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I’ll share with you the difference between cheap vs expensive wine. Along with my list of cheapies and purse busters that are absolutely delicious.   

Are you a wine snob?  Or do you prefer more budget friendly wines?  If you’re anything like me I love both.  

I love shopping at Tar-jhay (Target) and Gucci.  There’s room for both so why swing to one side of the aisle?  

Good thing you’ve got me as your fairy wine mother. I’ll show you the three secrets you need to know when you’re going to go cheap and three secrets when you’re going to splurge.  

Going Cheap or How to Buy Budget Friendly Wines

I consider any bottle under $20 a value wine. That being said, there are a lot of great options for under $10 a bottle too. 

  1. When you’re buying a budget friendly wine stick to single varietals.  Or a maximum of two grapes in a blend. Don’t buy “Red Blend,” you’ll never really know what you’re getting.   Go for a single varietal or a blend with ONLY two grape varietals. This helps keep the quality high.
  2. Drink it from where it grows. Be open to value regions like Spain (Tempranillo, Airen Albariño, Garnacha, or Verdejo), Chile (Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Carmenère, Merlot, or Pais) and Portugal (Alvarinho – Vinho Verde, Encruzado,Touriga Nacional, or Baga). 
    These wines won’t be nearly as expensive as their more famous French and Californian cousins.
  3. Try lesser known varietals like Carménère, Primitivo, Tannat, Bobal, Nero d’Avola and Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Gamay, and Malbec (Argentina).   These grapes offer a whole lotta punch for less than two tenners.  

Random: Did you know…Malbec originated in France? But since it wasn’t as hardy as other native grapes it never dominated as a top French variety.  Instead a lovely French botanist took it to Argentina and planted it back in 1868.  

Now Argentina leads the world in Malbec production with over 76,700 acres of Malbec planted!

Ok, back to our wine buying lesson…

How to Buy Expensive Wines

Now let’s get to my favorite baller wines.  There’s just something about buying a bottle of wine that’s over $50 that excites me.  

Don’t get me wrong I’m equally as excited about my Trader Joe’s cheap wine haul with my aunt Beryl. 

Our auntie and niece ritual begins when we drive into the city and have a swanky lunch.  It’s usually at a restaurant where my uncle and Mr. W&D would simultaneously complain that the food was too tiny.  

Then after a leisurely lunch, I drive us over to Trader Joe’s where we shop the wine aisles for an hour or two and rack up 25 bottles of wine for under $200 bucks. 

The kid at the register calls for help and asks us if we’re having a party.  We just smile and say, “No, it’s Sunday.” Cue the confusion and a little bit of fear in his eyes, it’s so much fun.

Back to the baller wines…It’s a proven fact that something weird happens when we spend more money on wine…

…It only tastes better to wine enthusiasts.   

If you aren’t that into wine then knowing a bottle is more expensive actually makes you enjoy it less.  

Let’s say any wine over $35 is a baller wine, I usually like to stick to under $80 for my splurges but that’s just me.  Normally I never buy out of the $12 -$27 price range.  

Unless I’m at Trader Joe’s or Aldi’s and then some of their under $10 wines are a revelation.

For example Revelation Cabernet-Merlot blend from France found at Trader Joe’s is just $7 a bottle and an amazing value.  Buy this 6 bottles at a time.

How to Read Expensive Wine Labels
How to Read Expensive Wine Labels

When buying expensive wines you want to look for:

1. A specific region.  Here’s where you want premium grapes.   You don’t want your wine to come from a general area like California, you want a specific sub region within the appellation like “Stags Leap District of Napa Valley, California.”Stags Leap District is the sub appellation within the Napa Valley appellation.

Most expensive wines come from famous places, famous vineyards, or famous producers. They have a mystique and an honored tradition around them.

Try sub regions within Bordeaux, Cotes du Rhone, Burgundy, Sangiovese, Barolo, Napa Valley, and Sonoma.

2. Older and wiser, you’re going to pay for longevity.  Then give it time to open up.  When a wine is around 2-5 years old the tannins usually overpower flavor complexity or balance.  Cheap wines die after 5-10 years. A more expensive wine after 20 years will be nuanced.

Once you pop that cork, let it breathe for a while.  That’s at least one hour. You’ll find it much more appealing.

3. Aged for an extended time in French oak barrels.  You want a full bodied wine. The aging time makes a difference and contributes to the overall structure, taste, and mouth feel of the wine giving you a better drinking experience. French oak is the time honored vessel for fine winemaking.

The Cheap vs. Expensive Wine List

Baller Wine List:

Brunello di Montalcino – 100% Sangiovese (Brunello) with at least 6 years of aging  ($50+) – Riservasis produced only in the best vintages and in limited quantity will run you $120+  Tasting notes: Anise, cherry, leather, and vanilla.

The Prisoner Wine – this is a red blend from Napa Valley California that goes against everything you think you know about expensive wine,  the current vintage is 2018 that’s aged only two years. But lady, this wine is ridiculously good. ($50) Tasting notes:  Dark chocolate, cherry, clove, fig, and blackberry.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Fay Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($150) 98% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc.  Tasting notes: Tons of blueberry and black cherry with cigar and ripe tannins.

