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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Vincent Scordo
Vincent Scordo
11 years ago

I’ve been a fan of Gary since his wine review site started! Gary brings lots of energy to the wine biz. One small contention I have is that he is both selling wine and reviewing wine, which may or may not influence his wine ratings/reviews. Nevertheless, he does great stuff on his site and carries nice wines (I’ve been to his NJ shop as well)

I have a few, recent, wine posts on my blog: http://www.scordo.com/blog/wine/ (on wine buying, homemade wine making, etc.)

Great post!

Allison
Allison
11 years ago

I worked at a winery two years ago, and I definitely agree that expensive does not necessarily mean better. Wine is made locally in just about every state, so I recommend if someone really doesn’t know where to start, head to a local winery and have a tasting. Ask the winemaker or assistant for their suggestions, and don’t be afraid to indicate your tastes and price range. This way, you try before you buy, and you don’t have to risk throwing out something you don’t like. Also, ask about discounts and promotions. Our winery gave a 10% discount for buying… Read more »

Megan
Megan
11 years ago

For the even cheaper tier, I recommend Columbia-Crest. Bottles of their wine run $5-$6 and are satisfactory. They produce all of the basics that I know of and are available at super markets.

Momma
Momma
11 years ago

Thanks so much for sharing this post. I am a big fan of red wines and have been reluctant to indulge since I’m on this frugal lifestyle path. This article is pretty valuable to those of us who do entertain a lot.

Happy Holidays!

MoneyGrubbingLawyer
MoneyGrubbingLawyer
11 years ago

I find the best tip for finding good, inexpensive wine is to find a good, understanding wine store. My local wine cellar has some exceptionally knowledgeable staff who understand that not everyone wants to drop $100 per bottle. I can go in and tell them my price range, my general likes and dislikes, and they’re more than happy to walk me through a number of options. They also offer tasting opportunities that let you try a number of wines from all price ranges. With so much selection in wine, your best bet is to consult the experts and let them… Read more »

Nathan
Nathan
11 years ago

I would tell people to try Trader Joes if they have one near them. They have a lot of great wines for 5 to 6 dollars or less. They also have descriptions and a helpful staff. I have enjoyed trying a variety of wines. My favorite so far has been a five dollar wine Archeo Nero d’Avola Ruggero di Tasso Sicilia. Best of luck and and have fun

Kelly
Kelly
11 years ago

I second the suggestion for trying out local and regional wineries. I live in northern Indiana and just an hour north of me in southwest lower Michigan are many excellent wineries with tasting rooms and tours as well as seasonal events. What a fun way to support the local economy while enjoying fantastic wines. Some also brew beer and distill spirits. I also second the suggestion for taking time at a local wine shop. As MGL said, many employees are very knowledgeable and helpful. And if they’re not or are complete wine snobs, leave and take your business elsewhere. It’s… Read more »

Frugal Dad
Frugal Dad
11 years ago

Just thought I would add that I’m not a big fan of wine, but I am a fan of Vaynerchuk! I like what he has done with Wine Library TV, and his story is inspiring as a blogger.

EscapeVelocity
EscapeVelocity
11 years ago

Bake cookies or brownies to take to the party and drink the wine everybody else brought :).

Furball
Furball
11 years ago

Third! “I second the suggestion for trying out local and regional wineries.”

New England has a handfull of small wineries that make decent blends, as well as specialty fruit wines. Explore your neighborhood.

brooklynchick
brooklynchick
11 years ago

Agree with moneygrubbing, my method is all about choosing a good wine store. Luckily my neighborhood has a bunch. The staff are very low-key, not pushy and you can feel ok saying “I don’t want to spend more than $15.” As a regular customer, I am treated well, even if each purchase is small (although I admit I blow a lot there at Christmas gift time). Also, most of the wine stores near me have free tastings each week. I won’t like everything I taste, but sometimes I discover something I do like. Most important, the wine store staff are… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

