When everything else in the world seems to climb in costs year after year, it's good to see that there are still plenty of wines priced $7 to $10 a bottle that you can pour with confidence. In fact, most wine drinkers agree that today's inexpensive wines are better than ever.
More for Less
Several factors have helped budget-priced wines improve over the years. Winemakers have been replanting vineyards with grapes that make better wine. Much in the same way that plant breeders strive to offer more robust, more fragrant roses for gardeners, grape researchers have helped winemakers improve their vines.
At the same time, winegrowers are learning how to get more flavor from the grapes they grow by careful timing of watering and pruning. Economics are at work too. When wines cost $7 or $8 a bottle and above, winemakers can afford to use the high-quality grapes that make better wine. These changes, according to one industry expert, mean that today's under-$10 wines would have cost $15 five years ago.
However, while any trip to the wine aisle will reveal dozens upon dozens of reasonably priced wines on the shelves, choosing from among the often-zany labels—featuring everything from oversized roosters to yellow-tailed kangaroos—can be a challenge. In terms of style and character, the wines inside a bottle can differ as much as their labels. How then, do you find a wine you'll like? A few suggestions:
Choose Your Favorite—From a Brave New Place
Pick a grape you already know from a country you've never tried. Some of the best low-priced, high-value wines have recently hailed from Argentina (look for Chardonnay) , Chile (a country respected for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay), Spain (lower-priced Riojas make good-value, easy-sipping quaffs), and South Africa (Chenin Blanc, also known as Steen, reigns here).
Branch Out With Varieties and Styles
Try up-and-coming grapes and wine styles now before they take off in popularity (and price). If you enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon, try a Malbec—those from Argentina are good values. Vinho Verde is a light, refreshing white wine from Portugal that's famously inexpensive. Because many consumers mistakenly think that all pink wines are as sweet as White Zinfandel, they pass over rows of vastly underrated (and under priced) rosé wines—many of which are nicely dry and crisp. Riesling, too, is so under-appreciated that the price remains low for many of these elegant wines.
Judge a Book by Its Cover
You can't always judge a quality of a wine by its label, but sometimes, the label might tell you a bit about the style of wine inside. For example, if you see a wine label with a beautiful pastel collage of flowers on it, you know it's likely not going to be a big, brooding brute of a red. Likewise, a wine with a huge red truck on it likely won't be anything too light-bodied or sweet.
While it's tempting to stick to your tried-and-true "usual," it's worth rolling the dice now and then to find a new favorite at a low price. It's great to know that with all the good wines out there at this price range, the odds are better than ever that you'll find one.