When shopping for the best wines under $20, there are a few key strategies that can make the wine finding and buying experience even better. We’ve rounded up five of our favorite tips for spending less on good wine. From buying in bulk to scouting for second labels, or adding a splash of wine adventure by going global in the search for less familiar grapes and regions, plenty of options abound for buying and drinking good wine for less.
Just like Costco cuts a steal of a deal when you buy 12 pounds of rice, so too can your wine pennies stretch a bit further if you find a favorite bottle and buy in bulk. When you find a wine treasure that’s closing in on the $20 mark, then consider grabbing a case or half case (6 bottles) and enjoy an even greater discount per bottle (often to the tune of 10-15% off). Online wine retailers, like Wine.com and KLwines.com, will run free shipping specials from time to time making bulk buying even easier on the wallet.
When Less is More
Found that one wine that you’ve just got to taste, but don’t want to spend the bucks to get there? If you really just want to try the wine, then consider buying a half-bottle (375 ml). While it costs more ounce by ounce, the half bottle pricing will allow eager buyers to take a wine for a test drive without parting with as much cash. Take Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label, a popular Champagne, that sells for $55 at many retailers for a full 750 ml, but the half bottle goes for $35. Save twenty bucks for a test drive to see if it’s “worth it” to you or not to splurge on a full bottle when New Year’s rolls around.
Second Labels and Sister Wines
Many high-end wine producers have several tiers of production. The classic (extreme?) example of a second label is the famous cult California Cabernet Sauvignon, Screaming Eagle, which captures upwards of $1200-3300/bottle depending on the vintage. Its stellar sister label is Jonata which sells at a fraction of the cult Cab pricing at $65-120 a bottle, not necessarily under $20, but the point remains. Or take Robert Mondavi’s premium Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon that runs over $100 a bottle. This same leading Napa winery is thrilled to provide an entry-level wine brand for everyday sipping that runs $10 a bottle under the Private Selection label. Same story runs with the cult $300-400 Cab, Hundred Acre produced by winemaker Jayson Woodbridge, who also puts out a remarkably well-priced, quality driven line of wines under the Layer Cake label, ranging from $12-18 a bottle (Layer Cake Primitivo is a personal favorite). I’m not saying that the entry-level wines are on par with the high-end, single vineyard labels, just that it can be a fun place to start when buying on a budget.
Often the best wines at the best price points may be found by going way outside of our own designated wine-buying boxes. Lesser known wine regions and wine grapes often offer would-be wine consumers significant savings by introducing quality wines at lower price points for the adventurous buyer.
- Spain: Scan the wine shop shelves for Spain’s delicious, value-driven Tempranillo grape, a fruit forward, silky tannin, medium-bodied slightly spicy red wine that must meet required aging requirements prior to release. Tempranillo is a top pick red, if your palate preferences steer towards the often pricy Pinot Noir, sought after for its ripe forward fruit, smooth tannins and overall elegance. Love the sparkle of Champagne, but can’t part with the cash then check out Spain’s incredible value-driven Cavas, a Spanish sparkling wine rendition made in the same method as Champagne, but built on Spanish grapes (Freixenet Brut, Segura Viudas and Jaume Serra – all topnotch budget bubblies).
- Italy: Or take peek at Italy’s famous northwest wine region of Piedmont, where the region’s best bottles based on the Nebbiolo grape can sell for $50 to hundreds of dollars. Yet if take a stroll outside of the most prestigious growing districts of Barolo and Barbaresco and towards the hilly region of Langhe and the same Nebbiolo grape goes for around $20 a bottle (you’ll typically see it labeled as “Langhe Nebbiolo” on the bottle). Or opt for Piedmont’s Barbera (the grape) d’Alba (the region) for well-priced reds that offer an earthy, dark cherry profile or Gavi’s (the region) Cortese (the grape), a decidedly dry white wine find with plenty of zippy acidity and lively citrus character.
- South Africa: Chenin Blanc is South Africa’s most widely planted grape variety and comes in a slew of styles, from fresh and fruit-forward (tend to carry the $10-15 pricetage), to soft round and well-oaked (scan closer to the $20 pricepoint), and bone dry to quite sweet, as well as blended with other white wine grapes. Prefer reds, then check out the distinctly South African red wine, Pinotage. A wine that often evokes a “love it” or “hate it” response, Pinotage leans towards rustic profiles with gamey qualities, a certain smoky nature and dark berry fruit, perfect for pairing with wild fowl, elk sausage, deer and antelope medallions wrapped in bacon.
Ask the Expert
Have a favorite wine shop in town? Then ask a few of the sales people what they buy, you can bet they are uncovering some serious wine treasures at reasonable prices for everyday sips. I always ask around at my favorite wine shops, what’s the staff buying or drinking themselves. Find out what they favor in terms of grapes, regions, producers and which wines they bring to share with friends and family.
Key questions to ask the expert:
- What’s impressed them the most in the latest vintage?
- What do they look for in a wine?
- Any super food-friendly recommendations?
- Wines that tend to be the biggest crowd-pleasers?
- A favorite wine region for good value?
- Best bet wine on a tight budget?