Well, hello there. Welcome. Come in, come in. Please, have a seat. Can I get you a drink? Some of this Cabernet, perhaps?
[Sniffs wine glass]
[Takes looong sip]
Ohhhh yeah. That. Is. Good. Here, I’ll pour you a glass.
I must tell you something. It’s something I’m proud of. Something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time. Are you ready to hear it? Okay. I learned how to buy wine.
I know, I know. Please calm down. I know you’re excited. I know you’re imagining what it’s like to walk into a liquor store and know how to find the perfect bottle, not to have to make decisions based on the sex appeal of a label, and not to have to ask some salesperson who will immediately start raving about the bottle with the highest markup.
Now, take a sip of this Cabernet. Fantastic, isn’t it? Tastes like a $100 bottle, right? HA! Hardly a fraction of that. How much, you ask. Let’s jump into it and I’ll tell you.
How Much Should I Spend On Wine?: The Magical Price Point
A lot factors into wine prices. Things like quality grapes, quality oak barrels, and experienced winemaking all increase price but have a direct impact on what you taste.
Then there are things like bottles, corks, shipping costs, taxes, and markups — things that impact price but not taste.
Finally, there is prestige. Things like demand — wine that has somehow become popular, maybe from a good review from a wine blogger — and location — wine from well-respected regions like Bordeaux, France. Prestige might impact taste, to a point. But it definitely increases price.
Now, clearly not all these things are worth paying for. And once you know how prices are established, you can pinpoint exactly where the value is, which happens to be right around $15.
$15 Marks The Beginning Of The Value Curve
As you see above, $15 is the point where the highest percentage of your money goes to quality.
If you go too low, like a $3 bottle, and you deduct costs for supplies, taxes, and shipping, what’s left for quality? Not much, which is why cheap wine is often a mashup of inferior grapes with a ton of added sugar to hide the taste.
On the flip side, anything over $25 and you start to run into the law of diminishing returns. Quality can only go so far. It’s here where you’re paying for reputation and location.
$15 gets you a high-quality wine, without all the extras baked in. At this price, you’ll get an honest example of what a wine is supposed to taste like, which brings us to the next point…
$15 Is The Baseline For Terroir And Typicity
Are you ready for some fancy wine lingo you can use to impress your less refined and less cultured friends? Good.
Terroir — pronounced ter-wahr — is how a region’s climate, soil, terrain, and tradition affect the taste of wine.
Typicity is a wine that tastes ‘varietally’ correct. For example, a Merlot with typicity will taste like black cherry and berry — flavors indicative of the Merlot grape.
Why are terroir and typicity important? Consistency. As you drink more wine, you’ll develop tasting preferences. If you like the dark fruit flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon or the extra fruitiness of a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, you can trust that wine in this price range will have those flavors.
Look For Value Regions And Grapes
Napa Valley is notorious for its phenomenal Cabernet. Wine drinkers know it. I know it. Your mother-in-law knows it. And now you know it, too.
And because Napa Cab is so well-known, it costs more. Land costs more, relative to other regions, which increases production costs.
Also, wine makers can charge more. They know they can stick ‘Napa Valley’ on the label and people will still buy it.
In fact, wine from famous winemaking regions like Napa can cost 10 times more than wine from other quality grape growing areas.
The same logic applies to grape varieties. Chardonnay and Cabernet are two of the most popular varietals in the U.S. and because they’re in high demand, wine makers charge more for them.
This means you can find great values by venturing into the unknown. Find an offbeat varietal or a quality wine-making region that hasn’t yet entered the spotlight and you can get great wine for less. Here’s where to look:
Cabernet Sauvignon And Red Blends From Chile
Chile’s climate is perfect for red wine and because the country doesn’t have the prestige of Napa, you can get Chile Reds at an extreme value.
Petite Sirah From California
Another full-bodied red, Petite Sirah offers value over California’s more popular varietals like Cabernet.
Red Blends From The Douro Valley, Portugal
Portugal’s unknown grape varieties and inexpensive cost of living keep wine prices down. You might have to look a little harder, but a Douro Red (Douro Tinto) at the $15 sweet spot will be an extreme value.
Anything From The Columbia Valley, Washington
Washington State is a great place for domestic value wines, both white and red.
