually look first to Portugal, Spain, and the Languedoc-Roussillon area of France; for whites, Italy, New Zealand, Australia. And then there is Chile and Argentina . . .

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: zin1953

                        TombstoneShadow also made an excellent point. While not famously earthy (nor of course red), good Rieslings are among the most food-friendly wines, and even excellent artisanal German ones have been undervalued in the international market of recent decades. These wines take a little understanding (e.g. neophytes, including me at one time, easily misperceive their style as being centrally about sweetness, whereas for the decent to excellent Rieslings, it's more a matter of sweet-acid balance, as with Champagnes) -- but many experienced wine geeks come to understand, cherish, and gravitate toward them.

                        This understanding has been moving into US mainstream wine writing in recent years. I notice more and more articles.

                      2. remember the old adage. Italian reds, French whites
                        And I always say what ever is in between.
                        If you're on a budget you must eliminate some varieties including cabernet sauvignon ,pinot noir, merlot and Riesling. as producers find it hard to make good wines at reasonable cost with these grapes.
                        Sangiovese from the Marche region better value than the Tuscans
                        Montepulciano d'abruzzo.Not to be confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulcian,a sangiovese
                        Malbec from Argentina.
                        Some Riojas and Alentejos from spain and Portugal
                        As far as whites,the macon region of france pruduces some very good chardonnaises and they won't break the bank.american chardonnay in general are too sweet.Whites from the Marche like verdicchio and from the Campania region like Greco di tufo are good also.
                        If you feel like splurging for a good bottle try Rosso d'etna terre nere from Sicily Mt Etna region. @ $ 15 a bottle is a steal right now.
                        Do you have a good wine store near you?


                        2 Replies
                        1. re: angelopat

                          <Sangiovese from the Marche region better value than the Tuscans>
                          ??? Not better than the Maremma.

                          Morellino de Scansano (Sangiovese from the Maremma region of Tuscany) is a good value wine, imo.

                          1. re: ChefJune

                            I like Morellino de Scansano and order it all the time at restaurants when I find it. However, I accidentally picked up a bottle of Marche Sangiovese once and it was exceptionally good and very inexpensive. I look for it now, but it is not common.

                        2. OP says they like Pinot Grigio and Chianti and people are recommending Red Zin, Petite Syrah, Cabs... Really?

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Scoutmaster

                            Yes. And I have a bigger issue with sweeping assertions like "If you're on a budget you must eliminate some varieties including cabernet sauvignon ,pinot noir, merlot and Riesling," which I know from much practical experience to be inaccurate. Just recently in another thread (already linked earlier in this one) -- http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9676... -- I cited impressive $10-and-under Pinots Noirs of recent years.

                            Most of my good experiences with "value" wines have been probably with Sangiovese, Riesling, and Pinot Noir. Not that the good values drop into your lap (even less, via popular articles or wine magazines -- such publicity is a guarantee of either a price rise or a disappearance from the market), but rather that they are there to be found by the seriously interested and vigilant.

                            Particularly surprising was mention of Riesling as poor value. I guess angeloplat wasn't buying a few years back, when all those German artisanal Rieslings (QmP wines of Kabinett weight) sold for US $9-12 retail (these wines last virtually forever if well stored); nor reading my mention in another thread of a simpler, but surprisingly varietally faithful and low-alcohol, California Riesling currently selling under a large marketing label as cheap as $3.15.

                            1. re: eatzalot

                              No one is making assertions, much less sweeping assertions as you claim. The OP states they enjoy Pinot Grigio and Chianti ~ a light white and a light red. Why then recommend full bodied reds? Price aside. It would be like recommending a porterhouse steak when someone says they're looking for a tasty whitefish.

                              1. re: Scoutmaster

                                not arguing... just to my palate sangiovese isn't a light red... in fact alot of it is downright harsh and nearly undrinkable (dodging the eggs).

                                A lighter (or at least softer) Italian red is Valpolicella... but you can't get the better varieties in the OPs price "college budget" range really... I'd call it an excellent value wine, but not necessarily "inexpensive".

                                Still sayin' you won't get better bang for the buck than riesling these days.

                                1. re: Scoutmaster

                                  Scoutmaster, I quite agree with you on that last point, and I think you may have misunderstood me on the first one.

                                  angelopat had earlier written what I quoted above -- "If you're on a budget you must eliminate some varieties including cabernet sauvignon ,pinot noir, merlot and Riesling." To me that is a sweeping assertion, a broad brush. I have encountered many examples of what fellow wine geeks consider good-value wines from those grapes (in recent decades, and even in recent weeks), and have even posted some of the recent examples here on CH.

