Many of us enjoy wine for a variety of occasions. Sometimes, we want that special, expensive bottle, to celebrate a milestone or achievement, but sometimes, we just want a glass of red on the sofa while we read a great book, or a cool crisp white on the patio on a summer weeknight. Although these occasions are special in their own right, not all of us can afford to be cracking $50 bottles three times a week! Lots of us have also tried that $8 wine that looked oh-so-good in the packaging, with the fancy bottle shape and funky label, only to be let down by its lack-lustre or overbearing, unbalanced taste. Can we say “cooking wine”?
I used to wonder if it was even possible to spend less, and get more in a wine. The great news is, yes it is! You just have to know a few things. I realize that the $10 – $25 price range is the largest market for wine consumers, and I want to help you find wines you love for that price!
I gathered some friends together to help me give you the best information I can, and added our tips too. Specific wines are bolded throughout to make them easier to spot!
If you’re looking for even more specifics, a sommelier friend put together a list organized by price, specifically for you, my readers! Check out the list at the bottom.
The WSET Grad List
Ivy and Aaron are certified in WSET Level 2, just like us. They’re frequent hosts of wine tastings in their home, because they love sharing their passion for wine with their friends. They’re on a quest to try 100 grape varietals, and have reached the final stretches in that goal. They have an entire book shelf full of wine books (of which I’ve only yet borrowed one) and are pursuing further education in the wine industry.
“There are a few strategies that I use when purchasing value wines. Depending on what type or style I am looking for will determine which countries I will look for wines in. I love Riesling and in the Germany section you can get Rieslings under $20 that are a great value. If I am looking for a fruity and accessible red my go to is Beaujolais which is found in the French section. Beaujolais wines are the Gamay grape and one of my go to wine varieties under $25.” – Ivy
“When looking for value be sure to look at South America. Chilean Pinot Noir and Argentinan Cab Sav’s and Malbec’s. You can find inexpensive quality wines.” – Aaron
Great tips! They also include a category that I often don’t shop in because I don’t digest it well; however it’s widely liked, extremely popular and important to mention here – Sparkling Wine.
“One of my favourite tips for value is bubbly wines! I love my Champagne but don’t always love the price. Cava, which is from Spain, is made in the same style as Champagne but without the price tag. You can find lovely Cava under $25.” – Ivy
We met Sandra and Ian while they worked in the higher-ups of a restaurant we frequented. Over wine, we discovered we had more in common than we realized, and became friends. They’ve got ISG and WSET certificates between them, and Sandra has years of experience in high end service. Ian is the bar manager, and wine/spirits buyer, at one of our city’s most trendy, award winning restaurants, recognized as a top restaurant in Canada. (He also designs hundreds of spectacular, award winning cocktails!)
Ian walked us through how he designs wine lists for his restaurants. His goal is to find wines that will pair with the menu, cover main regions and the grape varietals they do well, and be of value to sell to patrons, for example, Pinot Noir from Oregon, or Argentinian Malbec.
He also frequents industry wine tasting events and tries new bottles that reps bring to him on the regular, so he shows the value in trying new wines and producers.
He spoke highly of South African wines for value, while still being interesting to the palate, (look for KWV on the label for higher labour standards in South Africa), as well as one other particularly interesting grape, and left me with this hilarious, but true quote.
“Look for a good Petit Syrah; you’re going to enjoy the shiz out of that!” – Ian
Sandra’s value go to is the Santos de Casa Reserva Alentejano, retailing for $27. They’ve shared this with us before – delicious.
“I love a well paired bottle of wine, but sometimes you get home from work and you just need to unwind and have a glass of something and you don’t want to plan your meal or think too hard. This is the perfect go to for those occasions. It is smooth and neither too dry or too sweet and will appeal to the seasoned wine drinker and the person just getting into wine alike.” – Sandra
We were privileged to take our WSET Level 2 from this knowledgeable and intelligent man, who is well certified himself, and always continuing his wine education. He is currently researching and presenting on Biodynamic Wines in his free time, and is a University Professor by day. When I asked him for some tips for you, my readers, he shared some extremely valid points.
“It’s hard to say what a ‘good wine’ is for someone, so the answer for me is to drink more, and try everything!” – Ken
That is very well said. The wines my friends and I are presenting to you in this article are great to us, but may not be great for you. These are meant to be a starting point in your exploring. I must also note, that a ‘good wine’ to me 10 years ago, is not a ‘good wine’ to me now, because I’ve done more learning and exploring; tastes change, so try to hold an open mind and be discovery oriented. Don’t they say we should enjoy the journey, as well as the destination?
“One approach is to look for lesser known regions that are close to the ‘famous’ regions, for example, rather than Chateauneuf-du-Pape, try something from Gigondas, which is close, similar, lesser known, and provides a good value.
