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Wine Buying Guide – Types and What You Should Spend On

Choosing a wine is like choosing a book: There are a million options to choose from. You can get recommendations from a friend, but unless you know what you like, you gamble on whether their taste aligns with yours.

But you don’t have to become a sommelier to enjoy wine and participate in conversations about it. A bit of basic knowledge about types, varietals, vintages, and tasting notes goes a long way.

Baseline wine knowledge allows you to read the wine list at a business dinner or get out of the wine store without worrying you’ve just wasted your money. And a lightning overview of the wine world can help ensure you buy nothing but winners moving forward.

Types of Wine

Which bottle of wine should you buy?

First and foremost, know how it will fit into your personal budget before you start looking. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to overspend.

After setting a budget, selecting wine involves a series of decisions that progressively narrow your options.

Think of wine like a flowchart: First, there are types, such as red or white. Within those types, there are varietals, such as cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. Within those varietals, numerous other factors influence the taste of a wine, including the region and vintage as well as the climate in which the grapes were grown and the way the wine is stored, opened, and consumed.

But you must start by selecting the type of wine you want.

1. White Wines

  • Hot Summer Day White: Pinot grigio or Vinho Verde
  • Crisp, Acidic White: New Zealand sauvignon blanc or Spanish Rueda
  • Complex White for Food Pairings: White Burgundy (made with chardonnay and often aged briefly in oak barrels for a lightly oaked taste)
  • Value Whites: Argentinian torrontes, South African chenin blanc

White wines usually come from white (or green) grapes, although winemakers can produce white wines from red grapes.

White wines range in color from nearly clear to intense yellow. Common varietals of white wine include chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, and riesling.

Broadly speaking, white wines pair well with white meat, shellfish, whitefish, pasta dishes with white sauce, and salads or other vegetable courses. You can break it down even further once you know what variety you have. But when in doubt, pair wines with food or sauce color.

Pro tip: If you love wine, consider signing up for Winc, one of our favorite wine subscription clubs. They will ask you a few questions about your taste preferences and then send you four different wines each month. You’ll even receive $20 off your first month.

2. Red Wines

  • Light, Easy Drinking Reds: Oregon or Washington pinot noir, French Beaujolais
  • Medium-Bodied Reds: Spanish Rioja, Cotes du Rhone (syrah, grenache, mourvedre blends)
  • Big, Complex Reds: Sonoma or Napa cabernet sauvignon, Italian Barolo, Uruguayan tannat
  • Value Reds: Portuguese Douro, Chilean carmenere, South African Bordeaux blends

Red wine comes from red (or purple or black) grapes, specifically from letting the grape juice sit on the macerated skins after pressing.

They range in color from pale, pinkish-red to dark purple — in fact, some red wines appear nearly black in a glass. Common varietals of red wine include cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, merlot, tempranillo, zinfandel, and malbec.

In general, pair red wines with red meats and dishes with red sauces. Red wines also pair well with cheeses, and often chocolate-based desserts. But ultimately, drink what you like.

3. Rosé Wines

  • Dry, Crisp Rosé Wines: Provence rosés
  • Cheap, Sweet Rosé Wines: White zinfandel

Rosé wine is made from red grapes, but winemakers leave the grape skins — the source of a red wine’s color — for only a few hours. That leaves the wine with its signature pink tint without adding full-fledged red wine flavors and body.

The type of rosé wine depends on the type of grape used, and the grape choice affects both the shade of pink and the wine’s flavor. Vintners can make a rosé wine out of any red wine grape. All too many rosé wines are cheap, sweet plunk, but drier, more complex rosé wines have quietly burgeoned in the last decade or so.

Rosé wines pair well with salmon, pasta with pink sauce, duck, or heavier white meat dishes.