                              2. re: Scoutmaster

                                You might notice a request for "earthy" wines like those from Chianti--a pretty broad term and one that can easily include at least a few from zin, syrah, and even cab, especially those at popular price points. And Chianti need not be a 'light" wine at all, of course.

                              3. If you have a Trader Joe's near you, then you're in luck. Lots of very drinkable wines in the $4 to $8 range...Nero D'Avola, Aglianico, Vinho Verde, Muscadet and more.

                                21 Replies
                                1. re: carolinadawg

                                  I agree with this. I have found many good wines around $5 from Trader Joe's, and people working there gave very good descriptions of them, along with great advice.

                                  1. re: Tripeler

                                    "I have found many good wines around $5 from Trader Joe's . . ."

                                    I dare say this depends upon the palate of the consumer(s). I have *rarely* found anything in the $5 range that appealed to me.

                                    " . . . and people working there gave very good descriptions of them, along with great advice."

                                    I dare say this depends upon the specific Trader Joe's location -- some have employees who are more "into" wine than others.

                                    1. re: zin1953

                                      While I tend to agree, I've definitely found the wines to be suitable for cooking in that $3-5 range and often use them in that regard.

                                      I've found that my local TJ sometimes carries nice NZ Central Otago Pinot Noir in the $16-20 range that has real character and isn't overextracted, Syrah-esque juice.

                                      1. re: QuakerInBoston

                                        I suspect it's a different philosophy: I wouldn't cook with something I wouldn't drink.

                                        1. re: zin1953

                                          I certainly wouldn't cook with something I wouldn't drink either, nor would most avid cooks I know.

                                          Yet this still leaves grey areas. Within the category of wines we'd drink, we'd drink some wines more eagerly than others.

                                          In this (or another) thread I cited a marketing-label Sauv. Blanc with light oaking that I get regularly for cooking (as cheap as $2.75 or so each, in dozens on sale) and use literally dozens a year, for cooking. (Like all those Italian traditions where you add a bottle or so of wine, then cook it down to a mere glaze.) Not a wine I'd serve to many wine geeks; yet, chilled, on a warm Spring evening -- maybe with a splash of soda water or a little ice -- it's an agreeable tipple. Not La Montrachet, but I wouldn't cook with that either -- the other end of the spectrum.

                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                            We, too, cook with wine (doesn't everyone?), and I am not suggesting one cooks with Le Montrachet, nor even a villages-level Puligny . . . but if it's not something that I am willing to pour into a glass ***and enjoy***, it's not something that's going into the pan/pot . . .

                                            This may mean, for example, I might open up an inexpensive Côtes-du-Rhône for cooking, and a glass or two, but then open a Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Hermitage for dinner; an affordable southern Italian or Sicilian red for the pasta sauce, but perhaps a Chianti Rufina to serve with the pasta course; or an inexpensive Vinho Verde for the cataplana while then serving a Douro branco . . . . but if that $2.75 SB isn't something that I personally enjoy drinking, I'm not going to buy it just to cook with. For me, a wine for cooking has to be something that brings more to the dish/table than merely being absent any flaws or commercially acceptable . . .

                                            1. re: zin1953

                                              "but if that $2.75 SB isn't something that I personally enjoy drinking, I'm not going to buy it just to cook with."

                                              "an inexpensive Côtes-du-Rhône for cooking, and a glass or two..."

                                              Do you not see the connection? Your example of a certain type of wine happened to be a Rhône, mine was a Sauv-Blanc. Second statement made same essential point as my previous post.

                                              The "if it isn't something I personally enjoy drinking" hypothesis isn't relevant here, because I am talking solely about wines people enjoy drinking -- even if not what they'd serve with the main course!

                                              1. re: eatzalot

                                                We are speaking about similar-yet-different things . . . I've never found a $2.75 SB I thought was worth drinking . . . The CdR I'm referring to is something that I drink on a regular basis.

                                                Robert ("I cook with the same wines I buy for everyday drinking") and I are on the exact same page.

                                                When you wrote, "Not a wine I'd serve to many wine geeks; yet, chilled, on a warm Spring evening -- maybe with a splash of soda water or a little ice -- it's an agreeable tipple," THAT is where I *personally* disagree, in that FOR ME (which is all I can speak for), it must be more than merely "agreeable."

                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                  "FOR ME (which is all I can speak for), it must be more than merely "agreeable.""

                                                  Jason, while I understand your view completely, I think you've touched on a significant point here. A difference between a wine 'geek' (not meant disparagingly) and the 'average' person may be just that. I always tell people that if they really can't taste the difference in what someone tells them is a 'better' wine then it's not something they need to keep pursuing. "Agreeable" is all a lot of people are looking for. I also think that 'agreeable' is a valid lower end to an acceptability spectrum. Just sayin'.

                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                    And I disagree that we disagree, Jason. I think you've missed my real point here.

