Finding good wines at great prices: Expert advice for frugal wine lovers

I love wine but I’m not a wine snob. I don’t speak the lingo, and I don’t want to. All I know is that some wines taste better than others, and that some wines cost more than others. For me, the best bottle of wine is one that tastes great but doesn’t break the bank. With the dinner party season coming up, how can I find good wines at great prices? I turned to Gary Vaynerchuk at Wine Library TV for help.

I discovered Vaynerchuk through his personal website, and his videos about blogging and personal entrepreneurship. (Two of my favorites are: You can have a day job and build your own business and Building personal brands.) But Gary’s real claim to fame is his free daily video blog in which he tastes and reviews wine. Mostly he drinks more expensive stuff, but I wondered — could he offer advice for a frugal guy like me?

Good Wines at Great Prices

I wrote to Gary and asked if he’d be willing to e-mail a few recommendations for GRS readers. He did me one better. He didn’t just write back — he created an entire video featuring his best value-driven wines of the year (subscribers will need to click through to this post to see the video — sorry):

Vaynerchuk starts with some advice that took me a long time to learn: You don’t have to spend a lot to enjoy wine.

The price point of a bottle of wine has no impact on the quality of that wine. That’s very important for people to understand, that price does not equal quality. In wine, that freaks people out. There are enormous amounts of $10-$12 wines that rock and roll…And there’s plenty of wines at $30-$50 that stink up the house.

When I first started drinking wine, I believed that a higher price meant higher quality. I now know that’s not true. My favorite wine I’ve tried this year is the 2007 Alain Brumont gros manseng sauvignon, which costs $10 per bottle at my local wine shop. (I like it so much that I bought a case, which brought the price down to $9 per bottle.)

What does Gary recommend for frugal oenophiles?

  • 2007 Tiefenbrunner pinot bianco Italian white ($12) — “A tremendous alternative to pinot grigio.”
  • 2007 Mastroberardino Mastro white Italian white ($14) — “An amazingly crisp, clean wine.”
  • 2006 Ercavio Roble La Mancha tempranillo roble Spanish red ($10) — “Perfect pizza wine.”
  • 2006 Alto Almanzora Este Spanish red ($10) — “A powerhouse red wine.”
  • 2004 Monteviejo Festivo malbec Argentine red ($13) — “Explodes on the palate.”
  • 2004 Villa Carafa Aglianico Sannio aglianico Italian red ($15) — “Old-school Italian.”
  • 2007 Poesia torrontes Argentine white ($10) — “The white grape explosion…taking over pinot grigio and New Zealand sauvignon blanc fans by storm.”

Learn What You Love

But Vaynerchuk emphasizes that these aren’t the only options. Each person has different preferences. What might taste good to you might taste like swill to me. Or, as Kris and I were recently reminded, the same chardonnay may taste like gasoline with one meal, and then taste refreshing the next night with a different dish.

Because of this, wine recommendations should be treated like movie reviews: they can give you a general idea of what you’re going to get, but your actual reaction will be intensely personal. It’s important to find what you like, and then remember it. Vaynerchuk says:

You need to explore. How do you figure out what you like? By trying them. If you only drank apple juice every single day of your life, how in the heck do you know if you like orange juice? Or pineapple juice? Or plum juice? Or prune juice? How do you know? You don’t! And the same thing with wine. You’ve got to mix it up and try different things.

My Kind of Shopping

Armed with Gary’s advice and the latest recommendations from Consumer Reports, I went wine shopping last Wednesday. I established a budget before I set out, and then spent a couple of hours exploring the wine selection near my home. I visited Costco, Cost Plus World Market, Safeway, and Fred Meyer (a regional all-in-one store).

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any of the wines from Vaynerchuk’s list and only two from the Consumer Reports list. Remembering Gary’s advice, however, I decided to be adventurous. He recommends a 2004 Argentine malbec, so I picked up one from the same vintage and region but a different producer. I also bought a tempranillo and a couple of other varietals I’ve never tried. I look forward to sharing these bottles with friends over the coming months.

Some people are serious about wine, and that’s fine. For me, though, wine is fun. Eating a good meal while sharing a bottle of wine is a bonding experience. Wine brings people together. And it does that just as well at $8 a bottle as at $80 a bottle.

What about you? What tips can you offer for finding inexpensive wine that’s still fun to drink? Do you have some favorite wines you can recommend for holiday gatherings?

If you like Vaynerchuk, be sure to check out Wine Library TV every weekday. (I liked yesterday’s episode: What wine goes with candy bars?)

More about...Frugality, Food

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