The 20-Something's Guide To Buying Cheap Wine — The Right Way

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
Wine: we love drinking it, but we also want it to be as cheap as humanly possible. After all, nothing quite says "Yes, I am in my 20s" like spending a whopping $15 on a bottle of wine and feeling fancy as hell afterwards.
The problem is, when you shop the section of the wine store that trades in cheap wine, you can also wind up with some not-so-great bottles. But buying discount wine shouldn't have to fee like a game of roulette (or a time loop where you keep grabbing the exact same kind of brand, over and over again). So to avoid wining whining about this dilemma, we spoke to wine expert Sayle Milne of Wine Savvy to get some tips and tricks for buying cheap wine — the right way. Follow these five rules, and you'll branch out and avoid duds all while navigating your wine store like a pro.

Location, Location, Location

An easy way to get the most bang for your buck is by knowing which countries to look for. Areas that we associate closely with wine — think Napa or the entire country of France — can be priced higher. Countries and regions that are more up-and-coming on the wine scene are a great place to find deals.
"South American wines are beginning to get the recognition they deserve, but the price tags have not yet caught up," Milne explains. She especially loves wines from Chile and Argentina. For Chile, keep an eye out for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and for the summer, she likes Torrontés, a white wine from Argentina.
Some European wines that aren't as popular can also be excellent value buys. For example, when people think of Italian reds, they often think of Tuscany. But wine from the southern region, (look for Campania, Basilicata, and Puglia), are also good and often sold a lower price. Milne is especially a fan of value Spanish wines like Verdejo, which can run around $9 a bottle.

Push Your Budget — Just A Bit

When it comes to buying inexpensive wines, Milne urges young buyers to go just a couple bucks up from what they might usually spend. "$8.99 versus $12 for a bottle of wine could be everything," she says. This isn't to say that you have to always spend above what you wanted, but being willing to stray to that $12-$20 range could lead you to find some truly delicious wines you'll want to savor.

Keep An Eye Out For Alcohol Content

Since there are so many types of wine out there, it can be hard to come up with a hard-and-fast rule for what to always buy or never buy, but Milne says one good rule of thumb is avoiding wine with a high alcohol content. She explains that some cheap wine has extra alcohol added to mask flavors.
"For me, alcohol is like salt. If you’ve ever had a good meal, but its too salty, you can’t get past the salt. But sometimes you have a shitty piece of meat and you need a pinch of salt to bring it out."
In other words, a super alcoholic wine might not taste like much — and that's for a reason. She recommends saying away from anything above 14.5% alcohol.

Find Good Experts — & Know What To Ask For

"More than anything, I say find a wine store that has great people," Milne advises. A good wine store has staff that loves working within your budget and requirements. Just be prepared to tell them if you want if you want red, white, still or sparkling, what kinds of wines or flavors you like, and what you want to spend.
"They just want to share the vino love and send you home with something amazing, at whatever price point that means for you."

When In Doubt, Go With Bubbles

If you're totally at sea and don't know even know what you want, Milne has one word of advice: bubbles. "THE most food-friendly wine is always bubbles," she explains. It pairs well with everything from fish to burger to take-out.
Plus, you don't have to shell out for Champagne. Prosecco and Cava are two well-known alternatives that are often good at under $20, but Milne also recommends looking for Sekt from Germany and anything sparkling from California.
If you're looking for something a little fancier for a birthday, anniversary. or gift, Milne also has a great tip. Crémant, from France, is made in the Champagne method — just not in the Champagne region. She even served it at her own wedding, and says guests who claimed to not even like Champagne couldn't get enough. It's a little pricier than an everyday sparking, but for around $18-$25 a bottle, you can get a really special wine without the special occasion price tag.
At the end of the day, however, the best way to get good at buying wine is to keep trying. So consider this to be your hall pass to go forward, try a random wine from Idaho or South Africa, try bubbly, try a red, maybe even spend a tiny bit more than you might normally, open the wine, and enjoy.
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