                                                    It is not about the particular wine at all. (I don't even know that you've tried the same SB I alluded to, or that I've tried your CdR [though I can't help thinking of Guigal, which filled a similar role for me in the 1970s-80s]. But even if so, that's about personal wine preference and a distracting SIDE issue to my core principle here, which you too touched on as "inexpensive Côtes-du-Rhône for cooking, and a glass or two...")

                                                    Never MIND the specific wine! I'm just pointing out an obvious continuum of cooking/drinking tradeoffs: from wines we'd mostly use for cooking, to wines we'd seldom "waste" that way (well, maybe a little in a sauce). To imply even unintentionally that only luscious table wines are suitable for cooking with is to play into the "one bottle of Chambertin for the stewpot and one for the table" ideal, which is not practiced by anyone I know.

                                                    Are there really not moments when you'd enjoy just a casual, drinkable wine (a counterpart to Europe's vins-ordinaires, homemade wines, or the bulk reds that they slap down in front of you in refillable bottles, along with a bottle of water, in casual village bistros)?

                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                      The $8 Erik Banti IGT I recently bought two cases of is similar to carafe wine I've had in Tuscany. My continuum doesn't seem to go below $7 these days in the US.

                                                      I find that annoying, since there's no technical obstacle to making less expensive wines taste better. If Fred Franzia or someone would make jug wines that were as good as the cheap Orvieto I used to drink in Umbria or as typical Parisian carafe Beaujolais, I'd buy them.

                                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                                        My mistake was mentioning a particular wine price (thus distracting from my main point). Should have called it a $5-6 wine anyway, that's its nominal retail (I watch for deep discounts because I know I can use it). It's a wine that few if any "wine geeks" of my acquaintance _wouldn't_ drink, but they'd probably cook with it more, as I do. The issue there is that my next most affordable white options for the same role are much pricier.

                                                        Unfortunately, haven't found useful reds at the same price level, they generally start about $9-12 regular retail. And are, indeed, much better wines of their type than that particular SB is of its type.

                                                        I should also confess I have thousands of bottles of generally much better wines for "serious" serving and drinking, so my usual retail quest is for very inexpensive values for "ordinaire" and for quantity-cooking uses. (Like all those variations on Bolognese ragù that I posted on the Home Cooking board a while back.)

                                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                                          No, your mistake was NOT in mentioning a specific wine....

                                                          Robert is doing a much better job of explaining than I. When Robert wrote,

                                                          >>> I find that annoying, since there's no technical obstacle to making less expensive wines taste better. If Fred Franzia or someone would make jug wines that were as good as the cheap Orvieto I used to drink in Umbria or as typical Parisian carafe Beaujolais, I'd buy them. <<<

                                                          he's "spot on," as they say (whoever "they" are). I used to use wines like BV Burgundy and Chablis ($2.75/750ml) or Kenwood Red Table Wine or Chateau St. Jean Vin Blanc ($3.75) for cooking *and* drinking all the time . . . So, too, wines like Guigal's Côtes-du-Rhône red and white ($3.99), and on and on and on . . . .

                                                          HOWEVER, nowadays, I cannot find anything even remotely like those wines in quality for less than $7.99-$9.99 retail on a consistent basis (i.e.: not including close-outs and sale prices).

                                                          But REGARDLESS OF PRICE, there is -- for me -- a more important distinction that exists, and that focuses around the term "adequate," and what it means . . .

                                                          Midlife wrote:

                                                          >>> I think you've touched on a significant point here. A difference between a wine 'geek' (not meant disparagingly) and the 'average' person may be just that. I always tell people that if they really can't taste the difference in what someone tells them is a 'better' wine then it's not something they need to keep pursuing. "Agreeable" is all a lot of people are looking for. I also think that 'agreeable' is a valid lower end to an acceptability spectrum. Just sayin'. <<<

                                                          I think he's absolutely right about this, and while "agreeable" *is* a valid term on the lower end of things -- and I have sold cases and cases of "agreeable" wines over the years -- I want something better than that, both in my glass and in my pot. ;^)

                                                          1. re: zin1953

                                                            25 years ago, Kenwood made a light, fruity, unoaked, delicious Sauvignon Blanc and sold it for under $3 (an unusual bargain even then). Adjusting for inflation, today that would be under $6, but I never taste California wines with any character close to that price point.

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              Not to argue the point, really, but I bought a brand new mid-70s Nissan (Datsun at the time) coupe fir $2,000. 25 years later the entry level Nissan is probably closer to $12K. Not wine, obviously, but says something about inflation.

                                                              1. re: Midlife

                                                                A decent everyday Zinfandel was $8 in 1989, today it's $15, precisely in line with the CPI.