Another approach is to look for ‘lesser’ sub-appellations within regions, so for example, if a person likes Chablis, Petit Chablis, rather than Premier Cru Chablis. This doesn’t necessarily mean poorer quality, just different aging. The longer it’s aged, the more money the producer has tied up in it, the more they need to charge for the wine.” – Ken
He does realize that some of his suggestions require some background knowledge, but encourages readers to have fun exploring and experimenting. Plus, if you’re reading this, and have a more specific question about either of Ken’s approaches, you can leave a comment and I can help direct you.
Dawn is certified in ISG and WSET Level 3, and runs the Tasting Room at our Coop Liquor. She is hilarious, kind, hospitable, a great chef, and extremely experienced and knowledgeable. That’s why the owners of Coop have put her in charge of choosing and buying every single bottle of wine that comes into that store! She works with wine producers all over the world, and here are her go to’s.
1. “Bodegas Laya from Spain . It’s a big, full bodied red that over delivers for the price.
2. La Vieille Ferme Rosé from France. It is not as dry as some of the rosés from Provence, but it is very well made and always quaffable. It is perfect on a summer patio day.” – Dawn
Our Tips to Affordable, Yet Still Great Wine
1. Find an affordable producer that you like. Chances are, if you really enjoyed one particular wine of theirs, you might also enjoy their other wines.
2. Shop lesser known varietals. You can find amazing value wine if you’re willing to step outside the Cab Sauv and Chardonnay boxes.
3. Avoid the mass production wines! These are the ultra-cheap, big name companies, that I won’t name, but you’ve heard of them. If they’re mass produced, they’re going to be a value, yes, but also boring and predictably not great. Look on the label for hints that they’re mass produced, like the non-specific region of “California,” for example, rather than “Monterey County.”
4. Shop in the European sections. Many of the most overpriced wines come from the USA. Canadian producers have high operating costs and small production, so they have to charge more. You can get really great wine, for under $20 from Europe. Our faves are almost anything from Italy or France, Riesling from Germany, Duoro from Portugal, Rioja from Spain. In the Italy section, if they have a ribbon around the neck that’s a blue/gray and says DOCG or DOC on it, you know you’re getting a quality controlled wine, and yes, they have these for under $20.
5. Shop in the South American sections! Carmenere from Chile and Malbec from Argentina, are great. It’s also worth trying the whites from these regions. Last week we had an Eco Chilean Chardonnay that was superb, and $13.
6. Be willing to take a risk! We had a Boutari from Greece last month that was $18. We were in Greece in 2015, and no wine grabbed us as “the best wine ever,” but we decided to give the Boutari a go (open-mind!). It was wonderfully crisp, with lemon and fresh herb notes to it that reminded me of being in Greece. You don’t know if you don’t try.
7. Keep a list of what you’ve tried, and write down what you like or don’t like. Have your “go to’s” for value white, red, sparkling or rose. I use the Vivino app to keep a running tally, and when I have time, I add my tasting notes.
A Sommeliers List – Available at the Coop Wine Spirits Beer store in Blairemore
Angela is the sommelier at the Coop Liquor Store and Tasting Room, she is certified in WSET Level 3, and is currently taking her two year Level 4 Diploma. She sent me a list of her favourite value wines, all available at our Coop Liquor Store! Upon getting to know her, I’ve discovered she’s passionate about interesting wines and discovering new, quality wines for herself and her customers. She’s not going to set you up with something run of the mill or boring, which I really appreciate about her, especially because she fills my wine locker every month! I’ve personally had all of the Under $15 wines, and they’re fabulous. I would also mention that any wine by La Vieille Ferme I’ve had has been affordable and tasty. Check out her list below. What do you notice about it?
• Plantaze Vranac $13.99
• Claude Val Rouge and Rosé $12.99
• La Vieille Ferme Red $13.99
• Gerard Bertrand Corbieres $17.99
• Henry of Pelham Baco Noir $15.49
• Glenelly Glass Collection Chardonnay $18.99
• Mediterra Poggio Al Tesoro $19.99
• Ricossa Barbaresco $22.99
• Gray Monk White Brut Odyssey $25.99
• Chateau Pesquie Les Terraces $22.99
There may be a lot of grape varietals that you haven’t heard of before. Just because they’re not mainstream doesn’t mean they’re not flavourful, or a good value. A lot of them are also international. Hmm… I think I read that somewhere.
Remember, take a risk. You might not like all of these wines, but you might also love them. Now get to the store, find a value wine, and start popping corks, (or unscrewing screwcaps)!
A special thanks to all of my guests: Ivy, Aaron, Sandra, Ian, Ken, Dawn and Angela. You’re all wonderful for taking the time to contribute and I appreciate you!