4. Sparkling Wines

  • Light, Dry Sparkling Wines: Blanc de blancs
  • Full, Complex Sparkling Wines: Champagne, higher-end cava or cremant
  • Cheap, Sweeter Sparkling Wines (Ideal for Mimosas): Prosecco or any sparkling wine rated “dry,” “semidry,” or “doux” (increasingly sweet on the rating scale)
  • Value Sparkling Wines: Cava or cremant

Sparkling wine tastes carbonated with small, fizzy bubbles, although the carbon dioxide in most sparkling wines comes from secondary fermentation rather than forced carbonation (the process used for soda).

“White” sparkling wines can come from white or red grapes or a blend of both. In the Champagne province of France, the birthplace of modern sparkling wines, vintners primarily use chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier grapes, often blending them or isolating just white grapes (“blanc de blancs”) or red grapes (“blanc de noirs”) for specific batches. Many vintners also produce rosé sparkling wines, and a few even produce red sparkling wines.

Most mass-marketed sparkling wines come from just a handful of regions. The most notable of these include Champagne (only sparkling wine from that region is actually called “Champagne”), other areas of France (cremant), Spain (cava), Italy (prosecco), and California.

Pair sparkling wines with seafood (raw oysters are a ubiquitous pairing) or rich, creamy desserts.

For more information, read our quick buying guide for sparkling wine before your next shopping trip.

5. Dessert Wines

  • White Dessert Wines (Pair With Fruit or Pound Cake): Ice wines, late-harvest wines
  • Orange Dessert Wine (Pair With Cobbler): Sauternes
  • Tawny Dessert Wine (Pair With Caramel Desserts): Aged tawny port
  • Red Dessert Wines (Pair With Chocolate Desserts): Vintage (high-end), LBV (late-bottled vintage, a step down in quality from vintage port), or ruby port (lower quality)

Dessert wine is a category of wines intended to be served with or as dessert.

Inherently sweet, these include sugary white wines like moscato, ice wine (made from sugary grapes harvested after the first frost), and late-harvest wines. Late-harvest wines are made from grapes left on the vine much later into the season than other grapes. Their increased ripeness produces a much higher sugar content.

Dessert wines also include fortified wines like port (which range from aged tawny ports to inky vintage ports), Madeira, and sherry. As the name suggests, these wines have been strengthened — fortified — by adding brandy.


Wine Varietals You Should Know

Once you’ve settled on a wine type, you need to narrow it down to the right varietal, which describes the type of grapes used to make the wine.

Vintners around the world literally grow thousands of different types of grape varietals. Italy alone is home to over 350 winemaking grape varietals.

Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of the world’s wine comes from just a handful of (mostly French-origin) grapes. Nearly all “new-world” (non-European) winemaking regions print the grape varietal or varietals on the label and mostly grow the same dozen or so grapes:

  • Chardonnay
  • Sauvignon blanc
  • Pinot grigio/pinot gris
  • Riesling
  • Chenin blanc
  • Pinot noir
  • Merlot
  • Cabernet sauvignon
  • Cabernet franc
  • Syrah/shiraz
  • Grenache
  • Malbec
  • Carmenere

Confusingly, in some parts of Europe, they refer to wines by their region rather than their grape. For example, winemakers in Burgundy make red wine from pinot noir grapes and white wine from chardonnay grapes. But the grapes appear nowhere on the label.

As a budding wine connoisseur, start by understanding what to expect from the most common grape varietals. Armed with that baseline knowledge, you’ll know far more than the average tippler.

Common White Grape Varietals

You have to go out of your way when wine shopping if you want to find a white wine outside the most common varietals. So, if you understand these grapes, you understand most mass-market white wines.

Pinot Grigio & Pinot Gris

PEE-noh GREE-jhee-oh; PEE-noh GREE-jhoh

PEE-noh gree

A white grape originating from northeastern Italy, pinot grigio and pinot gris refer to the same grape, although the wines are subtly different. The Italians make light (sometimes to the point of watery) white wines (pinot grigio) designed for hot days and minimal fuss, while the French in Alsace produce a wine (pinot gris) with more body and flavor.