                                                                Emission controls, safety regulations, MPG requirements, etc. have driven up the cost of cars beyond inflation.

                                                            2. re: zin1953

                                                              "I want something better than that, both in my glass and in my pot. ;^)"

                                                              While you didn't address the remarks I directed specifically to you, Jason -- http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9710... -- nevertheless you've just quoted a bunch of sensibilities that I also share. You are preaching to the choir there. I regret distracting you so badly (by a passing mention of one not-important wine example) as to've failed to get my real point across. Which (again!) isn't about any specific wine or "price point," or about 'average' vs. 'wine-geek' palates, even less about different people's understandings of what "agreeable" connotes -- but rather, about nuances existing within the principle "I wouldn't cook with anything I wouldn't drink."

                                                              Thus, among all the wines you're both "willing to pour into a glass ***and enjoy***" and also to cook with, clearly you do consider, just as I do, some of them more glass- and some more pot-worthy (per your earlier remarks re the inexpensive CdR vs C-d-P or Hermitage for dinner).

                                              2. re: QuakerInBoston

                                                I cook with the same wines I buy for everyday drinking.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  I cannot afford to do the same. Stupid state monopoly.

                                            2. re: Tripeler

                                              Most of the cheap TJ wines I've tasted I didn't like. There have been some exceptions, though the ones I'm buying currently are $7 and $8.

                                          2. Not sure if they are available in your area, but I really like the Fusion Alta wines as inexpensive but good treats. For red especially, decanting or aerating the wine makes a huge difference, as do the glasses.

                                            1. When I was in Italy I found myself drinking a lot of the house wines served at the restaurants. They were drinkable and inexpensive. So at home I find myself buying California reds that are meritages or table wine from 7.99 to 10.99 a bottle. They are good for a every day inexpensive wine on a budget. They kind of remind me of the house wines of Italy.

                                              1. i'm finding out the "best" inexpensive wine is a difficult one to pin point. 1st obvious reason is that there are tons of brands out there. the other main thing i found that distribution from region to state differs so much. I love this wine called Dos Minas, a malbec that was easily found in most independent wine shops in los angeles priced around $11. I just moved out to colorado, and no one has ever heard of the brand. because people but from distributors some wines that are in NY just aren't in CO and so on and so forth. and I find that most bigger brands that are sold nationally are on the Sutter Home level. However, I did have an acceptable pinot noir by Red Tree that was surprisingly ok.

                                                1. Laya ...

                                                  Ask a question, get an answer :)

                                                  1. Hi Littlerock.

                                                    I'm going to make an attempt at synthesizing some of the suggestions from this thread.

                                                    If you are asking about a category of wine that is generally good across a lower end price point, you're kind of already there in terms of reds with Chianti, less so on whites with Pinot Grigio. But what "tastes good" is unique to your tongue.

                                                    I would generally agree that "on a college budget" it's worth it try Zinfandel's (though this would also include Primativo's from Italy since a) I think you live in Philly and they can be found there and b) you've already mentioned a taste for "Italian" flavor profiles) because, GENERALLY, these wine punch a little above their weight class when price point is a big a deal.

                                                    Whites are a little more challenging. I've drunk and lot of Pinot Grigio. I've sold a LOT of Pinot Grigio. I'd list some inexpensive Pinot Grigio's as some of the most uninteresting (being nice) and insipid (they were just that bad) wines I've ever put in my mouth. At lower price points I don't think further exploration of the Pinot Grigio world is going to reap a lot of benefits.

                                                    Heading towards Pinot Gris (same grape as Pinot Grigio just grown outside of Italy) is going to blow up the budget in most cases. Classified wines that might stylistically be along that continuum--like a Muscadet or Bordeaux Blanc--are just going to be too expensive. Maybe a Gavi from Piedmont? Maybe a Gruner Veltliner?

                                                    I'm actually most tempted by the following recommendation. Shop a price point that works for your budget and pick a white wine that you don't recognize at all (meaning not a Chard, though I totally love Chardonnay's so don't take that the wrong way) and see if you like it. THEN, go figure out what that wine is. It's sort of a reverse engineering plan. Instead of trying to find some one's else wine using their recommendation, pick what available in your price point (and available near you) and then determine how find other wines like that.

                                                    1. FWIW, unlike trolley here, I find "best inexpensive wine" a pretty easy proposition, but it reflects my particular situation.

                                                      Having already invested time over the years in learning types of wine that I (and, often, other people) like best; learning the style range of those types (to enable identifying desirable examples by taste); and learning something of market prices (to enable finding value), it's easy enough to spot standouts, including in those high-potential wine types (Pinot Noir, Riesling) that some people think are off-limits for budget buying.

