Shopping for Wine? 4 Pro Tips to Find Better Bottles for Less

Photo Credit by Tom Arena

Whatever your budget, value is important. But it’s not always easy to tell which wines on the shelf offer bang for your buck.

“There’s expensive, and then there’s expensive,” says Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible and editor of Wine Speed.

Even expensive wines have better value alternatives. One trick is to determine what’s enjoyable about a wine and find lesser-known regions or brands that offer it. We talked to the pros about the cost of a bottle, and how to find those value-oriented wines that will match your taste.

Why Are Some Wines Expensive?

The cost of a bottle of wine is often associated with the price of vineyard land and production. As MacNeil points out, “vineyards are a limited resource; great vineyards are precious and expensive.” Add to that talented, experienced farm and cellar workers: “I’m surprised certain wines don’t cost more,” she says.

Supply and demand is another factor.

Burgundy, for example, has world-famous wines from some of the most noted vineyards,” says Anthony Lynch, sourcing manager and director of content for importer Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant. “That drives demand, but there are other, more complex issues. Unforeseen environmental factors because of climate conditions…have resulted in rough, small harvests within the last decade or so.”

Napa is a place where people aren’t afraid to spend money,” says Amanda McCrossin, a sommelier and host of the Wine Access Unfiltered podcast. “It has a certain association not only of being more expensive but of wines of a certain quality.” Reputation, too, is often a strong determiner of price.

“Brands I see less-experienced wine consumers purchase, like Caymus, Silver Oak, and Opus One, represent not just quality, but consistency,” says McCrossin. “They’re loyal to their fan base, consistently producing a similar product each year. People know what they’re getting into.”

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Don’t Break The Bank

“Silver Oak—it’s Cabernet Sauvignon aged in American oak,” says McCrossin. “Rioja [is a] natural place to go that produces similar aromas, flavors, and textures.”

MacNeil says that older vintages of Rioja have successfully passed for aged Burgundy, often at far more accessible prices. Similarly, Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia’s Margaret River region may appeal to lovers of Left Bank Bordeaux, she says, and some California Syrahs may present a value-driven alternative to some of the more premium Rhône wines.

These wines, MacNeil notes, are more economically priced because they don’t yet have the attention of either the consumer or collector market.

“I always point toward Languedoc,” advises Jess Helfand, economist, and wine educator. The wines are value-priced, with many produced organically or biodynamically. Consumers can also look for what’s commonly referred to as “entry-level wines.” This can mean up-and-coming producers from well-known regions or well-reputed producers making wines from broader regions, like Napa Valley appellated versus single-vineyard designated, or declassified regions, such as Bourgogne Blanc versus Grand Cru Burgundy.

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Finding Value Wines

Helfand believes that the majority of wine consumers are reluctant to ask questions or for help. But the first step to finding quality, value-priced wines is finding a knowledgeable retailer who can offer advice and suggestions.

The good news, Helfand adds, is looking in the $10 to $20 price range is “less scary.”

“Can’t decide between two? Try both and see how you go,” she advises. “Or ask someone to build you a case based on taste preferences and experiment.”

But unless you know you really love a wine, Helfand warns against purchasing at deep discounts. “It’s not really on sale, it just shouldn’t have been priced that high beforehand. It’s a pricing game some retailers play.”

McCrossin offers up some shopping hacks: “Look for the green stamp that indicates sustainability… Ask the sommelier at a restaurant where they shop for wines.”

And Remember…

Don’t be afraid to try something you’ve never heard of —that’s often where the value is.

Published on October 12, 2021
Topics: Wine and Ratings