Kitchen 'Rithmetic: Cheap Wine

When it comes to wine, how low can you go?

As part of its recent Cheap Living Guide, New York Magazine tipped its hat to cheap wine as a way to enjoy the good life on fewer dollars. Instead of a $1,350 bottle of 1985 Krug Brut, they argue, you can sip on a $13 bottle of New Mexico-produced Gruet sparkling Brut instead and be sitting just as pretty. (My vote also goes to Cristalino Brut Cava, a Spanish sparkler that goes for about 8 or 9 bucks.)

The most effective cost-cutting measure, however, would be to give up liquid grapes altogether, but here at Casa Appetite, we believe that a little vino goes a long way in the life-is-good department. And hey, the holidays are just around the corner; we’ll need to stock up on a lil’ cheer to entertain and get through the most stressful wonderful time of the year.

I’m a big fan of cheap wine. Twelve bucks a bottle tops; eight to ten even better. Not all cheap wines are created equal, as savvy bargain shoppers know. Some are tip top; others are better poured into the compost pile. There’s no sure-fire method to find a diamond in the rough; you just gotta keep sipping until you find one that you love.

In lieu of a cheap wine black book, I’ll share a handful of bargain sippers I’ve found along the way. Please note, this list is far from definitive and a merely a sampler; please add your tried-and-true cheap quaffs in the comments area. The more sippy tips, the better.

In the under-$12 crowd, here are some that I consider smart picks, which I should define as pleasant, balanced and good value. They are not thought-provoking, revelatory wines, but they are good for every day and for inexpensive entertaining.

Goats Do Roam, Western Cape, South Africa
Parducci Sustainable White, Mendocino County, California
Bodegas Aldial “Naia” Rueda, Spain
Marietta Old Vine Red, California
Meridian Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County, California
Fat Bastard Chardonnay, France
Veramonte Primus, a Merlot, Cabernet and Carmenere blend from Chile
Various Garnachas from Calatayud, Spain, plus I’m a sucker for 100 percent Tempranillo from Spain

I’m also happy when I can find a Viognier under $12, but it doesn’t happen often.

If all this oeno-talk is whetting your appetite for some wine schooling, check out “WineWise: Your Complete guide to Understanding, Selecting, and Enjoying Wine,” a great new resource for getting practical about wine. A collaboration of Steven Kolpan, Brian H. Smith and Michael A. Weiss, professors of wine at the Culinary Institute of America, WineWise covers the basics with a highly practical bent, including the world’s major grape regions and appellations, at-home wine tasting tips, buying wine when dining out and an extensive chapter on -- you got it -- cheap wine. Each author shares his own hand-picked list of cheapies, which is worth the price of the book ($29.95) alone.

Bargain shoppers: Send along those cheap sips, cheap tips and other resources you find handy.

By Kim ODonnel |  November 13, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Cooking on a Budget , Wine and Spirits
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Not a tip, but an anecdote. I just got back from visiting my parents in Italy (they grew up and retired there, spending about 35 years in the middle in the US). We have a wine cellar there, and my parents have an assortment of bottles. Even though wine can be cheap in Italy, and a “table wine” at the restaurant is not something to be avoided like is frequently the case here, my parents seem to be king of the bargains. First off, most people drink the table wines daily and in certain areas there are distribution centers for vineyards where you can bring empty bottles for a fill or table wine, usually around 2 euros a bottle. By comparison, a smaller (1/2 liter?) bottle of Italian craft beer will probably be 2.50 or 3 euros. However, near the beach where they go there is a place that sells box wine (same table wine quality previously mentioned) in 10 liter size at 15 euros. That’s 1.5 euros a bottle for a good table wine, less than $2 at today’s exchange rate. And since the wine isn’t exposed to air, you can tap a glass or a bottle, at your convenience. Now that’s cheap.

Posted by: ArlingtonSMP | November 13, 2008 9:26 AM

I got turned on to Roses while vacationing in Tuscany a few years ago. Not the sweet white zinfendel's, mind you (yuck!), but the dry, refreshing roses of Italy, America and especially France. Fat Bastard makes a terrific and cheap rose that I would recommend to white wine drinkers and those who prefer lighter reds. They say that rose season is over, but who are "they" anyway?

Posted by: Jess65 | November 13, 2008 10:12 AM

Nice of you to mention VA wines. Oops I forgot you are out in Seattle and have world view. Still a majority of the readers of your idiotic blog are from the Mid Atlantic area!