                                                      Since discovering real interest in wines when I too was in college -- and benefitting early from some truly great mentors -- I never approached the subject as if the point were to get some expert's glib advice or dogma to choose among those thousands of bewildering labels; rather, to learn wines, therefore how to find good ones and good values first-hand. As an adult who considers wine an enriching and natural complement to good meals, I saw that investment pay off superbly. Like, learning to fish, rather than asking for a fish (or even for a few fish).

                                                      1. If you like chianti, you might love valpolicella ripassa, a more velvety and italian red. I find "chianti" to be quite a broad category that includes alot of harsh and uninteresting wines.

                                                        However V.R. may not quite hit the "inexpensive" wine category, but is definitely a great value. Good bottles will be in the $18-25 range.

                                                        1. K&L did a direct import of Erik Banti's 2011 Carato IGT Toscana (75% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 10% Ciliegiolo) so they can sell it for $8. Best red I've had in that price range in a while. Medium body, fruity, hint of oak.


                                                          1. I wouldn't convince myself I like or don't like particular varietals or wine types. There are so many variations from maker to maker, country to country, etc. Example: I don't often like inexpensive sauvignon blancs from the U.S., but I find lots of them from New Zealand that I really enjoy.

                                                            My way is to patronize stores where I trust the buyers to not have many (or any) real dogs on the shelves. If I can, I seek advice from the store clerks, if they are people who have tasted what they sell. I like to buy one bottle of this, one bottle of that and one bottle of something else. I take them home and try them. If I really like one, I go back ASAP and buy more of it, knowing it may not remain available for long. The real disappointments are few, since I'm picky about where I buy.

                                                            8 Replies
                                                            1. re: emu48

                                                              what if the wines sold locally all seem to be the same? i live in the Denver metro area now. a big change from Los Angeles where there was big box like BevMo or Silverlake wine, Monopole, Mission wines, DuVin, K&L or Topline. All really great shops. Here all the lower end wines that the shops carry are all the same and frankly not very good. It's very odd but all the shops sell the same wines. I could always find a decent wine for $15 or so at these shops. not anymore!

                                                              1. re: trolley

                                                                see if you can find the 2010 (Allegrini) Palazzo Del Torre at Costco. $13.99 here in NorCal- dark, sweet fruit yet savory too, nice tannins, really a good wine for the price.

                                                                1. re: ceekskat

                                                                  Thanks but I have to drive a ways to the ONLY Costco that can sell wine. In Colorado, a chain can only have one store in the entire state that sells wine and alcohol. Yes, only one! So I haven't yet gotten to that Costco. So annoying!!

                                                                  1. re: trolley

                                                                    So...easier to get high than drunk in the Rocky Mountain state? My condolences.

                                                                    1. re: ceekskat

                                                                      yes, probably. but i don't partake, at least not since right after college. you can buy the green stuff easier than a bottle of wine. I'm not kidding. those pot shops are everywhere! so not fair!! basically no regulation of pot shops but when it comes to selling wine, the state seems to treat it like it's mercury or lead.

                                                                      1. re: trolley

                                                                        Allegrini Palazzo della Torre is essentially a Valpolicella Ripasso made in an alternative method of using partially dried grapes (30%), instead of leftover pomace from the Amarone production for a smoother product. If you try this wine and like it, like I do, you will probably like other examples of Valpolicella Riposso. Generally, I find these in the $12 to +$15 price range.

                                                                2. re: trolley

                                                                  Have you tried these places?

                                                                  Applejack Wine & Spirits, Denver
                                                                  Davidsons Liquors, Highlands Ranch
                                                                  Highlands Wineseller, Highlands Ranch
                                                                  PrimoVino, Arvada

                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                    "Have you tried these places? Applejack Wine & Spirits, Denver / Davidsons Liquors, Highlands Ranch / Highlands Wineseller, Highlands Ranch / PrimoVino, Arvada"

                                                                    Can you tell us about your own experience at those places, Robert?

                                                                1. IMO with cheap wine, you have to be in it for the adventure. Tonight, I opened a 2002 Gallo of Sonoma, Merlot, Reserve, $7.99 for my wife’s excellent meatloaf . It has been banging around the kitchen for almost a decade, not carefully stored. The cork fell apart a little, but it was excellent, just delicious. I agree with RL about the Sangiovese/Merlot Italian blends. I’ve had really good ones from both Tuscany and Le Marche.

                                                                  1. Thank you so much everyone! I am going to start at the bottom of the list and work my way up as I have money and will let you know!

                                                                    1. Ah the days - 40 years ago - when I could buy a bottle of Undurraga or some Hardy's Nottage Hill for $1. I hear Zin say he can't find an acceptable California wine for $5 these days - I still think Bota Box Old Vines Zinfandel (only if it says California grapes) is an exception.

