Finding good, affordable, interesting wine is the holy grail of wine consumers across the world. At Lazenne, we believe that drinking good wine should be feasible as part of our daily lives, but we also recognise that it can seem incredibly difficult to find good, interesting wine that doesn't break the bank or force us to compromise on flavour. When you consider how incredibly fragmented the world of wine is, that seems surprising yet it's often due to the way that wine distribution is organised, with large, powerful companies commanding attention and space in retail outlets, often to the detriment of wine lovers.
So, what can we do about it? We've racked our brains together and have come up with a list of 8 different tactics to help you choose quality, affordable wine as well as things to look out for and different ways to consider choosing bottles. Not only will this mini-guide to shopping on a budget help you find great value wines, it will also broaden your horizons and before you know it, you'll be tasting wine from places you've never thought of before. With such an exciting vinous world out there, it seems a shame not to explore as much of it as possible, and better yet, it can be done with value in mind! Read on for our advice on how to buy delicious, affordable wine without breaking the bank.
This is the first and probably the most important point when it comes to choosing a bottle of wine; know what you like. This is important as you'll find confusing scores, medals and stickers all over bottles of wine. Is this 95pt wine really worth the extra cost? That's a discussion for another day, but it doesn't matter if it's a 99pt bottle of wine if it isn't in a style you enjoy. Not a fan of white wine? You can spend $1000 on a bottle of Grand Cru Burgundy and you may still not like the taste. Conversely, if you know you love bold, red wines, you can spend $15 on a bottle of Argentinian Malbec and it'll give you far more pleasure. Whilst we're all for expanding our drinking horizons at Lazenne, don't be afraid to choose what you like; style is the most important point when choosing good wine and can be found at practically every price level!
If you shop at an independent wine store (more on that later), be sure to mention your preferences to the staff. They'll help you explore similar styles throughout the world based on your likes and dislikes!
It's tempting indeed to pick wine by how attractive the label is, but it's very much shooting in the dark! The front of a label usually tells you very little indeed about a wine and as a result, it's often the companies with the largest marketing budget that triumph. The success of Yellow Tail, for example, is largely down to how successful the relaunch of the wine was, with the Kangaroo emblazed across the front an iconic lesson in wine marketing. Excellent wine can be found in the ugliest of bottles, just as some truly awful wine can look very attractive indeed. This is also true for closure types as well; don't be put off by screw-caps, vinoloks or plastic corks; it's the wine inside that you're really interested in.
There are important pieces of information to be gleaned from a wine label, but they tend to be mostly towards the rear of the bottle. For more information on how to learn to read a wine label like a pro, make sure to read our article here.
One important piece of information that you can pick up from the label of a bottle of wine is the region it hails from. Now, when it comes to choosing affordable wine, this is important as the most desirable, famous regions tend to command a premium. Wine, like many other products, is subject to the whims of fashion. If everyone suddenly decides that a region is producing excellent wine, prices tend to rise, often quite rapidly, even for quite ordinary wines. Conversely, there can be excellent wine made in lesser known regions that will never command the same price, even if it's just as good! This is your hunting ground. Ditch Napa Valley, Burgundy and Champagne and get searching around in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Austria... the list goes on!
Tim Atkin MW has come up with a wonderful list of some of the worlds most under-valued wine regions, with some producer recommendations to boot! Check it out here.
As per the above, you'll notice that most of the regions we recommend you look in for better value wines are in the Old World, which essentially means any European country or any country within the Mediterranean that produces wine. This is simply because the wine industry in the Old World is far more fragmented, leading to hundreds or even thousands of producers per region, each with their own style, stories and philosophies when it comes to wine making. The prices tend to be the most competitive as well, with many high quality producers selling their lesser wines for $15 and under a bottle. Here's a short list of under-the-radar producers to keep an eye out for:
France: Chateau Capbern (Bordeaux), Shoffit (Alsace), Domaine Treloar (Roussillon), Mark Haisma (Burgundy), Bruno Paillard (Champagne), Alain Graillot (Northern Rhone), Domaine Andree (Loire Valley).
Spain: Francisco Barona (Ribera del Duero), Allende (Rioja), Algueira (Galicia), Cal Batllet (Priorat), Recaredo (Cava), Jimenez-Landi (Madrid).