Though I didn’t include it in the post, I want to mention that I’m just becoming aware of how great it can be to visit a wine store. When we moved into this house, there was one about a mile away. It folded, unfortunately. (Though, now that I think about it, there may be one a few miles away — gotta check that out.) However, when I decided to buy a case of the 2007 Brumont gros manseng, I found it at a wine store in downtown Portland. The folks there were very happy. They ordered a case of our… Read more »

Leigh
Leigh
11 years ago

Great topic, espacially in this season! I have gotten some amazing suggestions from store staff, and have never had anyone turn their nose up at my price point $8-12 for the most part (Columbia Crest in our market is more like $9.99). Staff can almost always come up with three or four suggestions right away–especially if they know what you plan on serving–or if you want an oaky Chardonnay etc. etc… Here in the West there is a French family by the name of Gruet out of Albuquerque producing Champagne–very reasonable ($16 for Blanc de Noir) and very high quality.… Read more »

Susy
Susy
11 years ago

I wouldn’t mind drinking wine, but I’m just too cheap. I’ll stick to tea & water. Every now and then I have a glass, but I rarely buy it (except for cooking).

RJ
RJ
11 years ago

It’s true that expensive wines are not always necessarily the best wines, but sometimes they are. You can find great wines below $15, but they are rarely mind-bendingly amazing. But when an under-$15 is great, it can outcompete a very good wine selling for $15-$50. A lot of it depends on the kind of wine–you’ll have to pay good money to get a great, traditional Barolo or Barbera ($50+), but if you prefer the more modern styles of these wines (usually $25-$50), you can get good deals. I’ve found that the most reliable under-$15 wines are from Argentina, Spain, Portugal,… Read more »

mbrogz3000
mbrogz3000
11 years ago

I find that I am preferring wine over beer, for the most basic reasons that better tasting beers (to me) cost a lot more and also have 150-200 empty calories per bottle. Even the better tasting beers to me get boring after a while, so theres a ‘whats the point’ factor. Wine is beverage that you don’t really need to consider the calorie intake since its only about 90 calories per glass. Also, when you are fit and have your metabolism in high gear, you ‘need’ more alcohol to feel relaxed…at least I do, so I’d rather have two-three glasses… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
11 years ago

It is also fundraiser season, and our school did a great wine fundraiser this year! Each family donated a bottle of wine with a story of why they like that wine – had it on our honeymoon, drank it on a picnic at the beach while the kids behaved, etc. Then the school compiled “wine cellars” – 6 bottles of red, 6 white, 6 mixed, etc. for the silent auction. Those who bought the wine got both wine and stories to help them know the other school families a little better. The wine prices themselves ranged from $8 store varieties… Read more »

Metroknow - Almostfit.com
Metroknow - Almostfit.com
11 years ago

A good friend of mine owns a successful wine bar, so I asked him a similar question: How do I pick a good “every day” wine for our regular meals? His recommendation was to go to a decent wine shop and buy 5 or 6 bottles of different wines between $7 and $12 dollars (possibly ask the owner for recommendations in that range), and then take them home and try them. If you find one you like, buy a case of it. His tips on price: – Don’t buy really cheap wines like 2-buck Chuck (Trader Joe’s famously cheap wine)… Read more »

Angelo
Angelo
11 years ago

Thanks for the list. I find it exceedingly hard to find decent wine at a decent price in America. Although I have found a few decent buys, like Ruffino Orvieto Classico.

Sam
Sam
11 years ago

I love Gary’s videos…I just wish I had more time to watch them! Re: inexpensive wines, at Costco I’ve found the Castle Rock Pinot Noir to be to my liking at around $10/bottle. They also sell Mirassou for around $8 here and that’s excellent. My family has also discovered Rex Goliath Pinot Noir, usually can be found for ~$8/bottle. Give it time and room to breathe, and you’ll be rewarded with a very smooth, drinkable wine that will go with most anything. I’m reading Wine for Dummies right now (great book, very accessible writing) and it’s providing insight to the… Read more »

PDXgirl
PDXgirl
11 years ago

My parents are huge oenophiles and belong to several Oregon wine clubs (the wine they drink is almost exclusively Oregon and Washington wines). This affords me the great opportunity to taste lot’s of wines I would normally not buy. I can say that there is a definite difference between exceptionally fine wine and table wine, but that certainly doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with table wine. It’s just not something to taste with crackers and cheese for the sheer joy of tasting wine. That being said, some of my favorite sipping wines are between $10 & $20 like Sokol Blossers… Read more »

lolo
lolo
11 years ago

I gotta second the Trader Joes comment. Its the best place to get inexpensive wines. Its almost guaranteed to be good, too. I’ve never been disappointed with a purchase from TJs!
The Trader Joes label are all excellent and under $10. Nobilo Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc for around $12. Nero d’Avola (Ruggiero di Tasso)for $6. All great!

