29 November 2011

In praise of "cheap" wine

My favorite wine (a Wisconsin local) is available for under $8 a bottle, but according to an article in Slate, even that is ridiculously high by European standards.
Try this experiment: Walk into the nearest wine shop and ask for an “everyday wine” recommendation. Refuse to give a price range, and see what the merchant suggests. My guess is you’re out 15 bucks. Critics seem to be pushing this price point as an appropriate range for “everyday wine”...

In Europe, consumption is 3-to-6 times higher than in the United States. But only the most affluent would spend 11 euros to drink a bottle of wine at home on a Wednesday night. Europeans seem perfectly comfortable cracking open a 1-euro tetra-pak of wine for guests. Germans, for example, pay just $1.79 on average for a bottle of wine...

Ernest Gallo, who, along with his brother Julio, popularized wine among the American masses, understood the psychology of wine better than anyone. He used to pour two glasses of wine for potential buyers, telling them that one sold for 5 cents, and the other for 10. According to Gallo, his guinea pigs invariably chose the more expensive option. What they didn’t know was that the two wines were exactly the same. Researchers have recently reproduced Gallo’s results, proving that our appreciation of a wine depends on how much we think it costs. If you can break yourself of this psychological quirk—or have your spouse lie to you about the cost of your wine—you’ll save a small fortune....

You’re probably hoping for some recommendations. You don’t need them. Reviews and recommendations are great for cars or televisions or overpriced wines, because bad decisions are expensive. If you hate your cheap bottle of wine, just uncork another. 
I'll offer my recommendation - Prairie Fume, from the Wollersheim winery in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin.  Feel free to add yours in the comments - I'd be interested to hear what they are.

And the Slate article is a bit Eurocentric in its focus; I wonder what the cost of everyday dinner wine is elsewhere in the world.


  1. I live near many Trader Joe's (and my husband works at one) so I have access to amazing good value wines.

    I tend to drink white/sparkling in the summer, and red in the winter. My favorite white is the Espiral Vino Verde for $3.99 a bottle. It's crisp, refreshing and lightly effervescent. It's really low in alcohol, and is really refreshing on hot summer days. I also love a good dry prosecco.

    Lately I've been drinking the Roccalta Sangiovese ... I believe it's $4.99 a bottle, and it's a solid red. Great flavors for the price. I also find that Cotes du Rhone can be a great value whine.

  2. I don’t consider myself a connoisseur, but I love good wine, and have extensively traveled and tasted it all over Europe. My experience is that countries can differ a lot concerning the ideal price/quality relationship of wine. Your statement “Europeans seem perfectly comfortable cracking open a 1-euro tetra-pak of wine for guests” may be valid for a large part of Germany, the northern Slavic countries and part of Scandinavia; however, in Spain this would be a direct offense. There a wine you offer to a guest must begin at about 6 USD. Not so in Italy: there the pride of the host is to have a cheap (2-3 USD / liter) but fine source of wine bought directly from the producer, and they very rarely buy bottled wine. As to my native Hungary, where wine production is a national pride, a bottle of wine offered for a guest begins at 5 USD, but can climb up to 10-12, rarely more – while our northern or eastern neighbors already find one for 1 to 2 USD just perfect. Of course these are very generalized numbers and always there are exceptions, but even so shed some light on the great differences between European wine consuming cultures.

  3. Validates my love of Trader Joe's Two Buck Chuck…

    We have a conflicted view of alcohol in this country. What other country enshrined something like Prohibition into law?

    As for the idea that a wine has to cost USD6 to be worthy of sharing, that smacks of an industry marketing campaign like the "two months salary" diamond engagement ring stuff. Focusing on the price rather than the value is a lose.

  4. I have a running contest with a coworker and fellow oenophile in which we try to find the best wines of most any variety for under $5. More often than not, I find myself in Spanish varietals with an occasional foray into Chile and Australia/New Zealand. There are many very good wines under $10 and quite a few at the sub-five buck price point.

    A recent Thanksgiving find was Flip Flop pinot noir at about $6/bottle. It was quite good and infinitely better than the Beaujolais Nouveau that has for some reason become a family tradition at Thanksgiving.

