Wine prices are all over the price, right? There’s the infamous “Two Buck Chuck” at Trader Joe’s for $2 or $3 a bottle and then there are collectible bottles of crazy- expensive wines in the thousands of dollars. I’m guessing you’re not one of those people shelling out the big bucks for really old Bordeaux or whatever, but how much should you spend? Can you find quality wines for under $10? Is there an inflection point, where the quality-for-price equation starts flattening ?
I’m here to answer these burning questions and help you choose your next bottle!
Yes, You Can Drink Cheap & Fancy at the Same Time
It’s true. There are really good bottles out there for really good prices. Two Buck Chuck is not one of them. (Seriously,I would rather drink Moscato than TBC and I think you know how much I hate Moscato). If you like red wines, check out Cru Bourgeois wines from Bordeaux. They can be had for $15-$20 – as can Bordeaux wines from Entre Deux Mers.
“I recently got a pitch for Ron Rubin Wines out of Sonoma County and it was all about what I call “affordalicious wines (stop right now, I bought that domain name years ago). So I said “yes!” to samples and I was wowed. According to the pitch, Ron’s intent is to “make affordable, accessible, all-around beautiful experiences” – or Sonoma wines meant to be sipped and enjoyed easily and affordably.
Once you get a little deeper into his story, you kind of can’t help but like the wines he is turning out! He’s a serial entrepreneur who dreamed of owning a winery decades ago – but went to work in his family’s liquor store business in the middle of Illinois instead. And 40 years later, he finally owns a winery under his own name.
And you know what? These two wines were really, really delicious!
Pam’s Unoaked Chardonnay 2020 ($15) A super-interesting wine! As the name says, there is no oak going on here, but there is an intriguing, subtle sweetness going on. Looking back at my tasting notes, I wrote: “It’s crisp; it’s got acidity. And it’s got a subtle fruity, honeyed sweetness. What is that?” So I went to the tasting sheet and while I’m not sure if they just halt fermentation to retain a tiny bit of RS (residual sugar) or what, but you know what? I liked it. Totally different style of Chardonnay than anything I’ve tasted. It would be a BOMB with Thai food with some spice to it, sushi, chicken salad, deviled eggs, anything mustard-y. Fun!
Ron Rubin Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2018 ($25) You get the signature burst of cherry with a dusting of fresh earth plus some fresh white mushrooms. the bright fruit makes it a festival of deliciousness – if there were a “porch pounder” of a Pinot, this would take the red velvet cake!
So now we’re goin’ uptown with Sosie Rossi Ranch Red Blend. I said “oui!” to this sample for three reasons: 1) GSM (Grenache-Mourvedre-Syrah blend) and; 2) Sosie is all about bringing a French sensibility to California wine and; 3) $43! Nice price for a Sonoma County red blend.
Okay, let’s break this down. “Sosie” means “twin” in French and Sosie Wines aims to be twins with their French counterparts! How cool is that? The owners traveled extensively in France and have a soulful appreciation for how wine and food are valued by the French – and as a true Francophile, I love that.
Second – I love GSM wines. They are bold, powerful red wines that originated in the Northern Rhône Valley. This one just sings with rich roasted plums and strawberries and sports a silky texture. It tasted expensive – and for some, $43 is splurge – but it’s worth it sometimes, to treat yourself, right?
Third, if you are a French-freak like me, take a look at the Sosie website. It does an amazing job of explaining the owners’ passions and how that carries over into the grape growing and winemaking. This is a great value for $43!
How Much is Too Much to Pay?
Well, this is the $9 million question, isn’t it? I personally think that after you reach $45-$50, the quality doesn’t necessarily increase that much. Expensive Napa Cab – which I sorely adore – can go for $90 to $450 a bottle and those prices are all about supply and demand. There’s only so much Cab that a given winery can even produce, based on their vineyard yields or winery capacity. Now did I just fork out $98 for two bottles of Chateau du Pommard Côte de Nuit red Burgundy at a tasting. Yes, I did. That’s rare for me but whelp – after a few “tastes,” the ol’ credit card just came flying right out of my wallet – buh bam! It’s just fun sometimes for a wine dork like me to treat myself to some special bottles now and then.
How Low is Too Low?
You know what’s too low? Under $5. That Two-Buck Chuck shit is baaaaaad. I will not buy or drink a wine that costs less than $5. And that might sound crazy, but guess what? Trader Joe’s has some damn fine wines at the $7.99 price point. Check out this one: Révélation Chardonnay 2019. Is it kind of oaky? Yes, it is, and sometimes I like that. It’s $6.99 in Chicago! And don’t get me started about the Pontificis White, which they just discontinued (kill me!). It was a glorious Viognier / Marsanne / Roussanne blend (a classic Northern Rhône white blend) and I loved it! It was $7.99. And now it’s gone. The Pontificis Red is still available – and I bought a bottle but haven’t tasted yet.(Maybe I’ll learn how to use my new Coravin on a $6.99 wine …)
Here’s what I know about Trader Joe’s wines: about 80 percent of what they sell is private label. So the TJ’s wine buyer has relationships with wineries all over the world. And often some excellent wineries make too much wine – either for their own label, or for someone else’s label. Or someone cancels an order. Who knows – it could be anything. And they have to get rid of it, so call TJ’s and sell it. And that is how there are some secretly amazing private label wines at TJ’s.
I’m not gonna lie – you have to find them by trial and error, but the back label can tell you a lot, too. That Pontificis White and Red say, “Bottled for Badet Clément” on the back, and that’s how I picked this Révélation Chard – same company. Shazam.
Let me know if you have any TJ’s faves to share. Cheers, friends. Here’s to affordalicious wines!