RenaissanceTrophyWife
RenaissanceTrophyWife
11 years ago

Living in NorCal wine country, this may be sacrilege, but frankly I don’t think the $100+ bottles are 10x as good as the $10 bottles. Better, yes, but not by that much. Anyways, I’ll drink really good wine if I’m out to dinner at a nice place– and only have one glass. for bargains, I second Trader Joe’s and Costco; I also like Cameron Hughes (www.chwine.com) sources their wine from high-end producers and may do a little blending– but you don’t pay for the big name on the label. And the ultimate steal: Grocery Outlet, which has some gems among… Read more »

Nick
Nick
11 years ago

I’m surprised that JD didn’t mention Grocery Outlet as a resource for good wines at economical prices. There is a Grocery Outlet just a few blocks from his house. And, they have wine tastings on Fridays. When you see BMWs in the parking lot you can bet their owners are inside checking out the wines.

Guy-Jacques
Guy-Jacques
11 years ago

It’s all about your tastes! I can not agree more on that one.

On my inexpensive wine list:
La Vieille Ferme Rouge AOC Côtes du Ventoux 2006
Wine tasting review: http://www.vinivino.com/vin/la-vieille-ferme-rouge–aoc-cotes-du-ventoux-2006/

Tocado Campo de Borja 2007
Wine tasting review: http://www.vinivino.com/vin/tocado-campo-de-borja-2007/

2 good every day wines that won’t hurt your budget.

For some more nice inexpensive wines, I invite you to visit http://www.vinivino.com.

Cheers!

Carla
Carla
11 years ago

We have a couple wine stores in the area that sell great wines under $20, some under $15, which is nice because I like to keep it local, but buying from Costco for a party well too. I wonder if its regional (Bay Area) but its pretty easy to find cheap good wines without having to resort to BevMo. Both from California and other regions.

I did have great $50 wines and I must say that the cheaper wines are not always “as good” but spending that kind of money for a Wednesday night meal isnt worth it or course.

Laura Evans
Laura Evans
11 years ago

Ask friends, family, coworkers – everyone loves to give an opinion so start with those! For a fun get together, you provide the snacks and ask friends to bring a bottle. You can be general with the wine request (favorite red) or specific (2005 Zinfandel $10-16). Open, drink, discuss. Go to a wine store, let them know you want to learn more. Give them some info about your taste even if it seems simplistic (I liked this merlot I had at my friend’s with her spaghetti dinner). Don’t be afraid to give your price range. I’ve found if you seem… Read more »

Samir
Samir
11 years ago

A really great way to try some decent wines is to host a tasting. What I’ve done is asked everyone to bring a wine of their choice under a certain price range ($12 works well) and an appetizer. This way, you can try a whole slew of them and see what you like. If you want to go further, ask people to bring a printed sheet of information on that specific wine with them as well.

Nick
Nick
11 years ago

I’ll have to show this to my girlfriend, as she’s the wine drinker. I know she has a few economical favorites. Strictly beer for me though, more specifically Yuengling Lager.

Scott NJ DAD
Scott NJ DAD
11 years ago

I live down the road from the Wine Library, and it is an excellent retailer. You can still routinely find wines that are very good for $10 or less.

More important, a reputable wine dealer will help you find such wines. I routinely get advice from the staff at Wine Library. But you have to know what you like, and if you buy a wine that is just flat out bad, a good wine store will give you your money back. You should bring back the un-used portion of the bottle, it may have gone bad for some reason.

