Bottom Line/Personal: Anyone can buy a good bottle of wine for $50, but what if you want to find a good bottle of wine for under $10?
I’m Sarah Hiner, president of Bottom Line Publications, and this is our Conversation With the Experts, where we get the answers to your tough questions from our leading experts.
Today I’m talking to Amy Dixon. Amy is the former buyer and fine wine expert at Stew Leonard’s wine stores, one of the top 10 retailers for wine in the country. She is currently managing a portfolio of fine wine collectors at Nicholas Roberts Fine Wines in Darien, Connecticut.
Amy lost 98% of her eyesight in 2007. Now, in addition to being a wine expert, she is a paratriathlete on Team USA, and she’s also on the watch list for their cycling team. You can learn more about Amy and all of her cycling and wine expertise at BlogSpot.BlindSommelier.com. Welcome, Amy.
Amy Dixon: Thanks for having me.
Bottom Line: You’re welcome. All right, so easy to buy a $50 bottle of wine.
Bottom Line: But what do you recommend when they want to buy a nice $10 bottle of wine? We actually used to have a competition with friends of ours, who could buy the best $8 bottle of wine.
Dixon : Which is fine. I think it’s far more interesting and far more fun than going out and blowing $100 on a bottle of wine. If you think about it this way, there’s five glasses in a bottle of wine. It is over in half an hour if you have two or three friends. And really, what’s the fun in that? After that one great bottle, every bottle’s going to be inferior after that.
So you’re really better off looking for something-I really think that the sweet spot for buying wine is in that magical $8 to $15 a bottle price point. There are hundreds of thousands of wines in that price point that will really cover every single palate, from every single country that you could possibly imagine.
Really, my number one go-to for value right now is South America. I’m looking at Chile and Argentina specifically. While the United States produces some exquisitely wonderful wines and has a lot of bulk wine coming out of the Central Valley of California that is affordable, to get a really good quality bottle of California wine, you’re really looking in the $20 price range. Which is not attainable for everyday drinking. If you think of it this way, a $20 bottle of wine is going to cost you $5 a glass. That takes all the fun out of it for me.
Bottom Line: You could go to the restaurant for that.
Dixon: You could go to a restaurant for that. So I want to have something that’s delicious, fruit-forward, easy drinking for everyday consumption, and I really think that you can do that for $8 to $15 a bottle, specifically from Argentina and Chile.
There are other regions, too. I would certainly recommend New Zealand and Australia. Also, from Europe, Spanish wines and southern Italian wines tend to represent some very good values in their portfolios as well.
Bottom Line: And how about by type of wine? Are certain reds or whites better to get from different countries?
Dixon: Yeah, every country has a different specialty depending upon the subregion that it comes from or the area. Chile, for certain-the Colchagua Valley right now is really known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay because it is a little bit cooler than the rest of the country. So you can find a phenomenal Pinot Noir for $12 or $14 that would cost you easily $20, $25, perhaps more, in California. And certainly even more than that from France. So from a budget standpoint, that’s a really great place to go.
And then for white wines, certainly New Zealand is definitely the front of the value category for white wine right now, and certain parts of southern France. I found a lot of really interesting wines from the Languedoc region, which is way down in the Provence region-it not only is beautiful, but it produces beautiful wines for great value.
Bottom Line: If you want to buy a less expensive bottle of wine, does it matter what store you go to?
Dixon : Of course. I mean, obviously you’re not going to walk into a fine wine collectible store that specializes in cult Bordeaux in California and super Tuscan wines. You’re going to try and find a retailer that focuses on bringing great value to their customers. And that doesn’t necessarily mean a big-box discounter.
I highly recommend establishing a good relationship with a small local retailer who can spend the time to really understand your palate and give you the best bang for the buck. Because I don’t care if you’re spending $10 or $100 on a bottle, you want to take it home and feel like you really got a good value, whatever that price point for you is. For some people, $100 is not much to spend on wine. God bless them.
But for me, I want to really feel like whether I spend $10, $20, $30 on a bottle, that I got something interesting that really suited my palate based on what I told the retailer. Say I like fruity or I like crisp or I like light or I like full or I like rich. So you really have to convey what your palate represents.