Posted by: omarthetentmaker | November 13, 2008 10:23 AM

Jacobs Creek (Australia) makes a nice chardonnay, usually under $10 a bottle. The Aussies have been producing good, drinkable and affordable wine for years.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | November 13, 2008 10:54 AM

My go to white wine is Turning Leaf Reserve Pinot Grigio. I can usually fine a bottle for $7 or a 1.5 for $13. Its really wonderful sipping wine. I also love Beaujoulais which is a fruity red. Beaujoulais-Nouveau is the over produced Thanksgiving/Christmas wine but the other Beaujoulais are really nice and I've found some to pretty affordable.

Posted by: TerpsGirl | November 13, 2008 11:10 AM

I have a wine anecdote too. A few months ago the local wine merchant was selling Woodbridge cabernet in the magnum size three for $10. It was good and I got spoiled. So I've stopped back and asked for more bargains. Last week they had Trinity Oaks Zinfndel 2000 for $1/bottle. I took some home, tried it, and returned for everything on the shelf. It turns out, the cork crumbles if you're not careful. But it's good wine, and for $1/bottle, I'm willing to strain the odd bottle with the crumbly cork. That's how low I'll go.

Posted by: davemarks | November 13, 2008 1:36 PM

Dave, if there was a prize available, you'd get it! Great story.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | November 13, 2008 2:10 PM


I'm with you recommending the "Fat Bastard" wines; the Chard is very nice to cook with.

My sweetie and I have loved true European roses for years, the drier the better. It's nice to know everyone is finding out what we've loved for years!

While it's always a challenge to fine a true rose wine, I do like the "Fat Bastard" one. Also like the "Frog Hollow" one from California.

Spain does some good ones, too.

Posted by: littleredpotato | November 13, 2008 8:20 PM

Great column, Kim. In terms of places to get cheap(er) wine, I highly recommend Trader Joe's. Charles Shaw aside, Trader Joe's has a great selection in the $7-$15 range, as well as "special occasion" wines that are more expensive.

One of my best friends is from Sonoma and is a bit of a wine snob, and he is now a Trader Joe's convert. In the DC area, both the Foggy Bottom and (I believe) most NOVA TJs locations have wine in stock. In MD, alas, TJs can't sell wine, but you can civilly disobey and bring cases across the DC-MD line without too much trouble.

Happy plonking.

Cait Vaughn

Posted by: caitlinevaughn | November 14, 2008 8:17 AM

Hey Kim,

This is definitely a case of "who are the people in your neighborhood." Find your nearby wine store and get to know the owner(s); they'd be happy to guide you to good selections and bottles on sale to pair with meals or to expand your collection. Example: Robert Mondavi's "La Famiglia" Sangiovese (varietal similar to Pinot Grigio) - it's less known and less expensive than the Mondavi name brand. That being said, it runs $17, avg. so I buy when it's on sale for $14. Great for Thanksgiving dinner.

Lately our household has been drinking Black Box Wines, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. At about $20 for 3 litres, it works out to about $5 for a standard 750 ml wine. Every now and again the store will run a special where you will get a $2 rebate if you return the box for recycling (BTW, the box is recyclable on it's own - you don't need to return it to the store).

I'd also like to plug, where you can start and maintain an online wine diary with your personal tasting notes, what's in your "cellar," what you'd like to buy again, and where you may post reviews for others to read and comment on. With our recent onslaught of babies, this has been a way for me to remember what Mr. Centre and I like to drink, and to record the odd bottle of something special that has been introduced to our table at a family dinner and/or holiday meal.

Posted by: CentreofNowhere | November 14, 2008 8:44 AM

Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel - a steal at the price.

Lo Tengo - both the Malbec and Torrontes are great deals.

Anton Bauer Gmörk - Gruner Veltliner is an interesting grape and this runs around $10.

Ch. Ste. Michelle Pinot Gris - around $10

Barefoot Pinot Gris - can be found for about $6 and a great value.

For inexpensive sparkler, a $10 prosecco that we found at Costco replaced Crystallino in our household. Lightly sweet.


@tentmaker - In lieu of making snarky comments, how about YOU suggest a Virginia wine? I'm fond of a few (Barboursville's desert wines in particular), but don't think these wines hit high in the value sweepstakes.

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | November 14, 2008 10:52 AM

I second the Trader Joe's... particularly the Honey Moon Viognier (about $7)

Posted by: mon1 | November 14, 2008 1:13 PM

I'll second the Cristalino recommendation. It's $6-7 around here. We held a blind tasting at a party earlier this year and the Cristalino beat out several $50 true Champagnes as the crowd favorite.

Posted by: TXAndy | November 14, 2008 4:50 PM

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