You can spend $10 or $100 on a bottle of wine—one is cheap, one is expensive, but the question of value is entirely different. To get value in wine, you want to find where the highest quality meets the lowest price, and that convergence can work in any price range. The quality of the $10 wine may not be able to compete with the $100 bottle but if the $10 bottle of wine drinks like a $20 bottle of wine while the $100 bottle is not discernable from a $50 bottle, then it must be said that the $10 bottle show greater value.
So how does one get the best bang for his or her buck? Here are four insider tips that you can use regardless of your taste preference or budget:
1. Choose a non-estate wine. It is generally believed that estate wines are of superior quality because they control every aspect of the wine making process from growing to harvesting to producing. Estate wines, however, have the added cost of managing the estate. Property tax, machinery, utilities, labor, etc. are all costs that are passed on in the price of the bottle. There are many labels ranging from one-man operations to multi-million dollar companies that purchase grapes rather than manage their own vineyard. Most will have contracts with vineyard managers covering how the farming should proceed so they are not completely blind where the viticulture is concerned. If you see a region on the label such as “California” or even “Central Coast” on the label, chances are pretty good the wine is not estate.
2. Buy wine from less expensive regions. If you are a wine drinker, you know the big names like Napa Valley, Bordeaux, Borolo, and Rioja. Wines from these regions are known for their quality, so they are popular, thus they command higher prices in the market. By looking for wines from regions that aren’t in the spotlight, you can save big. Some of these regions might be long-producing but not in the public consciousness like the Eastern European country of Moldova, or the southern regions of Languedoc in France or it could be an up and coming region such as Uruguay.
3. Look for unusual varietals. Similar to the above advice, there are certain varietals that may offer similar profiles to wines you know (Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc) but are more suited to local climate and soil. Malbec experienced this story—nearly extinct in France, it found a home in Argentina and together, they were launched onto the international stage. As you explore lesser known regions, explore their lesser known varietals and you might find the next Malbec!
4. Pick a blend. Blended wines have been critical to the wine world for centuries if not from the very beginning of winemaking. Creating a blend allows the winemaker to showcase the best characteristics while shoring up faults. This can be particularly important when Mother Nature presents a less-than-ideal growing season. The Cabernet Sauvignon may have the acid and tannin while the Merlot has the ripe fruit characteristics. Put them together to get a better wine than each would create on their own. In this way, you can have less-than-perfect grapes but still make a quality wine. In the United States, many blends will carry a brand name on the label such as “The Prisoner”. In the Old World, blends are not only expected but regulated. The buyer has to know the grapes allowed, however, as these wines are most often labeled by the region they are from.
Sometimes finding a great-value wine means taking a chance on something you’ve never tried before so I would encourage you to take advantage of professional expertise, tastings or a restaurant’s flight choices, the chance to split a bottle among friends, or a by-the-glass option. Keep exploring and you just might find your next favorite!