Outside Italy and France, these grapes grow well in Oregon, Washington, and California, where wineries label them either pinot grigio or pinot gris based on the winemaking style used.

Most pinot grigios and pinot gris are crisp and dry rather than sweet, with floral notes and fruity flavors like pear, peach, lemon, or apple. Italian pinot grigios tend to have a more acidic bite than pinot gris from France or the U.S. Pinot grigio and pinot gris pair well with salads and light seafood.

Sauvignon Blanc

SAW-veen-yon BLAHNK; SOH-veen-yon BLAHNK

Traditionally grown in the Bordeaux region of France, vineyards now cultivate this grape in Italy, New Zealand, Northern California, Chile, and South Africa.

Sauvignon blanc is crisp like pinot grigio but typically drier and more acidic.

Sauvignon blanc’s primary flavors include lime, green apple, peach, and grapefruit. It’s famously prone to “grassy” or “green pepper” aromas. These wines pair well with similar foods as pinot grigio, and the acid helps cut through creamy dishes as well.

Buying tip: White wines from Bordeaux are made with sauvignon blanc grapes blended with semillon grapes, which add fuller body and flavor notes like lemon, pear, and green papaya.

Chardonnay

SHAHR-duh-NAY

Winemakers all over the world grow Chardonnay, a white wine made from grapes that are relatively easy to grow and widely varying in flavor. Still, the two regions most famous for chardonnay are Burgundy and California.

Traditionally, the French make their chardonnays with either no oak aging or moderate oak aging, called “oaking,” leaving intact plenty of mineral and fruit notes, like citrus, stone fruit, and green apple.

American winemakers historically used a heavier hand with oak aging for more buttery, creamy, and bready notes. In the last decade or two, American vintners have started making more unoaked chardonnays as well.

While chardonnay is traditionally dry, climate and soil variations can result in sweeter wines. Chardonnay pairs well with seafood, white meat, and hard cheeses.

Buying tip: White wines from Burgundy are made with chardonnay grapes.

Common Red Grape Varietals

You could spend years getting to know the nuances of even the most popular red grape varietals in the world. Start with these basics to help you pick your next favorite wine.

Pinot Noir

PEE-noh nuh-WAHR

Pinot noir grapes are notoriously finicky and difficult to grow, yielding a light-bodied and often delicate red wine. Originally popularized by the Burgundy region in France, pinot noir grapes also thrive in Sonoma and Santa Barbara in California, in the Pacific Northwest, and in Germany (where they call it “spatburgunder”).

Pinot noir tends to have medium-high acidity levels and notes that blend sweet spices (such as vanilla and clove) with red fruits (like raspberry, cranberry, and cherry). These light red wines pair well with fatty fish (such as salmon), white meats and lighter red meats, and cheese.

Buying tip: Red wines from Burgundy are made with pinot noir grapes.

Cabernet Sauvignon

CAB-uhr-NAY SAW-veen-yon; CAB-uhr-NAY SOH-veen-yon

A medium- to full-bodied red wine most commonly grown in France’s Bordeaux region and Northern California, cabernet sauvignon is also widespread throughout the world, including Chile, Washington state, Australia, Argentina, and Italy. These wines are typically dry.

The better the cabernet sauvignon, the more layered and complex, with flavors of dark fruits (plum, black cherry, blackberry), warm spices, and sometimes tobacco or leather. Cabernets tend to pair well with red meats and strong-flavored cheeses.

Buying tip: Red wines from Bordeaux are made with blended cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes, sometimes with cabernet franc, malbec, and petit verdot.

Merlot

mur-LOW

Perhaps the best-known red grape, merlot produces medium-bodied wines with dark fruit flavors (such as plum and dark cherry), sweet spices (like vanilla and clove), and (when aged in oak barrels) cedar notes.

Winemakers often blend it with cabernet sauvignon in the Bordeaux tradition, as the two grapes complement each other well. Even when the wine label says only “merlot,” many wine regions allow winemakers to blend in other grape varietals up to a specific limit.