I usually recommend to people when they walk into a retail store, specifically a good small local retailer who can spend the time with you, unlike a big-box store that probably won’t spend the time with you and doesn’t necessarily have the expertise available to help you, is to say how many sugars do you put in your coffee or tea? People always look at me like, “What are you talking about? What does that have to do with wine?” It gives me a great indicator of what kind of sweetness level you like in a wine.
Bottom Line: Historically, a lot of people in a lot of other categories, they go to even the Costcos or the Stew Leonards of the world because they’re big retailers and they’re known to push a lot of quantity, so they think that they might get a better buy there. But the small retailers really do have good prices as well?
Dixon : Of course they do. Especially here in Connecticut, because the pricing is even across the board, which it is in several states, actually. So the nice thing about that is it doesn’t matter if you go to a “boutique-y” little wine store or if you go to a big-box discounter-you’re still going to get a great value.
Bottom Line: Do wines ever go on sale?
Dixon: Oh, of course. And you’ll find me there, at that store, on that day.
Bottom Line: Does that mean it’s been sitting around for a long time? Is it a good strategy to buy a wine on sale or a bad strategy?
Dixon: I’m certainly going to look for a good value and gravitate toward something that’s on sale. I’ll always buy a bottle of it first. I wouldn’t recommend going off and buying a case, and I would check the store’s return policy, too. A good retailer will give you a liberal return policy-if you don’t like it or it just didn’t work out for you, that you can bring it back.
But before you commit to buying a case of wine, I’d certainly recommend-especially a good little sale value-that you take a bottle home that night. If you like it, call the store and say “Hey, can you set aside a case for me?” That’s a great way to get good deals.
Bottom Line: Are there different categories of wine that tend to be better values? If I want a red but some might tend to be higher priced, what’s a category that might be lower priced but still a good one?
Dixon: I would certainly gravitate toward different wine regions such as Chile and Argentina. I would look at New Zealand…I would look at Australia and certain parts of Spain.
Bottom Line: No, but how about even like the type of grape? Is Merlot generally less expensive than Burgundy?
Dixon: I’ll tell you what’s generally not a great value. Specifically Pinot Noir is a very fickle grape to grow. It is very, very difficult…it likes to have ideal growing conditions…and therefore it’s very, very expensive, because there’s a lot of loss in their crops. So it’s very hard to find good quality Pinot Noir under $15 these days.
Chile does it particularly well, as does New Zealand. It’s a cooler climate, but they have a wonderful way of working with the fog. They have a unique micro climate in both of those areas that’s conducive for growing good Pinot Noir at good prices. But most other areas really struggle with growing Pinot Noir successfully.
So Pinot Noir, generally speaking, it’s more challenging to find a good value there.
Bottom Line: All right, I’m going to push you. What’s your favorite $10 bottle of wine?
Dixon: Ooh, it changes every day. I have wine ADD. I really do have wine ADD, because every day I go “This is my new favorite!” Because the one thing I love about the wine industry is that I never experience the same wine the same way twice.
But for me, my go-to values…in the summer I’m a big fan of Rosé, particularly from Provence. I think you can find some great wines for under $15 that are extraordinary and refreshing and crisp on a hot day and that go with a lot of different foods. And I tend to be a Loire Valley girl. I love the Loire Valley in France for good, light, crisp, Sauvignon Blanc in the summer.
And for red wines, I generally go to Spain. Particularly the south of Spain. In the southeast corner, there’s a region called Jumilla-spelled with a “J” which is silent-and Yecla that produce Monastrell…they produce Mourvèdre…they produce Tempranillo,… and just wonderful, wonderful wines that are delicious, round, have nice body and are really pleasing to a variety of palates.
Bottom Line: Thank you, Amy Dixon, the Blind Sommelier. The bottom line on finding an inexpensive bottle of wine? Look outside the United States. Look to South America, look to Spain, look to New Zealand, and even certain areas of the south of France. Keep your eyes out.
One thing I want to warn you-be careful if there’s a bottle of wine on sale. It might be a great value, but it might be that it’s been sitting around for awhile, so start with one bottle of wine… see if it’s good…and then quick run back for more after you’ve tasted it. This is Sarah Hiner with Bottom Line Publications.