  5. In rely ty Studiolum's comment, which seems to generalize too much: Many Germans would be offended as well if served cheap tetra pack wine. If you buy cheap wine here in Germany, you KNOW it's cheap wine, and you would perhaps drink it on your own, to have some alcoholic beverage, but you wouldn't offer it to guests at a dinner party.

  6. Sorry, it should have been "In reply to..."

  7. Most of my favorite Moselles still come in under $8 because German wines haven't become trendy in the US yet. Schwartze Katze or a good Bernkestler Reisling are some of the best whites on the market to my decidedly uneducated palate.

  8. Loved that article.

    Our everyday wine of choice is Columbia Crest's "Two Vines" Cab Sauv.


  9. Different people like different wines, and the prices vary, but it's definitely true that wine here in the U.S. is WAY overpriced compared to Europe. Here in the U.S., I find it difficult to find a bottle of wine under $5 that I like, but in Europe it's very easy. A 3-4 Euro bottle there is equivalent in taste (according to me) to a bottle in the U.S. that costs about $10. It's actually tough to find a $10 bottle of wine in most European grocery stores; people simply don't usually need to spend that much.

  10. Just curious. Does anyone know how the excise taxes vary from country to country?

  11. Google is your friend:


    Especially page 9-10 Table 1
    This is from a 2004 WHO report.

    The current report can be found here:


  12. Excellent link, formerlawyer.

    For those wondering, it provides data on excise/VAT taxes on alcohol in different countries. If I'm reading it correctly, the U.S. is lower than most other countries.

  13. I live in Finland, traditionally definitely not a wine country. We have a fairly steep tax on alcohol and all alcohol sales are a government monopoly. The very cheapest bottle of wine you can buy is maybe just under six euros ($8), and the cheapest that I, as a not too wealthy student, usually buy are in the 7-8 euro range (around $9-$11). And most of my favourites are in the 9-10 euro range ($12 to $13).
    I expect the situation is similar in Sweden which has similar laws and taxes.

  14. Wine in Japan is not common and when it is it is quite expensive, sort of a status symbol to give as a gift, so in the land of 80 dollar gift-cantalopes, cheap wine would be unthinkable.

    However, I agree with the previous commenter on German wines--when I can find them they are quite good and inexpensive, Schwartze Katze being a favorite.

  15. Agreed! We got a $90 (retail) bottle of wine that was enough for two glasses as a party favor for some fancy schmancy event we were at. I almost couldn't drink it. Give me my $13 1.5 L bottle of Yellow Tail any day and I'm good to go!

  16. To further Kathrein's comment: Slate might be a bit over the top with its remark regarding Tetra-Pak'ed wine. However, regarding price ranges in Germany, they're not really that far off. A "generic" white wine out of the supermarket goes for anything between 2 and 5€, and if you're just drinking/serving casually, this is usually good enough.

    What's much more interesting, however, is that you can get very good wines directly from (more or less local) wineyards for 3-5€ if you buy them by the box (usually 6 bottles), and they'll outshine anything you can get at the corner store while not costing any more. Your visitors will assume you've paid a lot more, though.

    Also: A couple of friends and I actually tried a Tetra Pak for ~1,50€ once. We did not finish it...

  17. I personally like sweet wine (having been raised in the land of sweet tea and Cheerwine) and my favorite wines are $8 muscadine and scuppernong wines from Duplin Winery in my state, North Carolina. So I also like that it's pretty local.

    While I know pretty much nothing about wine, I'm afraid to try anything very different because I'm darn picky about anything I can taste.

  18. I think the cost of a typical "bottle" of wine in the US is overstated here.

    Franzia and other boxed wines (primarily by The Wine Group) sell for the equivalent of $2 a bottle. The Wine Group is the second largest domestic seller of wine by case. Couple that with the sales of discount wine like two buck chuck and you've got yourself a pretty cheap average priced wine bottle.

  19. in Italy we drink of course lot of wine, but we would never ever drink tetrapak wine at dinner, this is for cooking and hobos... standard dinner glass bottle cost about 2 euros and I won't say it would be a very good wine but pleasurably drinkable for sure.

