Follow-up: Just because it’s a cheap wine doesn’t mean it’s worth drinking

cheap wime
“What do I care if it’s any good? It’s cheap.”

Wine drinkers of the world unite: We have nothing to lose but crappy cheap wine

Ordinarily, a rant like last week’s Two-buck Chuck rose and cheap wine post makes a brief impression in the cyber-ether, and then it fades away. But not this time.

The Wine Curmudgeon is not the only one who thinks we’re getting played by the wine business. You do, too, given the comments and emails I got after the post ran.

Wrote one reader: “Thank you, WC, for some sanity on this ‘cheap wine is good’ chatter. Someone gave me the Two-buck Chuck sauvignon blanc. It was undrinkable – pungent, flabby and almost no SB flavor, so it may be worse than the rose.” And another: “I tried it just to test. Virtually tasteless.”

In this, those of us who want quality for our $10 are caught between a rock and a hard place. Premiumization has forced up the price of quite ordinary wine, so that we’re paying $15 and $18 for a product worth $10 or $12. But when we trade down to look for value, because who wants to spend $18 for alcoholic grape juice, what happens? We end up with foolishness like the Two-buck Chuck rose.

That happens every time I do the $3 wine post, when I drink five $3 wines with dinner for a week. Most of the wines are made with little concern for varietal correctness, and it’s rare when a chardonnay tastes like a chardonnay. Mostly, they’re made to cost $3, and if that means sub-par grapes, a grimy sweetness, less than ideal winemaking, and a poor quality product, so be it.

That’s why I’m here

But we buy it and hope for the best. Partly that’s because we’ve been taught that the only good wine is expensive, and we don’t want to believe that. Why, after all, am I here?

But it’s also because we believe that Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods or whomever won’t sell us a crummy product. We trust them in a way we don’t trust the phone and cable companies, and quality retailers spend millions of dollars to earn and keep our trust. And, for the most part, they do a fine job. Whole Foods may have its problems, but when I buy an organic tomato, I have no doubt that’s what it is.

So where does crummy cheap wine fit in? Because if a retailer sold chicken or piece of beef that tasted like these wines, someone would call the health inspector. It’s because it’s wine, and they can get away with it. If I buy bad beef, it’s easy to tell it’s bad. If I buy bad wine, how do I know? The store won’t tell us (and try to return a bottle that’s gone off – can’t be done). The critics won’t tell us, because they don’t review those wines. So we’re stuck assuming that it’s supposed to taste the way it does. And if we don’t like it, then we’ve been taught that we aren’t smart enough about wine to know the difference between good and bad.

Talk about a rigged game. It’s not so much we can’t find the bean under the shell; there isn’t even a bean for us to find.

4 thoughts on “Follow-up: Just because it’s a cheap wine doesn’t mean it’s worth drinking

  • By Roger Rittner -

    I disagree with you on one point. Whenever I’ve returned an opened bottle of wine to Trader Joe’s, they always refund my money. In fact, they often ask me what I thought of it, and why I’m returning it. But they never refuse the return. That’s why I’m willing to try new (cheap) wines there, knowing I can return it if I’m not satisfied. Admittedly, I’ve had real dreck on occasion. But at least at TJ’s, I’m willing to try.

    • By Wine Curmudgeon -

      Glad to hear it. You’ve had much better luck than I have, not just at Trader Joe’s but at most mass retailers. I usually get the “What’s wrong with you?” look.

  • By Bill Tobey -

    There is a solution. Stay with me and you will find some mighty fine wines under TEN BUCKS.

    I can’t speak for all Grocery Outlet stores but I can speak for the one in Roseville, CA. They have a team of knowledgable wine folks working the floor of the wine department. You cme in just like in a high end wine store and share the types of wines you like. The wine team has tasted most of the wines stocked. They will point you at numerous wines that fit your desires.

    Then to the fun part. You buy a bottle of each. Let’s say you buy 5 bottles, total price will be less than you pay for one bottle of wine in a good wine shop. Then take them out to your car, pop the corks and taste them. Then run back in and buy cases, yes I said cases, of the ones you like.If you don’t buy them immediately the next time you are in the store you will find the wines sold out. Average price will be $4.99-$5.99.

    I challenge you to test me and let me know the results.

    • By Wine Curmudgeon -

      Bill, that’s what we’ve been doing on the blog for the past 12 years. And what I’ve been doing as a wine writer for the past 25 years. Check out the $10 Hall of Fame.

      And, sadly, Grocery Outlet isn’t available in most of the country.

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