                                                                      1. I picked up a bottle of Ravenswood Vintner's Zinfandel for around $6 that was much better then I anticipated. It is now my house zin. We also enjoy D'Autrefois Chardonnay for around $12. I did a blog post on inexpensive wine, I am curious if you agree or disagree:


                                                                        20 Replies
                                                                        1. re: GasperTheWineGuy

                                                                          Hi Gasp: generally I like your blog article quite alot.

                                                                          However there are at least two major errors of omission IMO:

                                                                          1: No mention of riesling anywhere in the article.

                                                                          2: A very useful general rule is to look for "common" labels in sensational vintage years. So, for example, follow all your guidelines PLUS focus on the best vintage years to really stack the deck in your favor.

                                                                          1. re: TombstoneShadow

                                                                            Thanks. You make a good point about Riesling. I didn't mention it because I don't drink a lot of Riesling because I just don't enjoy it that much. I am especially not a big fan of inexpensive Riesling. I prefer them from Alsace but I would not classify any of those as "cheap".

                                                                            You are also correct about the vintage years. I am aiming the blog at folks that would find vintage years a bit too complicated so I chose not to go there

                                                                            Thanks again for the suggestions. If you would not mind making the comment on the blog itself my readers can benefit from your experience.

                                                                            Thanks again,


                                                                          2. re: GasperTheWineGuy

                                                                            Great looking blog, Gasper, and in a noble valuable cause -- spreading wine education and how to find good values.

                                                                            Good call on the Ravenswood zin, too! You've found one of the Three Rs of Zinfandel: three firms that helped greatly to establish it in California (already by the 1970s) as a worthy, capable, distinctive, good-value red wine grape:


                                                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                                                              Ok, I'll give you Rosenblum . . . BARELY. ;^) Kent founded the winery in 1978, and really hit his stride with Zin in the 1980s.

                                                                              And while "follow the R's" has long been a maxim among consumers when it comes to Zinfandel, let's not overlook the contribution of the S's -- Sutter Home (their 1968 Amador Deaver Vineyard Zin is legendary, as well as their other Amador [red] Zins), Storybrook Mountain, [Joseph] Swan, Storrs, and many, many others . . .


                                                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                                                Wasn't Sutter Home's breakthrough 1968 Zinfandel made from old-vine grapes from a vineyard discovered by Darrell Corti, and sold under a Corti Bros. private label?

                                                                                I was drinking Zinfandel in those days. Ridge and Joseph Swan were among the pioneers who provded that you could make fine wine from the grape in late 60s and early 70s. Ravenswood, Rosenblum, and Storybook were in the next wave.

                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                  Yes, but...

                                                                                  The wine was sold, IIRC, under *both* the Corti Bros. private label, and the Sutter Home label -- both identifying "Deaver Vineyard" and "Amador County" as the source.

                                                                                  My uncle used to do the same for his stores, buying (for example) Cabernet from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Chardonnay from Spring Mountain

                                                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                                                    I've got a bottle of 1973 Sutter Home Amador zin I need to drink pretty soon. Think it would go well with pizza? I could drink it this Saturday.

                                                                                    1. re: SteveTimko

                                                                                      Wow! Just plain wow! Let us know how that goes. A 41 year-old Sutter Home?

                                                                                      1. re: SteveTimko

                                                                                        I actually had that not too long ago, relatively speaking -- in 1999, when the wine was 25 years old (counting Sept. to Sept.). It held up remarkably well, in fact, though not as good as the 1935 Simi Sonoma Zinfandels that I drank in the mid-1970s through early-1980s. (Might have been a storage issue.)

                                                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                                                          So much for the 'you can't age California wine' crowd.

                                                                                2. re: GasperTheWineGuy

                                                                                  Gasper, I started to reply on your blog site, but I honestly don't want to, as I found several major errors -- not just the two that TombstoneShadow has already mentioned -- and I do not want to post something that might come across as negative to the people who regularly read your blog.

                                                                                  Not meaning to pick nits, but nonetheless . . .

                                                                                  Personally, I ***never*** want to drink cheap wine; indeed, the problem with them is that they *taste* cheap! However there is great delight (both to the palate and the wallet) in finding an inexpensive wine that tastes as though it be far more costly than it actually is. Bottom line: the word "cheap" is and/or can be objectionable to many.

                                                                                  It also might be a good idea to define some sort of price range. Are you looking towards "Two-Buck Chuck" and under wines that might be under, say, $5 retail for your recommendations? Under $10? $15? $20? It might be a good idea to set up some parameters.

                                                                                  One of what I would term a "serious error/oversight" -- in the same vein as the omitting of Riesling as a possibility -- is in regard to Chardonnay. There are any number of Chardonnays that are inexpensive and delicious, including many that never see the inside of an oak barrel. This applies both to domestic (U.S.) as well as imported wines. Perhaps you should look harder?