Italy: Roagna (Piedmont), L'Arco (Valpolicella), Monteraponi (Tuscany), Andrea Occhipinti (Lazio), Mastroberardino (Taurasi), Calabretta (Sicily)
Germany: Julian Haart (Mosel), Emrich-Schönleber (Nahe), Ziereisen (Baden), Rudolf Fürst (Franken)
When it comes to searching for wine, you can search via country, region, grapes, vintages... the list is really endless. After years and years of tasting and drinking, we can confidently say that the producer trumps everything. If you find a quality producer, make sure you keep drinking their wines, particularly at the lower end of the price range. A top quality producer lavishes the same care and attention on their more affordable wines as their top cuvees, and this is perfect for anyone looking for high quality wine at an affordable price. Jamet is perhaps the most sought after producer of Cote Rotie in the Northern Rhone, yet his superb Cotes-du-Rhone can be tracked down for less than $20 a bottle. G.D Vajra produces some of the most haunting expressions of Nebbiolo in Piedmont, yet his juicy, fresh Dolcetto is amongst the best of the best, and costs barely $15. These little gems are the best value for money wines around! Seek out the best of the best, and see what their entry level wine is. Then drink it!
Most wine lovers have favourite grapes, regions and styles but it really does pay to broaden your horizons when it comes to the search for affordable, quality wine, particularly when it comes to grape variety. Grapes, like anything else, help contribute to a brand and lesser known grapes tend to command lower prices, often despite their high quality. Did you know that there are over 1,300 different grape varieties in commercial production? If you're a fan of Barolo and Barbaresco, you can probably hunt down a bottle of Xinomavro from Greece for a fraction of the price. Love Hermitage and Cote Rotie? Consider delving into Mencia from Galicia, north-western Spain, which has the same meaty, peppery characteristics without needing to remortgage your house.
For the wine geeks amongst you, make sure you find yourself a copy of Jancis Robinson's Wine Grapes, the definitive text on the subject. We have a copy to hand more often than you'd think!
If you're looking for value for money when it comes to your wine selection, buying in the supermarket is usually the wrong way to start. To work with a supermarket in most countries requires a certain volume of production and the understanding that your margins will be squeezed to the absolute limit to stay ahead in the cut-throat world of supermarket retail. Not only would we prefer to support high quality producers, but unsurprisingly, it's the largest companies who benefit the most from this system, able to make pennies per bottle and still stay hugely profitable.
Not only do independent wine stores tend to have a much better selection of wine in the first place, but they're looking for repeat customers and that means finding the right wine for you. Your $10 will go a lot, lot further here for your regular drinking and, as the staff get to know you, when you want to splash out on something a bit special, they'll be on hand to point you in the right direction as well. We love independent wine shops and wherever possible, we do all our wine shopping in them!
There's nothing greater than visiting a winery, but instead of going into the usual reasons, let's consider it from the point of buying affordable wine! When you're buying a bottle of wine from a shop, you're not just buying the wine. You're also paying for the transportation of the wine from the winery, which can end up being quite a long journey! You're paying for any taxes charged on the wine, particularly important for wines that are imported from another country. You're paying margin every time someone in the supply chain is involved somehow, whether it be the agent, importer, distributor or retail outlet. In short, buying a bottle of wine means that a lot of jobs are paid for along the way. Buying directly from the producer, however, usually means a much lower price as a result. This isn't true for some of the larger producers as they have agreements not to undercut the market price, but for small, family ran businesses, this is a brilliant way to drink excellent wine for not a great deal of money.
If you're visiting wineries, make sure to bring your favourite bottles home with you! Click here for more information on why you should bring your memories home with a Lazenne Wine Check.
So, you can see there are various ways to adjust your buying habits and start making more intelligent purchases. There's much good wine out there, but it can be difficult to dig out of the noise that is the wine industry, but once you get started, it's one of the most rewarding feelings out there! Don't forget to read our travel guides if you're visiting a wine region and keep up to date on our blog as we post weekly articles to help you discover the world of wine, one glass at a time!
For more information on travelling with wine, including more detailed information on allowances and tariffs by country, be sure to check out our complete guide to flying with alcohol: Flying with Alcohol 101