How to Determine whether That Cheap Wine Is Actually Good by a Sommelier

How to Determine whether That Cheap Wine Is Actually Good by a Sommelier


Here’s a guide to choosing the greatest wine at the lowest cost.

There are value wines and there are inexpensive wines, to be clear. Although inexpensive wines only cost a few dollars, their quality is, well, dubious. Value wines, on the other hand, can range widely in price, from genuinely affordable to somewhat costly, yet they consistently outperform their counterparts in every case. Sommelier and co-owner of DecantSF in San Francisco, Cara Patricia, recently sent an email with some advice for finding inexpensive wine. She declared, “If (the price) looks too good to be true, it is.” Wine can be inexpensive, but it has a price.

Even knowledgeable wine drinkers may find it difficult to choose wines that offer great value, which is why Patricia has a job she enjoys. (Pro tip: Screw caps aren’t always a sign of superior wine.) Sommeliers and other wine specialists devote their entire lives to the enormous category of wine.

Even if we aren’t supposed to be experts on wine as casual drinkers, sometimes we still feel uncomfortable asking for assistance. It seems like the attitude toward wine knowledge among urbane individuals changed sometime in the last couple of decades. But what should an educated adult do when it seems like the only way to explain their choice for wine is “dry” and their only financial option is to go with the second-most affordable option? (Hint: This doesn’t always offer the best value for your money.)

Drink for yourself is Patricia’s wine mantra, and DecantSF is renowned for its laid-back approach to matching customers with wines they’ll love, without even a hint of pretense. Inclusion, including in terms of spending, is DecantSF’s main priority as a woman- and queer-owned company. Here are seven tips on how to shop for the greatest bargain wines using Patricia’s knowledge of wines and her approachable demeanor.

(We’ve also calculated how much money you can save by shopping at Costco and Trader Joe’s, as well as whether buying toilet paper and other household goods from the grocery store or Amazon is more cost-effective.)

Visit a nearby store.

You won’t find a wine expert at a big-box retailer, Patricia remarked. You can access a wealth of information developed over many years of researching, analyzing, and most crucially, consuming wine if you “shop at boutique stores where the experts are.” Budget-conscious wine professionals are common. Patricia suggested, “Go to a store and ask for staff selections within your budget.” Ask for the staff’s favorite wines if you’re looking for bottles under $25 because they likely drink them most frequently at home.

The hardest sector to blind taste for is our least costly wines, Patricia explained. “At DecantSF, we blind taste everything before we put it into the shop. “We are quite selective about what we bring in because we want these wines to exceed expectations in terms of value and flavor. These wines must be excellent because we stock them in our own homes!”

Local, though, isn’t always a choice. If there isn’t a renowned wine shop in your neighborhood, you might want to check out our list of the top online wine clubs and alcohol delivery services for 2022.

Decide on a price.

You have every right to stick to your spending plan and shouldn’t ever feel ashamed of it. Every day, wine professionals work with clients whose budgets range from tens of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. In either case, they are willing to act as a matchmaker and take great professional satisfaction in introducing customers to the appropriate wines while taking any financial considerations into account.

As a shop owner and restaurant sommelier, Patricia remarked, “If I’ve learned anything, it’s to cut to the chase and be honest with what you’re looking for.” In particular, if you have a limited budget, “be honest with what you desire.” She suggests beginning with an example like: “I want to buy red wine for less than $30. Wines like X, Y, and Z are what I’ve previously appreciated, therefore I’d want something similar. Have you have any recommendations?” If you are upfront and honest, you are more likely to have a great wine-shopping experience.

Use wine apps and websites to price compare and make sure you’re not paying too much. To avoid being overcharged, try one of these three free wine apps.

Abstain from such trendy wines.

