It is a truth universally acknowledged that in order to drink great wine, you’ve got to flash your cash.
We’re told time and time again that the very best stuff is going to cost a small fortune, and most of us don’t bother to question this when hunting for a fantastic new wine.
In some ways, there is some accuracy in this belief - in the sense that the reverse is usually true: very cheap wine is rarely worth writing home about, and the mass-produced budget-friendly bottles you can find in any supermarket range from being decidedly boring to being downright undrinkable.
There are many reasons for this - generally, the most interesting wines come from vineyards with very low yields (go the website of any independent and respected winery, and they’ll tell you endlessly about how little fruit their vines produce), which concentrates the ‘character’ in the grapes grown. Low yields mean lower volume, lower profit margins and thus a higher price.
Furthermore, if a great wine finds itself in high demand and popular among wine drinkers, simple market forces are going to push the price tag higher and higher. Wine may have overtones of romance and rusticity, but business is business at the end of the day.
However, wine is a world full of mythology and misdirection, and one of the great lies that has sprung up from the snobbier and more elitist corner of the oenological sector is that you cannot drink fantastic and fascinating wine for relatively little money.
We’re not talking bargain-bucket plonk from some unutterable region of god-knows-where picked up at two-for-the-price-of-one at your local corner shop, but rather mid-price wines which massively impress for their price bracket.
Here are some top tips for buying great wine at low prices, how to spot them, and how to stock up your wine rack without breaking the bank.
Focus on value regions
Every country has their famous, prestigious wine regions. Spain’s La Rioja, Italy’s Barolo, France’s Bordeaux. These regions rely more on their brand than on their product to keep buyers interested, and keep prices high.
However, every country also has their value regions, those parts of the country which produce fantastic wine, but haven’t got the international reputation or fame to rely on.
This often means that they produce equally good - if not better - wines, at a fraction of the price. The best example of this is probably Champagne.
The hallowed name of this ridiculously elitist region of France will demand a far higher price than the wine often deserves, simply because the brand of the region has become synonymous with quality and luxury.
Travel fifty miles outside of Champagne, and you’ll find ‘cremant’ wines, made with exactly the same methods and often some more interesting blends, at a fraction of the price.
Cremant is often a beautiful, elegant sparkling wine, with far more variation and interesting features than those found in its more famous neighbour… and it generally costs around a quarter of the price.
Every country has a similar region - get to know them, scratch under the surface, and discover a whole world of affordable wine.
Get to know your local wine store or supplier
The big box stores have for too long had a monopoly on wine buying in most places, and their interest is in shifting units and making money. Local, quality wine stores, and certain independent online suppliers, on the other hand, are generally run by passionate people who want you to discover the best of their produce.
In my experience, people who work in the wine industry are generally all too happy to talk about wine - this is their livelihood, after all - and a quick chat with somebody knowledgeable will lead you to some amazing bargains you’d never have thought to pick up at a larger, chain shop.
Learn which grape varietals are on their way up
Even the best wines are notoriously inconsistent. One year might see perfect grape growing conditions in one of the more expensive regions of the world, prompting excitement, high prices, and a product worthy of its price tag.
The next might be dreadful, and the wine in the bottle may seem far removed from the money which is asked for.
As such, it is well worth thinking outside the box and finding out which grape varietals are set for a good year, and if you want to save a bit of cash, find out about some of the lesser-known varietals which are too obscure to demand massive prices.
At the moment, there are great things predicted for Primitivo, Tannat, Bobal and Petite Syrah. None of these grapes have quite hit the mainstream yet, but have had a couple of fantastic years which are going to produce some remarkable wines.
Look Out for Second Labels
This is a really good tip for discovering some fantastic wines at a lower price. A lot of the best wineries in the world will release their experimental numbers or not-quite-perfect wines under a second label or sister label.
Even some of the true luxury brands like Chateau Lafite Rothschild have a sister label which comes in at a fraction of the cost, and you can experience the same expertise and fruits which produce one of the most expensive wines in the world at a far more affordable price. A quick browse through a winery’s website will reveal this sister labels, and they’ll be available at any good wine shop.
And if all of the above fails, hit us up at The Wine Gallery and we will point you in the right direction ;)
Start by taking our quiz below that which will guide you to wines that match your personal tastes!