Cheap Wines for Tough Times

Over the past weeks every wine publication I know is debating how the wine industry is going to manage through the global financial and economic crisis that we are all facing. Who will be the winners and who will be the losers? What about wine consumers? Will we all stop drinking wine?

No, one point that everyone agrees on is that, even in recessionary times, people do not stop drinking. Rather, they adapt their drinking habits. The good news is that there are still great budget wines available for every budget and every taste. You just have to know where to look. Here are a few tips, and some favorites.

Have you changed your wine buying and drinking habits?

Already there is evidence that U.S. consumers are going out to restaurants less often and ordering less expensive bottles. Instead of going out more people are opting to have a glass of wine at home with friends and family. In some ways wine could be likened to lipstick, an affordable luxury - one which consumers do not give up lightly, even in recessionary times.

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Over the past few years, most of the growth in the US wine market has been in the $15-$20 category. We were all trading up – drinking less, but better. The key marketing word was ‘premiumization’. Marketers were encouraging consumers to move out of the ‘fighting varietal’, under $7 category, into the $10 and above. And, it worked. As wine became more of an integral part of our lives, we drank more often and better.

Now, ‘premiumization’ is being traded for ‘value’ wines, as more and more of us are back looking at $10 and under. Fortunately today there are many exciting and excellent wines in this price category, as producers, wholesalers and retailers adapt their production and pricing strategies to retain customers.

So, what is a savvy consumer who enjoys wine, has a reduced wine budget, but does not want to sacrifice quality to do? My recommendation is to explore newer and less well-known regions and grape varieties. Well-known and lauded regions like California, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany and Champagne all carry a premium. While value certainly still exists in these regions, it can be harder to find.

I am actively seeking out wines from the newer regions of Spain, the less well- known areas of Italy, Argentina, South Africa and Portugal. This might also be the occasion to give that Bag-in-Box a shot, if you have not already done so. It is so much easier to experiment at lower prices. Trundling in and out of various stores on my quest, I have been very pleased with what I am seeing, and more importantly what I am tasting.

Pop along to progressive but value driven supermarkets like Trader-Joe’s, Stew Leonard’s or Costco. And, watch out for Amazon.com, which is soon to sell wine across the country.

And, if you live in New York, where supermarkets cannot sell wine, a plethora of exciting wine stores have popped up over the past five years, many specializing in wines under $20. See list below of stores that continue to impress me, by both their progressive choice as well as keen prices.

Here are a few great value wines that I have enjoyed over the past few weeks:

Great Value Wines

Prosecco Brut, Scu Dò NV, DOC Prosecco, $8.99 – Even though times are difficult, there are still ways to celebrate in style without breaking the bank. This youthful, fruity Prosecco is just the thing to salute your everyday celebrations.

2006 Ajello Majus, Grillo Catarratto, IGT Sicilia, $12 – A blend of native Sicilian white varieties Grillo and Catarratto. Pale gold, with aromas and flavors of clementines and tropical fruit. Refreshing with bright, balanced acidity.

2007 Charmy, IGT, Vigneti Delle Dolomiti, $13 - From Alto Adige, in the Italian Alps this wine is a blend of Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Unoaked, it is lovely and refreshing with persistent aromas and flavors of apricots, ruby grapefruit, Asian pear and honeysuckle.

2006 Berger Grüner Veltliner, Kremstel (1L bottle) $12.49 – Great value Austrian white wine. Expressive, with lemony-lime, greengage and apple aromas. Notes of white pepper, freshly shelled peas and a pleasant savory character. Great apéritif wine or, try it with pasta, vegetable and salad dishes.

2005 Antoniou Santorini, Santorini, Greece, $11.99 - An easy to drink wine made from a blend of Greek grapes, Assyrtiko, Aidani and Athiri. Clean, refreshing citrus notes with interesting fennel and balsamic notes.

2005 Ameillaud, D de L’VDP de Vaucluse, $9.99 – From the Southern Rhône Valley. Syrah and Grenache based, and packed with red and black berry fruits, spice, chocolate, leather and smoke. Great with stews and slow roasted meats.

2007 Savia Viva Blanco "Clásico", Penedes, Spain, $7.99 – A still white wine made from the traditional Cava grapes, Macabeu, Xarel lo and Parellada. Easy drinking, clean, fresh fruity aromas of golden delicious apple, yellow plum and white flowers.

2007 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Lillà, $7.99 – Italian gem bursting with savory cherry, blackberries, black olives and dried herbs, with hints of sun-dried tomato. A robust weekday wine to enjoy with friends and family around a hearty bowl of pasta with Puttanesca sauce.

2007 Santa Sara, J.P. Vinhos, Alentejo Regional wine, Portugal, $8.99 – Modern, fruity style. Ripe aromas and flavors with black and red plums, wild strawberries and blackberries. Sturdy tannins and notes of smoke and spice.

2004 Campo Viejo Spanish Red, Reserva, DOC Rioja $10 – Classic Tempranillo based Rioja wine. Packed with ripe, mature fruits of the forest, with hints of spice, anise and char. Smooth ripe tannins, and a lovely long length. Excellent value and widely available across the country. Great with grilled or roasted red meat and mature hard cheeses.

Great Value Stores

And for New York readers here are some of my favorite great value stores (not exhaustive list by any means!)

Astor Wines
Best Cellars
Blanc & Rouge Wine Store (Brooklyn)
Garnet Wines & Liquor
Gotham Wine & Liquors
Harlem Vintage
PJ Wine
Red, White and Bubbly (Brooklyn)
The Winery

What are you drinking?
I'd love to hear of more great wine finds that you are currently enjoying, yet are easy on the wallet.

Until next week -

Mary

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More Cheap (But Good) Wines
How To Choose Good Cheap Wine from the Big Brands: Cabernet Sauvignon
How To Choose Good Cheap Wine from the Big Brands: Pinot Grigio
Best Cheap Wine: 2006 Santa Rita 120 Cabernet Sauvignon
Supermarket Wines Review: Top Wine Picks from Trader Joe's Wine Store in New York City

(Image: Flickr member Jeffrey Simms Photography licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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Drinks, Wine

Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. In 2012 she was honored as a Dame Chevalier de L'Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne.

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