                                                                                  Another, what I would term, MAJOR error -- as in factually inaccurate -- involves the following paragraph contained in your blog:

                                                                                  "Cabernet Sauvignon and other varietals can have up to 25% of another wine blended into them and still be called Cabernet Sauvignon. They don’t have to disclose what is in that 25%. To achieve a low price they need to mix in lower quality grapes or unpopular varietals. The same is true for blends. If you find a cheap blend odds are they are mixing in lower quality grapes. Because time is money, and if the wine is inexpensive, odds are good that the winemaker did not spend a lot of time getting the blend right."

                                                                                  1) Your first sentence implies that "other varietals" can be labeled as Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes, it's an error of syntax, but I would urge you to correct it as you are writing, I presume, for people who are (relatively speaking) new to wine, and you do not want to confuse them . . . do you?

                                                                                  2) Just out of curiosity, have you ever worked in a winery? Your third sentence is factually in error; absolutely false. While I cannot speak for every winery in the United States which makes Cabernet Sauvignon as a varietal wine, let me give you three examples:

                                                                                  -- Columbia Crest Grande Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011; widely available for $7.99 retail. The blend is 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Malbec. Where are the inferior grapes there? Lest you think that the 2011 vintage was an aberration, the 2010 vintage was comprised of 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Merlot; while the 2009 was 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, and 6% Syrah.

                                                                                  -- The 2011 Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (widely available in the $15-16 range; is that too expensive?) is composed of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot, and 1% Malbec. None of those are lesser grapes.

                                                                                  -- Fetzer Valley Oaks ($7-8) comes the closest to your portrayal. It is a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Carignane, 5% Petite Sirah, 5% Syrah, 5% Zinfandel, 3% Petite Verdot, 1% Ruby Cabernet. Of those grapes, I would say that only the Ruby Cabernet (1%) is a "lower quality" grape, and if you want to toss in the 5% of Carignane (though I would point to Priorat and say it's great!), I won't object.

                                                                                  3) More factual errors exist in the remaining sentences of that paragraph. Blends -- well, that depends upon the blend, but many do NOT contain what you are calling "lower quality grapes." Furthermore, let me suggest something to you: it is far more difficult to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, as they say, than it is to make it out of silk. In other words, it is far more difficult to make a great tasting inexpensive wine than it is to make that bottle of $$$$ Napa cult Cabernet. Winemakers fret MORE over the blend of low-end wines; if they screw that up, no one will buy the wine(s). If no one buys the wines, there goes the winery's cash flow. If the winery's cash flow stops, the winery closes . . . or at the very least, the winemaker loses his or her job!

                                                                                  4) More concrete factual errors exist in this sentence: "Wines that grow in abundance and there are usually bottled without any other grapes are Syrah/Shiraz, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc." Syrah is often blended with other grapes (Grenache, Carignan, Mourvedre, and others), so too is Zinfandel (and frequently out in the vineyard, rather than in the winery), and Sauvignon Blanc often has some Sémillon or even Muscat added.

                                                                                  Now lest you think that all I have is negative things to say, I wholeheartedly agree with your conclusion to buy wines from less traditional regions . . . although I might have used a different word than "tradition." After all, wine has been made in South America and South Africa for centuries!

                                                                                  Finally, I will confess that I have NO IDEA what a "Cellar Master certification from the International Wine Guild" means, but for God's sake can you at least correctly spell "Champagne"??? That alone suggests you don't know what you're talking about, and clearly -- despite the errors -- you *do* know something about wine. Don't shoot yourself in the foot!

                                                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                                                    Agree that "cheap" is in all ways the wrong word: my goal is to find, as you've suggested, wines that are much better than they should be at the price. This often means scouring sales--outside the usual markets, the big indie wine shops that can offer a broad selection from many regions at competitive price points, the portfolios are driven by supermarkets. Here in NC, I patrol TJs, Whole Foods, Costco, and the one small wineshop that matters. I always come away mostly happy with $9-$13 bottles for daily drinking, sometimes less--from a Donnafugata Anthilia on sale at WF for $10 to a Latour Ardeche chardonnay or Macon Villages for about the same, a Dry Creek fume, decent Garnachas, Perrin reserve CDRs, the occasional petite chateau Bourg, Blaye, or Bergerac...and on and on. Not everything works out, of course, but there's always a lot worth trying and it's always an enjoyable game. I can also enjoy drinking the same $11 nero d'avola or monica di sardegna I cook with, and very often don't find the need to shift to a Rufina or an Etna Rosso at the table, as much as I love both.

