Fitting wine into your discretionary spending budget (on top of your various subscriptions and treat-yourself cappuccinos) can seem impossible. Wine connoisseurs know that wine is not a cheap hobby. But clever wine connoisseurs know that finding good deals on great wines is not only possible but easy. If you’re looking to add wine to your list of hobbies, or if you’re just looking to cut back on that monthly credit card statement, here are five ways you can drink wine affordably!
Buy fewer, better-quality wines.
There’s no denying that buying the $6 bottle of Barefoot wine is among the best deals you can find. But it’s not realistic to pay $6 for an interesting, good-quality bottle of wine. The laws of economies of scale say that a bottle at this price will come from a very large winery churning out high quantities of easy-drinking wines (a.k.a. sugary adult grape juice). There is a time and a place for Barefoot, but if you want to start to experience new wine styles and regions, you should stay away from bottom-shelf wine.
Instead of purchasing multiple bottles of cheap wine per week, consider buying fewer bottles of higher quality. Wine Folly says that a good bottle of wine purchased from a wine store in the U.S. will fall somewhere in the $15-30 per bottle range. Purchasing four bottles of $20 wine per month will keep your wine budget below $100, and chances are, you were already spending that much anyway. Rather than spending $20 a week on a few bottles of Barefoot, consider spending $20 per week on one bottle of something new and interesting.
Buy wine from up-and-coming regions.
There’s a reason why Burgundy and Bordeaux are so pricey, and again, it has to do with the laws of economics. It’s all a matter of supply and demand. Appellation laws and limited land area in these regions limit production sizes, which decreases supply. Centuries-old reputations increase the demand. When supply is low and demand is high, prices skyrocket. The next time you go out to eat, notice that the prices of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, and Napa Valley are pricier than the other wines on the list. While they might be better, are they $50 better? $100 better?
Oftentimes you can find phenomenal deals on wines that are made in a similar style from a different region. For example, if you love champagne, you should try French crémant wines. Crémant is a sparkling wine made in any region other than Champagne in France, but that is still made in the same méthode champenoise style as the real thing. And often, crémant wines are made from the same grapes as champagne. Alsace, Champagne’s neighbor to the east, is known for its excellent crémant wines that you can find at a fraction of the price.
Here is a list of some common wine regions and corresponding up-and-coming regions that produce wines in a similar style for less.
If you like Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot):
- Maipo Valley (Chile)
- Stellenbosch (South Africa)
- Virginia (USA)
Example: 2017 Primus Cabernet Sauvignon (Maipo Valley) – $16.95
If you like Burgundy Pinot Noir:
- Alsace (France)
- Loire Valley (France)
- Baden (Germany)
Example: 2018 Riefle Pinot Noir Bonheur Convivial (Alsace) – $25.99
If you like Napa Valley Chardonnay:
- Finger Lakes (New York)
- Victoria (Australia)
- Willamette Valley (Oregon)
Example: Ravines Chardonnay 2015 (Finger Lakes) – $29.95
If you like Champagne:
- Alsace (France)
- Northern Italy
- Penedès (Spain)
- South Africa
Example: Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut – $23.99
Buy wines made from up-and-coming grapes.
Another great trick to finding affordable wines is to buy wines made from undervalued grapes. These sorts of finds can save you lots of money while still delivering a wine that is interesting and well-crafted. Here are some examples:
Instead of Pinot Noir, try these other light and fruity red wines:
- Frappato (Italy)
- Zweigelt (Austria)
- Gamay (France)
Example: 2016 Heinrich Zweigelt – $19.99
Instead of Syrah from the Rhône Valley of France, look for these medium-to-full-bodied, perfumy red wines:
- Mandilaria (Greece)
- Touriga Nacional (Portugal)
- Monastrell (Spain)
Example: 2019 Viñalba Reserve Malbec – Touriga Nacional – $17.99
Instead of Sauvignon Blanc, try these other crisp, acidic white wines:
- Grüner Veltliner (Austria)
- Assyrtiko (Greece)
- Albariño (Portugal)
Example: 2019 Laurenz V. Singing Grüner Veltliner – $21.99
Buy non-rated or underrated wines.
A 2014 study found that perceived wine quality is highly correlated with winery reputation, but poorly correlated with sensory quality ratings. In other words, when you buy a highly rated wine, you could be paying for the name on the label rather than the quality in the bottle.
Instead, look for nonrated or underrated wines. Hidden gems can be found from little-known wineries all over the world. A bottle of renowned Smith Haute-Laffite in Bordeaux’s Pessac-Léognan region will run you over $100, but a bottle of underrated Château Picque Caillou from the same region will only run you about $35. Buying from offbeat producers can really help you to score a bargain.
Buy direct and in bulk.
For those of you who shop at Costco or Sam’s Club, you already know that buying in bulk can save you enormous amounts of money. But another great way to save money when buying wine is to purchase it directly from the producer. Often, wineries will offer a 12-bottle case discount of 10-15% or free shipping. Plus, buying directly from the producer is a great way to support small businesses after many of them saw a huge portion of their sales disappear due to Covid-19. Buying in bulk from a winery is a win-win!
If you want to drink affordable, high-quality wines, it’s all about thinking outside of the box. Buying non-mainstream wines can often score you the best deals, especially if you purchase them in bulk or stock up when they go on sale. Remember that getting familiar with what you like is also crucial for saving money when buying wine. Once you know you like dry, earthy red wines, you won’t be lured by marketing tactics to purchase a sweet, fruity red – and that alone will save you money. When approached with a realistically frugal mindset, a wine hobby is a hobby that you can afford to sustain!
Charlotte is a Master of Science candidate in Wine and Vineyard Sciences in Bordeaux, France. Her passion for wine developed thanks to a bartending gig at a little French wine bar in Washington, DC. Eventually, she quit her desk job to manage the wine bar full time. Hailing from Northern Vermont, she is fond of outdoor hockey rinks, local ski hills, and farm-to-table food and drink.