Pair merlot with beef, lamb, pork, or heartier chicken dishes. It also pairs well with blue cheeses, such as gorgonzola, and mushrooms.

Syrah & Grenache

see-RAH

gruh-NAHSH

Like merlot and cabernet sauvignon, these two grape varietals blend well.

Syrah brings strong tannins (which create a heavier mouthfeel and add bitter flavors) and spice, such as black pepper and dark fruit. Grenache complements it with soft tannins, red fruit, and subtle spice notes like white pepper.

Note that Australian winemakers typically call the syrah grape “shiraz” (shuh-RAHZ). And the Spanish call the grenache grape “garnacha” (gahr-NAH-chah), which they often blend with tempranillo.

Syrah-grenache blends pair well with braised beef, grilled tuna, roast chicken, chili, pizza, and Italian subs.

Buying tip: Red wines from the Rhone Valley, such as Cotes du Rhone, are made with blended syrah, grenache, and mourvedre grapes.

Tempranillo

temp-rah-NEE-yo

Spanish winemakers favor tempranillo grapes, which grow beautifully in Spain’s warm climate. That said, many new-world winemakers have adopted the grape as well.

It produces a medium- to full-bodied wine, with fruit notes including cherry, fig, and plum along with leather, tobacco, and clove flavors. Most winemakers oak-age it for a long time, adding vanilla and cedar notes.

In Spain, they traditionally pair tempranillos with roast pork, chorizo, and aged cheeses like manchego.

Buying tip: Red wines from Rioja are made from tempranillo and garnacha grapes, sometimes with other varietals blended in to add complexity.

Malbec

MAHL-bek

Originally a Bordeaux blending grape, aspiring new-world winemakers found that malbec thrived in Argentina. Argentinians produce wines made from malbec grapes alone or with minimal blending.

Expect dry, full-bodied wines with dark fruit notes (plum and blackberry) along with flavors including tobacco, dark chocolate, and vanilla from oaking. Malbecs pair well with beef dishes prepared with mushroom, pepper, and sage; roast pork; burgers; and lamb.


Wine-Producing Regions

Certain grapes flourish in specific regions because of their climate and soil. Knowing just a little bit about regional specialties can help you score a much better deal, as each region excels at producing high quantities of their specialty wine at affordable prices.

For example, an Australian winemaker might love riesling. But given the climate, it would be difficult and expensive to grow quality riesling grapes. At best, they would likely end up with a small crop of mediocre produce that was prohibitively expensive to produce into wine. However, shiraz grapes grow well in Australia, encouraging more product and more competition, which boosts quality and lowers prices.

The exception to this rule is small, legally protected appellations (regions) famous worldwide for specific wines. Pinot noir grows well in Burgundy, but the region’s fame has driven prices sky-high. The same goes for renowned village appellations, such as Barolo (nebbiolo grape) and Chateauneuf du Pape (syrah-grenache-mourvedre blend), which produce predictably excellent wines at premium prices.

Still, in general, you can score better bargains by sticking with a region’s specialty. The following regions specialize in these wines:

  • Burgundy: Pinot noir, chardonnay,
  • Bordeaux: Cabernet sauvignon and merlot red blends; sauvignon blanc and semillon white blends
  • Cotes du Rhone: Grenache, syrah, and mourvedre red blends; viognier and marsanne white blends
  • Spain: Tempranillo, grenache
  • Portugal: Touriga nacional (see dry red wines from Douro and dessert port wines)
  • Italy: Sangiovese, nebbiolo, pinot grigio, soave, gavi
  • Germany: Riesling
  • Austria: Gewurztraminer
  • Argentina: Malbec, chardonnay
  • Chile: Carmenere, cabernet, chardonnay
  • Australia: Chardonnay, shiraz
  • New Zealand: Sauvignon blanc
  • South Africa: Chenin blanc, Bordeaux-style blends
  • United States: Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris

How to Read Wine Labels

You can’t judge a book by its cover. But you can judge a wine by its label — or at least learn a lot about what to expect.