                                                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                                                      Your response is exactly why I started my blog. People have taken the concept of fermented crushed grapes and made it extraordinary stressful. I want to take some of the stress out. I want to take some of the "snob" out of enjoying wine. But to answer some of your question. Yes there are exceptions to the rules. I was thinking of under $10 wines. Cabernet can only have to be 75% Cabernet. Forgive me for not using the word grape instead of varietal. I see your point and I will make that change. I don't enjoy oak/buttery chardonnay for less then $10 so I am not going to say that I do. You are free to enjoy them. I will try your suggestions and see if I do. I stand by #4 as it is correct most of the time there are always exception. Sorry about the spelling error but if my intent was to convey a thought I think you would agree we did that. I'm thinking you knew what I meant despite the misspelling I don't profess to be a wine genius, I just know what I know and am trying to share what I do know. Most people that I talk to about wine thank me because they say I have helped them enjoy it more and that is my goal. They encouraged me to start they blog. That said I am new to this and I find your feedback helpful. Thank you.

                                                                                      1. re: GasperTheWineGuy

                                                                                        I believe Jason aka zin was taking particular issue with the spirit of the comment "To achieve a low price they need to mix in lower quality grapes or unpopular varietals."

                                                                                        That is not at all why varietal grapes traditionally are blended. It occurs in some of the best and most famous wines in the world, and the US, to adjust the result with benefit of characteristics from other grapes. Some great regions like Bordeaux and the Rhône valley are known chiefly for blended wines. Many (most?) others in the Old World (Burgundy, Italy, Germany) don't even traditionally mention the grape varieties on the label, they being implicit in and inferable from the traditional place-name labeling.

                                                                                        When the US as a young wine-producing country adopted "varietal" labeling de-facto after Prohibition (as, pragmatically, the least confusion- or abuse-prone of multiple imperfect alternatives), that practice started a trend of US consumers misperceiving that varietal content (it USED to be legally only 51%, not 75!) was the natural, or inevitable, method of wine identification, therefore departures from it were somehow suspect.

                                                                                        That's a parochial misimpression, easily surmounted with broader wine exposure.

                                                                                        This is exactly the kind of public misconception that a popularly-focused wine blog can help fix!

                                                                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                          Thanks for all of the constructive feedback. Putting yourself out there is a bit intimidating and this has been very helpful.

                                                                                        2. re: GasperTheWineGuy

                                                                                          Gasper, I am *not* trying to hammer you or beat you up in any way. But if you will permit me . . .

                                                                                          1) There is nothing "snobbish" about reacting negatively to the word "cheap." "Cheap" was a Yugo; "inexpensive" is a Smart car or the Fiat 500. The word "cheap" conveys a lack of quality . . . as with the Yugo! "Inexpensive" implies that something of quality is priced such that it is a bargain. As I said above, I avoid cheap wines like the plague, but I love inexpensive wines that taste great!

                                                                                          2) Sorry, you seem to have missed the point re: the 75% still being a Cabernet; it really isn't worth discussing, other than to say that both the Columbia Crest and the Fetzer are well under your $10 threshold. However, "variety" refers to the grape; "varietal" refers to the wine.

                                                                                          3) I generally don't enjoy oaky/buttery Chardonnays regardless of their price; that's why I pointed to the fact that a number of Chardonnays -- including many inexpensive ones -- never see the inside of an oak barrel!

                                                                                          4) You can stand by your comment that Syrah, Zin and Sauvignon Blanc are unblended -- that's fine -- but it doesn't make you correct.

                                                                                          5) Gasper, I've been writing about wine since 1974 for various newspapers, magazines and books, and for many years had my own radio show about wines. I would ENCOURAGE you to continue your blog. As I said above, you clearly know something about wine -- all the more important, therefore to a) spell-check, and b) fact-check your blog before you post it. Misspellings just make you look -- well at worst dumb, at best, careless; I do not think you are either. Factual errors make you look like you don't know what you're talking about, and that will drive people away from your blog, rather than driving them to it. Better to omit things -- like Riesling -- and solicit comments of (for example) "Hey, what about _________?" than to make statements which are in error.

                                                                                          I wish you well on your blog, and hope you have thousands of loyal followers. Good luck!

                                                                                          1. re: GasperTheWineGuy

                                                                                            Gasper, don't feel badly about the corrections. It appears that you are a bit over your head re the knowledge of some our the 'regulars' here and they are pointing out inaccuracies to be sure the 'end user' gets it right.

                                                                                            Having been in the trade for ten years myself (and an enthusiast 30 years more) I try to be careful with how detailed I get when I post because I know my own limits. When any subject is one's passion it is natural to actively guard against the dissemination of incorrect or misleading information. That just comes with the territory.

                                                                                            1. re: Midlife

                                                                                              Understood and points well taken. Zin/Mid thanks for taking the time and for the advice.