If you're bothering to read this, then you could be one of the roughly 20 percent of Americans who drinks a glass or two of wine with dinner on at least a weekly basis.
I think of wine with dinner as a staple. It's a healthy and, moreover, happy way to go through life. And yet, with each passing week, rising grocery bills are treading a little bit more on my wine budget. With food and gas prices inching ever upward, and with the "Recession Diet" garnering attention in the press, more and more my daily dose is starting to feel practically prodigal.
So what's a wine drinker to do?
There's always cutting back. But that smacks of desperation. No, my respectable and responsible couple of glasses of wine each evening are a near-sacred institution. Fortunately, there are a few sure-fire ways to save money and get more value out of the wines I drink--without getting drastic.
Take it Down a Notch
For one thing, the modern wine industry is making consistently good wine across the board even at the lower price points. This means you can probably ratchet your level of "price comfort" downward a bit without suffering too much on the palate. Who knows? You might not even be able to tell the difference. It always helps to ask for help, too. Wine merchants generally know what they're stocking, and they can recommend a reliable, less expensive wine for daily drinking.
It's in the Bag (and in the Box)
You have probably already heard the rumor: Boxed wine is no longer a punch line. It's true, the wine is pretty good, and the value is tremendous. A 3 liter box is the equivalent of four standard wine bottles. And if it takes a couple weeks to put away that much wine, no problem: The box's air-tight bag technology helps preserve it, so it stays fresh. As you tap the wine, the bag collapses, preventing wine-wrecking oxygen from reaching your delicate beverage. Boxed wine stays fresh for a month or more. And the price is definitely right.
Here are a few recommended and widely available boxed wines:
- VRAC Cotes du Rhone
- Black Box
- Wine Cube
- Banrock Station
Aussie, Aussie, Awesome!
Australia leads the way in the boxed wine category. This could be because their warm, sunny weather helps produce enormous quantities of reliable, inexpensive wine. Or it could be because Australians don't keen to the kind of wine snobbery that would ban the box from polite wine-drinking society. It's the Aussie's ability to think outside the box that lead them to put the wine back into it. And I, for one, am grateful.
If you like, you can take a tour through Australia's wine regions--and select some recipes to go with the tasty wines being made there.
Perhaps you're looking for something more along the lines of a bottled wine? No problem. There's still some good news out there. In general the same parts of the world that offered good values before are offering them today. In addition to boxed wine, Australians are making good value bottled wines, too. Their Shiraz, Riesling, and Chardonnay are generally priced to please. For some reason, many of these labels have critters on them--kangaroos, emus, fish, and so on.
The South American Way
The Southern hemisphere hosts two other wine-producing countries that are big on value: Argentina and Chile. And as we range toward grilling season, this becomes increasingly good news. Argentinean Malbec is not only relatively inexpensive; it's also very nice with grilled meats. Meanwhile, on the windward side of the Andes, folks are making delicious Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that would make top-notch house wines.
Spanish Wines? Si
Spanish wines are another good value. Try an inexpensive Spanish rosé. In general, rosé is a very versatile, food-friendly wine, and it's particularly good with grilled foods. Wines made with Tempranillo, like Rioja, are also food friendly. If you're looking for a refreshing sparkle, Spanish cava is a far less expensive alternative to Champagne, and its food friendly, too, particularly with fried foods, fish, sushi, and a lot of Asian cuisine.
Once you start poking around the bins at your local wine store, you'll find wine bargains remain to be had. For me, the flipside of a reined-in budget can be the freedom to explore the world's less likely wine regions and ultimately expand my wine-drinking horizons. Sometimes you can snap up wines from countries (Bulgaria anyone?) and American states (Texas, I’m looking at you!) that might lack the cache of places like Napa or Bordeaux, but which nevertheless are producing good wines at kind prices. Nab these wines, and you might feel like you've made a secret discovery!