How To Buy A Cheap Bottle Of Wine That Isn’t Awful
9:30 am, March 21st | by Amy Tennery
We know how this goes: You’re broke and you want some wine. Do you want wine because you’re broke? Maybe. That’s not important. The only options in your price range either look terrible, are terrible or are both, right? Do you buy the bottle with the frog on the label? Shell out cash for sparkling wine in a can?
A Jane Dough without her wine? Never! You can buy inexpensive stuff that doesn’t taste like vinegar or chemicals. Now let’s steer clear of the headache in a bottle, shall we?
Tip #1: Beware the “pretty” stuff.
A lot of good wines don’t have flowery labels. Why? Because they don’t need to. Because they’re good. A wine with a cutesy cover is the first clue that you should run in the other direction.
“I’m attracted to good-looking labels too,” Brosterman said. “But you pay for marketing. And companies that have ambitious marketing campaigns [and] try to appeal to women especially don’t necessarily put the value in the bottle.”
Tip #2: With that in mind… know where the values are.
Spending $15 on a bottle from the Napa Valley won’t get you as far as spending that same money on a bottle from a less-trendy region. There might be some from Napa who would beg to differ, but this is a rather solid tip.
If you’re strapped for cash, Brosterman suggests looking at wines from Argentina, New Zealand and Australia before you jump to the more obvious sources. “You’ll get more value for your money than a bottle from California,” she notes.
Brosterman recommends Los Alamos from Argentina or Muga from Rioja, Spain.
Tip #3: Boxed wine isn’t always terrible — seriously.
Yes, there’s a reason that boxed wine has a bad reputation. But not all boxed wine is created equal.
“It’s a whole new day for boxed wines,” according to Sue Straight, a 30-year industry veteran and the brains behind The Wine Wench blog and store. A plus side to boxed wine: It doesn’t go bad as quickly, which means less waste. This is perfect for those of you who can’t clear out a bottle in a few days and would rather not be drinking vinegar in a week. Her best picks for good boxed wine include Black Box and Flying Nymph.
On that same note (get it?), don’t turn your nose up at the “big-name” brands, Straight advises. Kendall Jackson, Barefoot and Gallo are some of her favorites — and that’s coming from a pro wine taster.
Tip #4: The discount store isn’t always your best bet.
Remember that we’re not just looking for cheap wine. We’re looking for good cheap wine. Anyone with 15 bucks and a modicum of upper body strength can snag some Franzia. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Janie D. has enjoys her fair share of F to the Z. Also, you can also freeze it and make a Franzia slushy, but we’ll revisit that in a few months.)
“My best advice for people who want to buy inexpensive, surefire choices is to buy them in an area with someone who knows what you’re looking for,” Brosterman said. That means someone who’s not standing under fluorescent lighting.
Tip #5: Don’t assume the wine competitions are just for fancypants.
The San Francisco Chronicle wine competition, where our expert Straight is a judge, keeps an online record of all the wines it’s ranked. And it’s not all $100 bottles; the competition has an under $10 competition for some varietals — and it keeps all the winners categorized by price point for your convenience. This is an easy way to find prize-winning bottles on the cheap.