Wine labels often seem written in code, but all bottles share a few key elements. If you learn how to spot and interpret those elements, you can easily and quickly assess any bottle of wine.

All this information should be present on every bottle, though some producers make these details harder to find than others. Remember, most wine bottles have both front and back labels.

  • Vintage. The vintage is the year the winegrower harvested the grapes. The grower may have produced the wine itself later. If it says “NV” instead of a year, it means “non-vintage,” or a blend of several years’ grapes.
  • Region or Appellation. The region or appellation references where the grapes grew. Laws require a certain percentage of the grapes to have come from a certain location for a winemaker to claim that location on a wine bottle (federal labeling standards put the minimum at 75% of the grapes in a bottle, while California requires 100% of the grapes to be from California for the label to read “California”). The region might be as broad as a country (such as France), specific to a region (such as Cotes du Rhone), or it might reference an extremely small and specific appellation (such as Chateauneuf du Pape in the Cotes du Rhone region).
  • Varietal. The type of grape or blend of grapes is the varietal (or varieties of grapes). For example, you might see cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, syrah or shiraz, or “red blend.” The name of the varietal shares the grape’s name, so cabernet sauvignon grapes are used to make cabernet sauvignon wine. An exception to this rule is any time a blend of grapes is used to produce a wine. For example, “Meritage” does not refer to a grape named Meritage, but rather to a blend made from specific grapes (by members of the Meritage Alliance). Some European wines feature the region in place of the grape, such as Burgundy instead of pinot noir or chardonnay.
  • Wine Name or Brand or Producer. Some wines prominently advertise a name or brand (such as Australian mass producer Yellow Tail), while others reference the wine’s producer (such as American innovator Robert Mondavi). Whether a winemaker chooses to feature a brand or the producer is generally a matter of which name has more influence on the public. Some wines have an overarching brand name and then another name for the specific wine. For example, Apothic is a brand, and Midnight is one of the wines from the Apothic brand.
  • Alcohol by Volume (ABV). While most wines fall in the 12% to 16% range for ABV, outliers exist. Sweet wines, such as moscato, carry as low as 5% ABV, while fortified wines like port and sherry can weigh in at 20% or above.

Does Vintage Matter?

Since weather patterns change every year, so do the quality of grapes produced from year to year in the same region. Years that are slightly cooler, warmer, wetter, or drier than normal can have outsize effects on the wine’s flavor.

These variations in quality sometimes explain the difference between the cost of a wine produced in one year compared to the wine produced by the same winemaker just one year later.

If you’re considering a more expensive bottle, ask a sales representative, “Was this a good year for this wine region?” You can always turn to Google if the sales rep can’t give you an answer. But you could potentially save money by opting for a vintage that was “above average but not extraordinary.”

Once you’ve considered type, varietal, region, and vintage, one glaring factor remains: How much do you have to pay for a decent bottle of wine?


Wine Prices & Getting the Most Value

You don’t need to spend a lot to buy good wine. Several factors can help you decide how much to spend at your next grocery store or wine shop outing. The same aspects apply to buying wine online.

Cost vs. Value

The simple truth is that the casual wine drinker usually can’t taste the difference between a $20 bottle and a $100 bottle. If you simply enjoy casual, easy-drinking wines like a light pinot grigio on a scorching summer day, you can find plenty of decent wines at low price points.

These fill the same niche in the wine world as light beers. They don’t have to cost much to go down easy and come with no pretense.

Besides, you could buy the best, most expensive wine in the world, and it would provide you no value if you don’t like the flavor.

The more you favor nuance and complexity in your wines over simple drinkability, the more you’ll want to explore wines across many regions and price ranges. To return to the beer analogy, it costs more for fuller, more complex craft brews like the saisons, double India pale ales, and lambics that drove the boom in homebrewing over the last 15 years.

