OK … so we’ve established that “good” when it comes to wine is very subjective and that what is good for one person may be at best distasteful for another. Moreover, that this can apply to inexpenive or expensive wines.
If you are into very fruit forward wines, you may prefer a rather inexpensive, young Australian Shiraz to a much more expensive, aged Hermitage. Same varietal, but vastly different styles. That’s subjectivity.
So let’s talk about “cheap”. I have my own opinion of what cheap is in relation to wine, but I also tweeted the question as well as asked many fellow wine drinkers. And as you might expect, cheap is also subjective - what a surprise!
While those with a six figure income see $25 as a cheap bottle of wine, those with a more modest income see $10 as cheap. I can say that for the most part, the definition of cheap is different based on the “color” with red commanding the highest “cheap”, white following at about 50% of the red, and rose falling slightly below the white. (Which says that rose is suffering from a bad reputation based those brought up on sweetened pink jug wines that do not at all represent what a well made, bone dry Rose should be.)
Of course, it does make sense that the level of “cheap” for red would be higher assuming you are familiar with the winemaking process for red versus white or rose. The red will require more costs in handling and processing, as well as time in storage (oak) before bottling. (With the cost of a new French oak barrel approaching $1200, it is not hard to see why red is normally more expensive – keeping in mind that some whites will see oak as well). Therefore, by default the cost of a bottle of red would logically be higher.
With the above in mind, I have found some good wines – red, whites and roses under $10. Now mind you I am not suggesting wines at this price point are going to “wow” you, but I will say there are many wines from Chile, Argentina, Australia, Southern France, Germany, … and yes, even California, that are well made wines at the $10 price point (keeping in mind discounts and sales). I won’t list wines here since I mentioned four or five sites that focus on good cheap wine in Good Cheap Wine: Fact or Myth Part I.
However, other than getting very lucky and finding a great deal, I find few wines that I can say are well beyond the every day quaffer level for under $20 retail. This is the level where you open the bottle, pour or decant, and immediately you know you have something really wonderful to look forward to!
Keeping in mind the proportion of the money from any bottle to the grower, vintner, distributor, and retailer, and oh yes, the state, local, and federal government, you can see why it is hard to make a really good or an outstanding bottle of wine for $10 or under. At that price point it is nearly impossible to source outstanding grapes let alone recoup the cost of processing and storage.
What are a few that make you sit up and take notice at around the $20 price point? Lincourt Syrah, Sebastiani Alexander Merlot (both Foley Wine properties), Four Vines Sophistocate, Clos de los Siete Malbec, Torbreck Woodcutter’s Red, Chateau St. Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon, and many, many more. (Note: These came to mind first..there are countless French, Spanish, Italian, etc. wines that will also “wow you”. There are great winemakers and great vineyards across the globe and I do not want to suggest one region makes better wine over the other… remember that issue of subjectivity )
The bottomline is that although I greatly respect all wine makers that put there energy, their talent and their money into making the best wine they can, it isn’t necessary to pay $100 or even $50 to find a bottle of wine that will make you sit up and take notice.
My advice: Open your palate to as many wines as you can, by tasting as many varietals and blends as you can, from as many countries and regions as you can. That’s when you start to realize the diversity and pleasure of that thing we call wine!
(Sorry … talkin up the grapes again!)
Its not unusual to see conflicting stories about whether you can buy good wine at a cheap price. How many times have we read about $2 buck chuck (…ah, I think it may be $3 buck now ?
There are many sites focused on this very subject (GoodCheapWine, Good Cheap wines, GoodCheapWine Guide, Cheap Wine Ratings, etc.).
Part of the problem is that the definition itself is somewhat subjective at best. What is a good bottle of wine and what do you consider cheap?
The only thing for certain today is that the definition of cheap may have gone down due to the recent global recession, while the price of “cheap” wine in many cases has gone up!
So .. let’s tackle the “good” part first.
When someone describes a good bottle of wine I would think they would be taking into account its appearance (clarity, color), its aroma or smell (strong, faint, off, pleasing), and its taste (full bodied, fruity, earthy, etc.) – certainly its taste at the very least. In addition, one might judge whether it complements or fights with a particular food.
The problem is that what is good for one is not necessarily good for another. Some thrive on a full bodied Cabernet Sauvignon and others on an off dry Riesling - both can be relatively inexpensive and well made wines or both could be expensive and poorly made.
Many wine drinkers prefer old world styles while others new world, others might prefer sweet to dry or fruity versus earthy. Since wine is so subjective, it is hard to build the definition of good or bad based on characteristics alone unless perhaps you build a definition for each varietal and each style, and even then it will still be a matter of taste.
One could simply say if I like it … its good, and if I don’t it isn’t. This is likely going a bit too far in the other direction since just because it is wine and drinkable doesn’t make it good wine.
Hamburger..Good or not?
I think there is a correlation here to good cheap food. You can make a hamburger atvarious price points based on the cut of meat, the fat content, cooking method, and the beef itself. Good for one may be a cut of Angus with a very small percentage of fat cooked medium rare on a grill, or it might be a cheaper cut of meat with a much higher content of fat that is well done cooked in a frying pan. Either might be considered good …. really a preference and a matter of taste.
So, what is good wine? Trying to step back from subjective tastes, it first needs to be without flaws – cork taint (TCA), brettanomyces, or oxidation for instance, and it should also be clear (although if unfiltered there may be some slight cloudiness or sediment which is not considered a flaw). Beyond that, subjectivity rules.
Personal opinion? YES – you can buy good cheap wine, but you cannot buy cheap REALLY GOOD or GREAT wine. You can buy wine that is very drinkable and worthy of being an every day quaffer. There are many, many examples from around the world (visit the sites above for tons of suggestions).
With that said, there is a truism in wine: You can make bad wine from good grapes, but you cannot make great wine from bad grapes.
This again has a strong correlation to food: the better the quality of the ingredients and talent in preparation, the greater the potential for something special. There are no guarantees. However, you can’t start with substandard ingredients and poor preparation, and create a masterpiece.
Good Cheap Wine Part II … a deeper look at cost and process ….coming shortly!