Craig
Craig
11 years ago

I enjoy wine as well but my viewing of the movie Sideways about 4 times is all my wine knowledge. I know that wine doesn’t have to be expensive to be good, but I never know specific brands. I enjoy Gary’s videos as well and all of his advice. I was wondering if anyone can take this the step further and offer basic wine knowledge tips, some that would impress a girl?

Craig
http://www.budgetpulse.com

Guy-Jacques
Guy-Jacques
11 years ago

To answer Craig

Basic wine knowledge tips to impress a girl!
I like it! Let me work something out for you guys. I know exactly what you need 😉

Please come back here later, I’ll give you some tips on wine tasting.

Guy-Jacques
http://www.vinivino.com

Sam
Sam
11 years ago

Craig – go to your library and check out “Wine for Dummies”:

http://www.dummies.com/store/product/Wine-For-Dummies-4th-Edition.productCd-0470045795.html

There’s even a couple sample chapters there, I think.

It gives little facts and insights into enjoying wine and there’s stuff you could throw out Cliff Clavin style – like how some wines are named for the grape (Chardonnay) and some for where the wine is produced (Burgundy). I’m only on chapter 4 and it’s already informed my wine enjoyment.

They’ve even got other articles, too:

http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/understanding-wine-labels.html

Craig
Craig
11 years ago

@guy-jacques Ha, I know how I must have sounded in my comment. The reason being I actually just went out with a girl to a wine bar last week and new nothing. Just found out what a wine flight is. Could use some basic knowledge or facts that could be used to impress

Julz
Julz
11 years ago

I highly recommend 14 Hands’ cabernet sauvignon, out of Washington state. I buy it by the case as it’s not readily available in the midwest where I’m from, and have yet to find anyone who doesn’t enjoy it. Runs about $12.

bethh
bethh
11 years ago

Hosting a wine tasting is a great way to try a range of wines. I’ve done this in the past – the best way is to specify the varietal, that it should be locally available, and the desired price point. Before the wines get opened, wrap them up with paper bags so you’re not influenced by the label. I’ve continuously found I’ve been fine with pretty inexpensive wines.

bethh
bethh
11 years ago

Craig, you may want to find out if local stores offer tastings. You could also host a tasting with friends to start to figure out what you like. You might want to focus more on rounding out your knowledge, and not worry so much about trying to impress. It can be quite charming to admit you know nothing but that you really want to learn!

Samwise
Samwise
11 years ago

I just go to the QFC (grocery store) down the street. Pretty good selection (although not close to a real wine shop) and there is always a lot of stuff on sale. Buy 6 bottles at a time and you’ll get another 10% off. They even gave me a reusable cloth wine bag that fits 6 bottles perfectly so I don’t have to feel guilty watching the checker wrap them all individually in paper (or worse, plastic) bags. I tend to stick with the local (Pacific Northwest) reds, and by going with what’s the most on sale and buying in… Read more »

Steph
Steph
11 years ago

I don’t really get the idea of asking other people about wines unless you know that they know your tastes. And if you don’t know your own tastes yet, you should be buying the inexpensive ($4-$7) wines until you figure out the styles you like. There’s a fun website for helping people determine their tastes(http://www.budometer.com/) that categorizes people into groups like Tolerant and Sensitive Tasters based on your tastes in other things (such as salt, sugar, mixed drinks and coffee). It then recommends wines based on your results. If you like big red wines, as I do, I can recommend… Read more »

Cathy
Cathy
11 years ago

I’ve found a number of $5 bottles at Trader Joe’s that I like. A $10+ bottle is usually a ‘splurge’ for me. I live in Washington state, and the two big profile wineries here (Chateau Ste Michelle and Columbia) are within a 15 minute drive. I’ll buy a $40 bottle from them for a truly special occasion.

Guy-Jacques
Guy-Jacques
11 years ago

For the ones interested, here some basic wine tasting tips which I hope will help.