  20. in Italy we drink of course lot of wine, but we would never ever drink tetrapak wine at dinner, this is for cooking and hobos... standard dinner glass bottle cost about 2 euros and I won't say it would be a very good wine but pleasurably drinkable for sure.

  21. Franzia boxed wine works out to roughly $5 per 1.5L bottle in my area of the US. (I actually have a glass of their White Zin in front of me right now.) I've found it to be quite drinkable, if somewhat too sweet for my tastes. My husband prefers it like that, though. I can get boxed wines that taste like wine rather than fruit juice for the equivalent of $7 per bottle. It's very difficult to find an actual bottled wine for less than $8.

    If you just want to drink something alcoholic, it's much cheaper here to get a bottle of hard stuff (cheap rum or whiskey is $8 for 1.5L) and make twenty mixed drinks out of it. I'm not sure how this compares to Europe.

  22. in Europe hard drinks are pretty expensive, for what I know it goes from about 6-15€/l in Italy, Spain, France, Germany to 25-40€/l in Switzerland and north European countries. Cheaper in east Europe, expecially balkans.

  23. In reply to 'a progressive crank':

    Countries other than the US that had Prohibition in the early 20th century: Russia, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Finland, Hungary.

    Countries that still prohibit alcohol: Many Middle Eastern and Asian countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Libya, Iran, Sudan, parts of India, Brunei, Pakistan, to name a few)

  24. Sigh, up here in the great white north (Ontario, Canada) the absolute cheapest bottle of wine you can buy is $6. Decent wine can be had in the $8 - $10 range.

  25. Us "europeans" are not perfectly comfortable to crack open a 1 euro tetrapak for guests... - unless of course its guests we don't like.

    Here in The Netherlands, you can get good quality "everyday" wine for approx 3-5 euro per bottle. The next price point is approx 7-10 euro per bottle.

    Its certainly a bit cheaper here, but not 1 euro a time thats for sure!

  26. "Europeans seem perfectly comfortable cracking open a 1-euro tetra-pak of wine for guests." I too disagree with this statement, and agree with lescimmie: In Italy Tetrapak wine is for cooking and for hobos.

    Our 'Wednesday evening' white wine has gone up in price recently, but costs around €3.75. (Paying less is risky; you don't know what you're drinking.) An decent bottle of red costs not less than €5.00.

  27. It is usually difficult to get permission in an airport because of security reasons. Nice Video in Beirut airport.

    Mumbai too recently had a flash mob dance at Mumbai's VT (CST) Station .

    Mumbai CST station is one of the busiest train stations in the world.

  28. I was perfectly happy with $5 wine in college (which was more than I could afford). But as my means expanded, so did my taste in wine. There is a difference and I can't go back. Rombauer Chardonnay - it's around $35 and worth every penny - is my current favorite.

  29. I drink wine daily and share it with friends almost as often. The vast majority of pallets cannot tell the difference between a decent $8 bottle of wine and a high-end for everyday consumption $15 bottle. Spending a lot of money on wine in the USA is unnecessary and buying expensive wines is more of a status symbol than anything.

    However, someone who has developed a reasonably good taste for wine can almost always taste the difference between say a $15 bottle and a $90 bottle - try a run of the mill Coppolla red and then a glass of their Rubicon! Ah, to be wealthy!

    Around our house we suck down Vinho Verde all summer long, often with ice at about $6 a bottle and just about any Italian red for near that price. Keep in mind "age improves with wine!"

  30. I know I'm late, but maybe still useful.

    I have had the budget vino blog in my feed reader for so long I had almost forgotten it was there. He reviews wines under 10 USD.

    The update schedule is glacial, but there are useful features such as the spreadsheet of wines he has already reviewed.

    Looking around a bit it looks like he has been eclipsed by the Good Wine Under $20 blog.

  31. They both look like nice blogs, Dan, but on the first one I can't get the internal search engine to work, and the second one seems to substitute a list of several hundred "topics" for a search function. Not the way I would prefer it, but it's always blogger's choice.


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