Cheap wine: What do I expect?

cheap wineA visitor left a comment the other day in the first $3 wine challenge post: “Hey, it cost less than $3. So what did you expect?” Hence this post, because even though a cheap wine doesn’t cost much, that doesn’t mean it has to taste cheap:

? Varietal correctness. Cabernet sauvignon should taste like cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay like chardonnay, and so forth. Otherwise, what’s the point? Should we just have two gigantic Big Wine vats, one red and one white, and everything can come out of that?

? Value for money. No, a $3 wine isn’t going to taste like a $100 wine, and I don’t expect it to. I do expect it to offer value and to be the best $3 wine it can be. Otherwise, what’s the point? If we just want cheap crap to get drunk on, then we can drink Thunderbird and Night Train.

? An honest effort from the producer. The wine business’ cynicism is what keeps wine from being more popular in this country, and too much cheap wine proves that point. Producers make junk like the $3 challenge wines, or this wine club plonk, because they’ve taught Americans — like the man who left the comment — not to expect anything better. Or, even worse, the wine business knows most wine drinkers don’t know any better, think the $3 swill is OK because it costs $3, and are too confused to figure out what’s going on.

All of which is a horrible way to sell anything, and especially horrible for something that’s as much as fun as wine. Can you imagine what would happen if the car business worked that way? Which, as it happens, the car business once did, and the result was the very flammable Ford Pinto. One day, perhaps, the wine business can give us cheap wine as satisfying as today’s cheap cars (like my much beloved Honda Fit).

Until then, I’ll keep expecting more than they want to give us.

4 thoughts on “Cheap wine: What do I expect?

  • By Slapdash Gourmet - Reply

    Well said. And I want you to know that any time you describe a wine you’re reviewing as varietally correct, I go on the hunt for it. It’s very helpful in my effort to learn about wine and refine my palate. Thank you!

  • By Burnsey - Reply

    Agreed on the varietal correctness. One thing I will say, it has been a long time since I opened something “inexpensive” that was totally undrinkable. I have fond memories of trying to drink some awful garbage way back when. Possibly had to do with not knowing any better.

  • By Rex - Reply

    Gray’s column on planting in the central valley, your columns on big wine best sellers and strange wine clubs pretty much say it all.

  • By Blake Gray - Reply

    Jeff, as you know I’ve done some thinking recently about cheap wines made in this country, and I think you’re making a mistake by asking for varietal correctness, because it seems to me the best thing a winery can do for a $3 wine with the mix of grapes planted in the San Joaquin Valley is to make a blend.

    It’s the Frank Schoonmaker contradiction. Varietal labeling helped California wine; it’s a lot better than fake European place names. But now it’s a hindrance to good cheap wine.

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