Assyrtiko From Santorini, Greece
Assyrtiko is a citrusy medium-bodied white wine that can be found all over Greece. But of all the regions in the country, wine from the island of Santorini might be the most renowned.
Know Just Enough About Food Pairing
As a general rule, if you’re gonna have wine with dinner, you should consider it part of the meal. Much like how sides complement an entrée — fries and a burger, a loaded baked potato and a juicy T-bone, etc — wine and food should work together.
Now, because you have to know a lot about both food and wine to pull off restaurant-level pairings, we’re gonna focus on the basics. If you remember these 2 things, you’ll be just fine.
1. It’s All About Balance
Wine should have the same flavor intensity as the food. You don’t want one to overwhelm the other. Pairing bold with bold and light with light brings balance to your meal.
Prime rib smothered in garlic butter, for example, is bursting with fatty goodness. So you’d need a bold wine like Cabernet to stand up to all that flavor. But how do you determine what’s bold and what’s not?
For food, think fat content. The more fat, the ‘bolder’ the dish. A juicy rib eye? Bold. Lobster? Delicate. However, it’s important to consider the most prominent feature of the dish, which is usually the sauce. So lobster smothered in cream sauce calls for a bolder wine than would poached lobster tail.
For wine, think alcohol content and color. Wines over 13.5% ABV are usually bolder. Wines between 12.5% and 13.5% are medium bodied. And wines below 12.5% tend to be more delicate. For red wine, also consider the color. A darker Cabernet is bolder than a lighter Pinot Noir. You can also just follow this cheat sheet.
2. When In Doubt, Go With A Flexible Wine
If you’re bringing wine to a dinner and are unsure of the menu, your best bet is to grab a flexible wine. When you think flexibility, think acidity.
Wines high in acidity go well with food because acidity makes your mouth water; it makes you want to take a bite of food.
Here are 2 varietals that are high in cleansing acidity, making them two of the safest dinner wines around:
- Pinot Noir (red)
- Sauvignon Blanc (white)
Shop At Costco
Here are 4 reasons why Costco might be the best place to buy wine:
Costco has rock bottom prices. A good way to get great wine for less is to pay less for great wine. According to the New York Times, at Costco no wine is marked up more than 14%, and the average store markup is closer to 12%. Considering markups of 50% are common at other retailers, Costco offers massive discounts.
Costco stocks quality wine. Costco takes wine buying very seriously, researching and tasting wine from all over the world before deciding what to sell in stores.
Costco has a good but not overwhelming selection. By keeping its selection modest and only stocking quality wine, it’s easier for newbie wine buyers to walk out with a great bottle.
In some states, you don’t need a membership to buy liquor. These states include: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Texas, Vermont, and my lovely home state of Minnesota.
Install The Vivino App Right Now
If you do one thing after reading this post, install Vivino. It has absolutely changed my life and I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true.
Vivino is the perfect shopping companion for inexperienced (and experienced) wine buyers. After you install it, just take a picture of any wine label and the app returns a ton of super useful information, including…
Reviews, Average Rating, Average Price, And Region
Highlights And Accolades
Rankings vs The World And vs The Region
Food Pairings And Serving Tips
Information On The Grapes (Super Useful For Red Blends)
Vivino then tracks all your wine ratings, identifies your tasting preferences, and can even offer personalized recommendations. Oh, and it’s free.
Drink With Friends And Family
The best wine I ever tasted was at a small vineyard in Napa Valley on a day so damn beautiful I wanted to bottle it up and bring it home to Minnesota.
But I often wonder how much of that enjoyment could be attributed to the sun and the mountains and the two Adirondack chairs my wife and I had pulled into the shade — factors entirely unrelated to taste. It turns out, quite a bit.
The satisfaction we get from drinking wine goes beyond what’s in the bottle. Our mood, the atmosphere, who we’re with, and background music all play a part in the wine drinking experience.
So go the extra mile. Wait until the kids are down and head out to the deck with your wife to enjoy the sunset. Do your research and learn about wine. Discover why a specific varietal tastes the way it does. Then discuss it. Wine is a journey, one best enjoyed with company.
Putting It All Together
We’ve covered a lot of information today, so here’s your cheat sheet before you go running off to the liquor store:
- Use $15 as your starting price point
- Keep an eye out for value regions and varieties
- For dinner wine, remember balance
- Shop at Costco
- Install Vivino
- Drink with friends and family