Buying wine at the grocery store can be a crapshoot. The local Safeway has hundreds to choose from, yet I know from experience that not all these wines are good. In fact, a few I hope never to drink again. Sometimes I try to increase the odds of turning up a good bottle buy paying $20 or $25, but even then I’m taking a risk. As disappointing as a bad $7 bottle of wine can be, a bad $28 bottle of wine is worse. What’s a frugal oenophile to do?

One solution is to visit The Budget Wino, a site devoted to “wine reviews and tips for the $10 and under crowd”. I mentioned this site in passing last week, but it’s worth a closer look. Dorian, the budget wino himself, explains his inspiration:

When I moved to California, I had limited to no wine experience. I knew that there was white wine, and I knew that there was red wine. Beyond that, I was pretty clueless. I took it upon myself to learn everything I could. I drove to the Napa Valley regularly, and I made it my job to try a new wine whenever possible. I quickly noticed that a large number of expensive wines tasted no better than their inexpensive counterparts. Often times, these budget priced wines were smoother, richer, and far tastier. 

Over the years, as my love of wine continued to grow, I realized that the only way to keep this habit affordable was to strictly buy wines that cost $10 or less. I only knew of a few wines that met this specification, so I turned to the web for guidance. This was not nearly as helpful as I thought it would be. I found that web wine reviews played more to the wineries than to me. Nearly every wine was painted as a winner. Reviews included words that made me feel like I was fundamentally missing something, and they nearly always used a scoring system that left me confused.  Frustrated with what was out there, I decided to start The Budget Wino.

My goal for The Budget Wino is to provide a place where it is easy to find reliable, honest, and straightforward reviews of wines that cost less than $10. My scoring system leaves no doubt as to whether I think a wine is worth a person’s time, and the site doesn’t persecute anyone for enjoying a glass of red wine with a nice piece of fish!  

The Budget Wino rates wines on a three-tier system:

  • Definitely buy
  • Consider buying
  • Don’t buy it

(Actually, there’s a fourth level. The Budget Wino ratings spreadsheet also notes “top choices”, which are “the best of the best”.) The Budget Wino also offers a free guide to wine vintages.

There are some interesting pieces here, including:

The entire tips and facts category is great. I like wine (though I’ve been drinking much less since starting my wellness program), but I don’t know much about it. I’ve learned a lot browsing these tips.

Another excellent way to find cheap wine is through the Consumer Reports gift guide. Every year CR includes a list of good, inexpensive wines in its December issue. In 2005 I conducted an experiment: I made a list of their top choice for each varietal, and any bottle they’d selected as a “Best Buy”, and then I perused the aisles at Safeway and Costco. I bought one of each bottle I could find. (This was before I started Get Rich Slowly, and before my wellness program reduced my alcohol intake). As I recall, these two stores had about half of the wines Consumer Reports liked. Their choices were all quite good.

I think niche blogs like The Budget Wino are fantastic — I’ve mentioned Frugal Cuisine and Cheap Eats before. I look forward to finding a “budget comic collecting” blog, or maybe a “cheap cycling” site.

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