But that doesn’t mean expensive wines inherently taste better than their more affordable brethren. Don’t let price sway your opinion of a wine. If you find a $10 bottle of wine that you love, buy it, drink it, enjoy it, and don’t listen to what anyone else tells you. While connoisseurs can invest in wine through sites like Vinovest, most true wine lovers buy wine because they like the taste.

Pricing of Red vs. White Wines

While I love both white and red wines, I’ve rarely found white wines over $25 that justify their cost. Winemakers can produce complex white wines at or below that price point. I’ve occasionally drunk expensive whites that do offer more complexity, but the slight uptick in quality didn’t outweigh the significant uptick in price for me.

Red wines are another matter. While winemakers can make smooth, easy red wines at a low price point through an economy of scale, it costs more to make fuller-bodied, more complex red wines, which are my favorite types of wine to imbibe.

To begin with, if you overplant an acre with grapes, each grape contains less flavor. That means winemakers aiming for bigger red wines have to plant fewer grapes per acre. While the same principle applies with white wines, many wine lovers prefer their red wines as big and full as possible. Winemakers can grow full-bodied white wines without spreading their plantings thin.

Wines can also cost more due to higher labor costs, such as hand-picking the grapes at the perfect ripeness rather than mechanically shaking all the grapes loose from the vine at once.

Some of the complexity in full red wines also comes from aging in oak barrels — which also costs more money. The barrels themselves carry hefty price tags, and winemakers can only use them a few times before they lose their signature flavor. Beyond those direct costs, it also means extra months or years of holding the product in storage — years that delay the winemaker’s profits.

Even without oaking, some winemakers store and age red wines for years before selling, which they don’t usually do with white wines.

Buying tip: Start with Food & Wine Magazine’s list of the best red wines under $15, including several under $10. From there, you can get more adventurous as your taste dictates.

Tips for Saving on Wine

To stock your wine cabinet on a budget, begin with these tips to save money on great wines.

  1. Buy in Bulk. If you find a wine you enjoy, buy it by the case. Many wine sellers offer case discounts, sometimes as high as 25%.
  2. Comparison-Shop. Wine prices often vary dramatically from retailer to retailer. If you have your heart set on a particular wine, call around to check prices. If you’re just browsing, make a note of a few prices and then check somewhere else. While I wholeheartedly support independent wine shops, major importers (such as Costco) can often score a better deal on bulk purchases and thus offer the same wine at a lower price. But that isn’t always the case, so check your neighborhood store too.
  3. Be Wary of the Oversell. While most wine sellers are very well-intentioned, they also have a business to run. If an employee is putting the hard sell on a particular wine, it’s possible the store is overstocked with the wine and is merely trying to get rid of it. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad wine. But make sure it’s really one you’ll like before buying.
  4. Sign Up for Sales Alerts. Overstocks sometimes lead to flash sales. Ask the staff about upcoming sales, and sign up to receive alerts.
  5. Buy a Cheaper Alternative. There’s often a cheaper alternative to a popular expensive wine. Unless you’re committed to a specific regional or varietal, consider making a change to a wine with similar qualities from a region or varietal that makes something similar but more affordable. For example, Chianti must come from a small, appellation-protected region in Italy that carries a high brand value and pricing. But it’s made with sangiovese grapes, and many winemakers in lesser-known regions in Italy produce sangiovese wines that taste just as good — at a fraction of the price.
  6. Buy Wine Online. Wine is increasingly available online, though restrictions on the shipment of alcohol affect several states. Some states ban direct-to-consumer shipments outright, while others have a tangle of regulations that leave consumers confused, and others restrict the amount of wine you can receive per month or per year. Read up on your state’s laws to potentially save time and effort shopping online. For instance, NakedWines.com advertises 40% to 60% savings on all bottles and supports independent wineries by funding them upfront and selling their wine at wholesale prices to online customers.
  7. Join a Wine Club. If you drink wine regularly, subscribing to a wine club might make sense for you. You sign up to receive a certain number of bottles each month and pay a flat monthly fee. Typically, you provide information about your wine preferences, and the wine club curates a selection based on your parameters. Some wine clubs also charge for shipping — which might be in the fine print and run $10 or more per month. While these sometimes prove expensive on a per-bottle basis, research the best wine club subscriptions if you love trying new wines.

