How to Choose a Great Cheap Red Wine

After reading the essay under this heading by Roger Ely I felt it necessary to respond. Mr. Ely’s advice on choosing an inexpensive wine is not beneficial. I speak from experience; I own a wine shop that has been in my family since 1934.

It is important to note that there is both good and bad wine at every price level. When looking for good inexpensive wine, remember that there is far more “bad” wine than “good” wine. Conversely, at the higher price points there is more “good” wine than “bad” wine, and choosing then becomes a question of value.

The best way to find good inexpensive wines is to educate yourself first. Look for shops which run wine tastings. Most good wine shops operate a weekly wine tasting, (I do from 4-7 every Friday) so finding on should not be difficult. Usually, at free wine tasting, the wines poured will be inexpensive. By attending these tastings you will be afforded the opportunity to discover your palate. By this I mean what kind of wine do you like; sweet, dry, full-bodied, light, red or white, etc. From there you should discover which varietals you prefer. For example, if full-bodied red wines are your preference, than Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Zinfandel, Rhone wines and others would be ideal, while Sangiovese (Chianti) or Gamay (Beaujolais) would be inappropriate for you. Once you’ve discovered where your tastes lie a good purveyor should be able to direct you to a bottle you’ll enjoy at any price point.

The reason this methodology is more beneficial than Mr. Ely’s is simply that each vintage the wines change, and Mr. Ely’s method will have you ordering the same thing over and over again, regardless of vintage. Just because you enjoyed Smoking Loon Cabernet in 2005 doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy the 2006. It is a different bottle of wine because it is a different vintage, and the amount of sunshine, rain, temperatures and other variables that affect the vintage have changed. In essence you’re not really looking for brand X because it’s your favorite, or the most heavily recommended by wine shops; you’re looking for specific qualities in wine that you enjoy that may be in brand X in ’05, but not in ’06. It’s also important to note that retailers buy wine in bulk; the larger the purchase the better the price. This frequently accounts for price disparity on the same item between stores.
When you call multiple stores their suggestions are based, quite often, on the quantities they currently own, and not your palate. Were you able to offer those purveyors your tastes they would be able to further narrow their suggestions. This will enable you to eliminate shops that do not take your tastes into consideration when making suggestions.

I hope this helps, and you find time to do as I suggest. You’ll find it both enjoyable and educational. No offense to Mr. Ely!