Wine tasting tips
http://www.vinivino.com/blog/?p=85

Guy-Jacques
ww.vinivino.com

FuglyLilTroll
FuglyLilTroll
11 years ago

I tend to border somewhere between a wino and a table wine drinker. Because i don’t really have a ‘refined’ palate, i can drink most any wine and find some good in it. That said, i fully recommend going “wine trailing” or “vineyard hoping”. Whenever i go out of town one of the first things i like to do is see if the area has a local vineyard and if they have open tasting (usually for a nominal fee). I have found some amazing wines this way, all with their own distinctive traits. The prices range from $8 a bottle… Read more »

Tim
Tim
11 years ago

I hate that wine can cost so much, especially inflated Californian wines. i think it is silly, even on a splurge (except one caveat below). I keep things below $8, because there are so many very drinkable wines out there for under $8. i prefer reds like chianti, cabs, syrah, cab-syrah (nice mix). I DON’T drink Merlot in homage to a funny movie. my favorite reds are from italy (give me any chianti), s. africa, australia, chile, and croatia. a little private label (well, they didn’t have labels actually, only a hang tag, and i guess it could be termed… Read more »

Jim @ Change Jar Savings
Jim @ Change Jar Savings
11 years ago

What no Boones Farms??? That is more my style. ;> My wife is the wine drinker. We never buy a case as she always wants to try something new, something different. At local (now closed) liquor store that specialized in wine, the owner’s son was well versed in wino 101, 202 and advanced wino 305. He now runs a local winery. Anyways, he told me once that for Champange, the price is nonsense. Any bottle you like under $10 is just as good as anything over $10. He also told us that for any wine the year and region are… Read more »

Shelly
Shelly
11 years ago

I agree with all those who suggest local wines. Oregon is the third largest wine producer and has some great options for you to try. Washington is the second now (overtaking OR a few years ago), so I’m not surprised to see many suggestions for both Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle, which I love for table wines, too. Agree with holding wine tastings both in your house and at the winery. Also, if you really decide to get into it, wine clubs can be great. Chateau Ste. Michelle, for instance, has several wine club options. For locals, you can… Read more »

Liz
Liz
11 years ago

I echo the comment by Sam who said to check out “Wine for Dummies.” Several years ago, I bought that book when I, like you, wanted to educate myself on the immense variety of wines out there. It’s a very good book; one of the things that I liked about it was its humor, its factual and practical tone, and its very anti-wine-snob attitude. From there, I just started buying various wines I read about and sampling them. I live in Pennsylvania, so I am limited to our “wonderful” state store system (and their overinflated pricing). It also means that… Read more »

Sheila
Sheila
11 years ago

We enjoy spending the weekend after Thanksgiving touring open wineries. Last year, we toured Benton County (OR) wineries and bought a bottle of what later became an award-winning pinot noir. Having moved to another state, we again took the opportunity to tour small wineries this past weekend, tasting a bunch of different wines and buying several reasonably priced bottles. I enjoy the opportunity to taste a lot of different wines before spending my money. Plus you usually get free food and a nice drive in the country (thankfully gas prices are down).

Dustin Brown
Dustin Brown
11 years ago

I’ve, been a Vayniac for about a year. Glad you discovered Gary’s show, JD. He’s a down to earth cat.

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
11 years ago

Find a store that has good wine staff. Tell them what you have liked and ask them to recommend stuff that is similar. For folks in Portland Oregon, like JD, Great Wine Buys has a $100 “case of the month” that lets you try a variety of relatively inexpensive wines that they select. But you can often get good recommendations from some wine staff at places like Fred Meyer and Costco as well. Almost every store offers a case discount on full cases of one wine and many offer the same discount on mixed cases. So buying in bulk will… Read more »

Kaila
Kaila
11 years ago

I’m not a huge wine drinker, but I know that Cinetopia (in Vancouver) has some fancy-schmancy high tech wine bar that lets you try I think somewhere around a hundred different wines. It has a little pre-paid card you use to pay for a sample and each wine will dispense something like three ounces of wine. Something about the system preserves the wine inside the bottle after it’s been opened for a long time. It seems like a pretty inexpensive way to try lots of wines without buying the entire bottle. Their website is here:

http://www.cinetopiatheaters.com/wine_bar/wine_bar.htm

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