Clos Beauregard, Pomerol 2012 – ($65) or Chateau Hosanna  2015 ($200) Pomerol is one of the best and finest wine producing appellations in Bordeaux.  This blend is Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. If you’re going to buy a younger 2018 Pomerol stock up and let it age for another three years at least.  You’ll save since the 2018 vintage can be found for around $30.  

Tasting notes:  Black currants, raspberries, oak, Chinese 5 spice, dark plums, and licorice.

Barolo ($60+) A Barolo is a classic wine made from Nebbiolo grapes in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy.  It’s easily drinkable but has long aging potential. It’s basically Tuscany without the tourists. Some excellent producers of Barolos under $50 are Elvio Cogno, Elio Grasso, Marchesi di Barolo, and Giuseppe Mascarello. Look for the 2014 vintage.

Tasting notes:  Bing cherry, red roses, anise, cedar, white pepper, tobacco, lavender, and orange peel. 

Now that you’ve suffered enough from sticker shock here are some approachable wines that your taste buds and wallet will love.

Budget Wine List: 

Nero d’Avola from Sicily, Italy – Under $20

If you love Cabernet or Zinfandel please give this Silician wine a chance.   It’s so good. Full bodied with baking spices, dark chocolate, lots of cherry preserves, a hint of raisin, and black raspberries.  Don’t buy the Epicuro Trader Joe’s Nero d’Avola. This pissed me off.  But the Epicuro Primitivo was dyn-o-mite. Loved that.  

Perfect with a juicy ribeye or a bacon cheeseburger.

2018 Cusumano Nero d’Avola – $13

NeroOro Appassimento Nero d’Avola – $13

2018 Caleo Nero d’Avola Terre Siciliane – $10

Primitivo (aka Zinfandel) from the Apulia region in the south of Italy – Under $20

This black fruit, juicy medium bodied wine is high in alcohol and makes getting tanked while cooking fun and easy. It’s one of my favorite wines of all time.  Packed with blackberry, black currant, plum compote, orange marmalade, and cigar notes.

Epicuro Primitivo – Trader Joe’s $6

Antico Ceppo Primitivo di Manduria Riserva 2015 – $18

2016 Primaterra Primitivo – $10

Petit Sirah from California – Under $20

What I love about Petit Sirah is the inky purple color, full tannins, and flavor that blows you away.  Petit Sirah is a tricky grape to grow but has a loyal and dedicated following. I urge you to try a Petit Sirah instead of a Cab, but sadly these grapes don’t get the same respect as Cabernet Sauvignon.

2017 Bogle Petit Sirah $9

McManis Petite Sirah $12

Michael David Petite Petit $16 This is a wine I want to drink in the bathtub it’s that good.  It’s a blend of 85% Petit Sirah and 15% Petit Verdot from Lodi, California.  Aged in French Oak for 9 months. Buy this in bulk if you can.

Viognier from France, Australia, South Africa, and the USA

I love a white wine that’s rich and can stand up to butter.  But I don’t really care for a buttery Chardonnay. Viognier is refreshing and medium to full bodied.  You can find more floral, a touch sweet, or crisp styles. 

Mbali Chenin Blanc Viognier – Trader Joe’s $5 This is an absolute delight from Western Cape, South Africa (79% Chenin Blanc / 21% Viognier) Melon, lychee, lime, and white flowers.   This is excellent for sitting on your patio watching small children run in circles.

Pontificis Viognier Roussanne Marsanne Pays d’Oc from Languedoc-Roussillon, France – Trader Joe’s $7 – Viognier (55%), Roussanne (35%) and Marsanne (10%) Packed with peach, dried apricot, honeysuckle, and a nice long finish. Get this bottle.

D’Arenberg Marsanne Viognier The Hermit Crab $15 – I know I’m recommending this and good luck finding it. But if you do. stock up.   Full of nectarines, honeydew melon, minerals, thyme, sage, and a silky finish this McLaren Vale Australian wine is an excellent value for the money.  I wish I bought more bottles. It’s a simple and refreshing Rhône-style white wine blend.

Pinot Gris from Oregon, Australia, Austria, Alsace, and New Zealand

This solid and refreshing wine pairs well with everything from sushi to turkey.  It’s an often overlooked wine in favor of Pinot Grigio (even though they’re the same grape) and can rival Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Rieslings.  

O.P.P.  Other People’s Pinot Gris 2018 – Maison Noir Wines $25 Oregon – One of my top 10 wines made by New York winemaker Andre Mack.  This wine is a staple at my house. It’s full of green apple, pears, stone fruit, with meyer lemon, almonds, a whiff of smoke, and a lush mouthfeel.  Happiness in a bottle.

Underwood Pinot Gris in a Can – Willamette Valley, Oregon $24 for four 375 ml cans – pop it open and enjoy!  Although this price point may seem a little steep, a bottle of wine is 750 ml, this purchase gives you two bottles of wine at $12 a bottle. Which is an uber good value for Pinot from Oregon.  It’s peach, pink grapefruit, and pears. Absolutely great for sitting in a pool on a hot summer day. I like to pour it in a big glass and sip slowly.

Cheers to your adventures in wine!

About the Author Alexandra Andersen

I founded Wine & Drama to make you laugh and help you learn all about wine, food, and living well. I love stinky cheese, my Nespresso machine, Loire Valley white wines, bold full-bodied reds, and championing ladies in winemaking.

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