Be cautious of trends, Instagram sensations, and offensive marketing, Patricia said. Just a small portion of the wines produced worldwide receive a disproportionate amount of marketing funding. (Whispering Angel, I’m looking at you.) The majority of premium winemakers prefer to invest their money in vineyards and wineries, where they produce top-notch wines. Instead of spending money on expensive advertisements and influencer sponsorships, they rely on their tasting rooms, as well as sommeliers and wine store staff, to handle their marketing. When a lot of money is being spent on marketing rather than the actual product, Patricia remarked, “you can tell because there is sometimes a premium upcharge on the coolest or hottest wines.”

But if you’re searching for some fantastic budget options, consider orange or amber wines.

Obtain a globe map.

Another solid reason to use them to your advantage when looking for affordable wines is that being a sommelier has a lot to do with geography. You don’t need to be familiar with every major or even minor wine-producing region, but you can benefit yourself by learning about a few key regions that produce the styles or grapes you enjoy the most, followed by learning about their neighbors.

Look for areas that are close to the well-known areas, advised Patricia. “There are many beautiful sauvignon blanc from Touraine to sample, though Sancerre may be getting a little out of reach financially. Prices in Napa Valley are ridiculous! Instead, let’s try something from the foothills of El Dorado.”

As these are frequently areas that over-deliver for their price range, it might also be useful to learn whether New World or other rising regions are making wines in a similar style to some of the major players. Look for huge reds from Chile or Washington state if you enjoy massive Cabernet Sauvignons from Bordeaux or Napa Valley to save money without compromising quality. Beautiful, affordable chardonnay expressions may be found outside of France and California as well, in places like Australia and South Africa.

Look for some inexpensive wines.

The most well-known winemakers in the world rose to prominence by creating some of the most renowned wines in history, which fetch high prices. However, they rarely produce just these, and the majority of them provide bottles from more affordable wine regions than their premium cuvées.

“Interested in dry Grosses Gewächs riesling but unable to spend $100? For a fraction of the price, try a dry Trocken riesling from the same estate “Patricia uttered. “Want to buy Puligny-Montrachet on a lavish budget? Try the Bourgogne Blanc from your favorite producer, which frequently combines fruit from younger vineyards that have been declassified.”

In addition to taking a wider view of the wine world, experimenting with lesser-known grapes from well-known growers can also be a wise financial move. Try various grape kinds from renowned growers, Patricia advised. “Love a specific Barolo? You may obtain the same superb winemaking with a different grape that costs much less to produce by trying their Barbera d’Asti.”

Think about joining a wine club.

Consider checking into the membership discounts that certain wine shops provide. When you join, you frequently receive discounts and far more choices than you would as a winery’s club member, according to Patricia. For instance, members of DecantSF’s bottle clubs receive discounts on workshops, presales, and other benefits in addition to 10% off any reorder of the wines featured in the clubs and free corkage for drinking from bottles in-store.

She suggested using a healthy dose of skepticism when it came to online wine memberships or subscriptions. Avoid online-only wine clubs that want you to be an “investment,” utilize an algorithm quiz to match your preferences rather than a sommelier, or promise a case of wine for an absurdly low price, Patricia said. “These are frequently the poorest wines made with mass-produced fruit and slave labor, mixed, and bottled under fictitious names. At Walmart, you might as well buy from the lowest shelf.”

With CNET’s best wine club for 2022, we have reviewed different online wine clubs for you if your neighborhood lacks a respected wine store. A nice approach to stocking up on wine is to take advantage of the initial offers that some online wine sellers, including, offer to first-time customers. Last Bottle also occasionally has marathon buying weekends.

Get a lot of wine.

A tried-and-true method for saving money, buying in bulk doesn’t just apply to wine. Purchase more and save more, Patricia advised. “DecantSF offers a 5% discount on six bottles or a 10% discount on 12 or more bottles, for instance.” By purchasing wine in bulk many times a year rather than buying a bottle for each special event that calls for one, you can also save on shipping or delivery costs. You can save some money by purchasing larger format bottles, such as magnums, or even boxed wine from reputable companies.