Buying for a Party

Unless your guests are wine snobs, aim for the best bang for your buck when stocking up for a party. Don’t bother trying to show off expensive bottles — most guests won’t know the difference.

To start, buy a combination of red and white wines. When in doubt, buy both light-bodied and full-bodied options for each, such as a pinot grigio and chardonnay on the white side and a pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon on the red side.

Err on the side of overshopping so you don’t run out of wine. If partygoers don’t drink every bottle, you can save them for the next soiree or give them as gifts to your favorite foodie.

Consider the food you’re serving with the wine. As a broad rule, wines pair with the color of the protein you serve: white wines pair with white meat, white fish, and white sauces over pasta, while red wines pair with red meat and red pasta sauces. Fatty fish and heavier seafood can often go either way, pairing well with fuller whites, dry rosé wines, and lighter reds such as pinot noirs or grenache.

And of course, desserts call for dessert wine, including port, sherry, late-harvest whites, or moscato. Or a sparkling wine (even a dry one) always closes the meal well.

If you’re self-conscious about producing a low-cost bottle at a dinner party, simply decant the whole bottle and hide the evidence. Decanters make all bottles of wine look fancy.

Smart Swaps

One of the best ways you can save money is by avoiding high-demand, high-priced options. And you don’t have to sacrifice quality and flavor to do so.

  • Grenache Instead of Pinot Noir. Since pinot noir is challenging to grow, it’s equally difficult to produce quality pinot noir wines at low price points. Expect to pay $20 or more to secure a decent bottle. If you’re looking for a lighter red but don’t want to spend much, try grenache. Another grape commonly grown in France, grenache has similar qualities to pinot noir but is easier to grow, so it tends to be less expensive. Remember, grenache is known as garnacha in Spain.
  • Cava or Cremant Instead of Champagne. Remember, Champagne benefits from the well-known name, and vintners can charge accordingly. But it only refers to sparkling wine grown in the Champagne region of France. Fortunately, you can buy outstanding bubbly from other regions at a fraction of the cost. When your guests hear the cork pop, they won’t care where it’s from as long as it tastes good.
  • South African Bordeaux-Style Blend Instead of Bordeaux. Authentic Bordeaux wines need to come from the Bordeaux region of France. But a Bordeaux blend simply refers to a combination of grapes, typically merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and malbec or petit verdot. A winemaker in any region that can grow the grapes can produce a Bordeaux-style blend. Parts of South Africa, Italy, and the U.S. mimic the climate and growing conditions of the Bordeaux region well enough to produce an impressive Bordeaux-style blend for a fraction of the cost.
  • South American Carmenere, Malbec, or Tannat as Full-Bodied Reds. While they have grown in popularity and price over the last few decades, you can still find outstanding value among South American wines. I particularly love tannat wines from Uruguay, often blended with merlot or cabernet sauvignon.

Final Word

Wine often feels intimidating to the casual drinker, especially scrolling through an encyclopedic wine list in front of your date or in-laws. But you don’t need to be a connoisseur to enjoy a glass of wine — nor do you need to break the bank.

Attend a wine tasting or two to try small samples of many wines so you can get a better sense of what you like and dislike. You can often find these at local wine stores or discounted at local restaurants or bars through deal sites like Groupon. Try as many different types of wine as you can, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Your taste preferences are what matter most, but if you want others’ opinions, try Wine Spectator for professional picks and the Vivino app for other consumers’ ratings and reviews. From light, fruity, and sparkling to bold, rich, and spicy, wine offers something for nearly every taste bud.

G. Brian Davis
G. Brian Davis is a real estate investor, personal finance writer, and travel addict mildly obsessed with FIRE. He spends nine months of the year in Abu Dhabi, and splits the rest of the year between his hometown of Baltimore and traveling the world.

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