Ten Under $10 Shelter-in-Place Wine Challenge

taber“American wine drinkers seem much less cost-conscious ” (than their British cousins) according to a recent column by Jancis Robinson on good wines for coronavirus lock down era.  There is truth in this, but it isn’t simply that Americans don’t care about cost. British supermarkets trained their customers to look for “3 for £10” bargains for wine and many other things. That’s something they now regret.

Many American wine drinkers learned the opposite lesson. Unsure why seemingly similar products are sold for wildly different prices, they act as if guided by the idea that higher price always means better quality. Many dismiss value wines as a category and stubbornly purchase more expensive bottles that they might not like as much.

This seems like a good time to challenge the myth that the only good wines are the expensive ones. Last month the Wine Economist opened the “Ten Under $10 Challenge.” Readers were invited to nominate widely-distributed wines retailing for less than $10 that they would recommend to others for shelter-in-place enjoyment.

The Challenge is inspired by New York Times wine columnist Eric Asimov’s column on “15 Wines under $15: Inexpensive Bottles for Stay-at-Home Drinking.”  Fifteen bucks is a good target, but given the dire economic news, many readers will want to step down a shelf on the wine wall. What can you do for $10?

Bargain Wine Resources

The search for really good $10 wine is not new and the undisputed expert on the topic is Jeff Siegel, who for many years has published the Wine Curmudgeon $10 Hall of Fame. Each year Jeff reviews the list, adding a few new wines and dropping a few off the list, often because of availability issues. You might want to consult the Hall of Fame the next time you go shopping for good wine at a good price.

George Taber’s 2011 book A Toast to Bargain Wine is an another good resource even if the passage of time necessarily leaves it a bit dated. I like that Taber includes two recommendation lists for each wine type: $10 and less ($15 for sparklers) and then “splurge” selections that are just a bit more. Taber drank a lot of mediocre wine so that you won’t have to. Take advantage of his sacrifice.

You can see the complete list of nominated wines by consulting the Comments list on the original column. You will find an amended list below. I added a few nominations that came in via email and social media and I deleted a couple of wines that, while clearly good value, seemed either to be limited distribution or the result of special discounts and therefore not what we were looking for here.

Who, What, Where?

There are several interesting things about the wines on the list. Many readers reported both what they paid for the wines and where they bought them. Does it surprise you to know that Trader Joe’s, Total Wine, and Costco were frequently cited? These are retailers that make an effort to provide moderate cost wines and so they attract shoppers looking for good value. Supply (of good value wine) creates its own demand, as Gresham would probably say.

Imports account for about a third of the wine sold in the U.S. market, but they make up a larger share of the reader list. Why? A complicated question, but one factor is that many of these value wines are made to be competitively priced in the domestic markets of the producers. And prices abroad, as travelers frequently observe, can be much lower than prices here in the U.S. As a result, many foreign producers have become experts at hitting the low price target.

Take the Casa Santos Lima Red Blend Portugal that I nominated last month. It sells for just $5.99 in my local Costco and has a very large and enthusiastic following. How can they do it? Well, the fact that Costco has a lower wine mark up than most other stores is one factor — Costco can afford to do this because their customers pay membership fees.

How Do They Do It?

But maybe a bigger factor is this. The supermarket wine space in Portugal is intensely competitive and very low prices — two or three euro per bottle! — are common.  Portuguese producers in these markets learn must keep costs down or they will quickly fail. Costs add up quickly when foreign producers navigate their way to U.S. retail shelves, so this very low initial cost base is important.

Can American wineries make good, inexpensive wine? Yes, of course. There are lots of examples both on the list and on your store shelves. I held my breath waiting for a Bogle nomination to come in, for example. They are one of the California producers that is known for a good quality-price proposition.

Same with the Chateau Ste Michelle Dry Riesling. I can sometimes buy this wine for less than $6 a bottle at the supermarket. A steal! I was at a Riesling Rendezvous blind tasting a few years ago that brought together Riesling producers from all over the map. When this wine and its price were revealed, the Ste Michelle winemaker received a standing ovation. The Chateau, as we call it hereabouts, is the world’s largest producer of Riesling wines.

The U.S. is in the value wine game, for sure, but there is no denying that the domestic market center of gravity has shifted up a shelf on the wine wall. So more attention is given to upscale wines. That said, don’t ignore the fact that the portfolio of winery assets that Gallo is in the process of purchasing from Constellation includes a number of value brands. Gallo has done very well indeed with Barefoot. It will be interesting to see what they do with these new brands once the M&A dust settles.

Finally, I was pleased to see some overlap between the reader nominations, Jeff Siegel’s Hall of Fame, and George Taber’s list.  It demonstrates both that consumers know what they are looking for in good value wine, but also that this is a vast space with thousands of choices. Something for everyone? Almost. Everyone has a friend of two or won’t consider drinking a lower cost wine. That leaves more for the rest of us!

Nominated Wine List

Ok, here’s the Ten under $10 reader list (apologies if I accidentally left off your nomination or had to edit it for the reasons cited above).

  • Angeline California Chardonnay
  • Barnard Griffin Rose of Sangiovese
  • Bellini Frascati
  • Bogle varietal wines
  • Caleo Salice Salentino
  • Cantine Colosi Biano Grillo Sicily Italy
  • Casa Santos Lima Red Blend Portugal
  • Chateau Ste Michelle Dry Riesling
  • Chopo Jumilla Monastrell
  • Clean Slate Mosel Riesling Germany
  • Danzante Red Blend (Tuscany)
  • Domaine du Mistral Plan de Dieu Rhone Rouge
  • Domaine St. George. (California)
  • Castilla Syrah 2018 Spain
  • Hedges CMS red blend, Columbia Valley
  • Jules Larose Blanc de Blancs Brut Sparkling Wine France
  • Kia Ora Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
  • Kirkland Signature Malbec
  • Kirkland Signature Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
  • La Nervera Blanco 3L BIB
  • Les Parcelles Marc Dupas Loire Sauvignon Blanc
  • Lindeman’s Bin series
  • Magic Box Red Blend Spain
  • Mascota Vineyards Rose
  • Martin’s Pick Up Australia Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Mas Fi Cava
  • Matua Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough
  • McManis Family Vineyards Petite Sirah
  • Monte Antico Toscana Rosso
  • Mont Gravet Carignon Vieilles Vigne France
  • Mont Gravet Cotes de Gascogne Rose France
  • Quinta do Gradil, Mula Velha Riserva (Portugal)
  • Oxford Landing, Australia.
  • Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz-Cabernet
  • Saladini Pilastri Pecorino from Offida DOC
  • San Gregorio Single Vineyard Las Martas Garnacha
  • Sauvignon Republic Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand
  • Trader Joe’s Pinot Grigio 3L BIB
  • Trader Joe’s reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley
  • Trapiche Broquel Malbec
  • Upper Left Cabernet, Columbia Valley
  • Vaga del Oragon gran reserva
  • Vina Falernia Pedro Ximenez Elqui Valley, Chile
  • Yalumba Y-series Viognier

The Envelope, Please …

So what wines are on the Ten under $10 list? Well, wine is very personal, so I think each of us will have our own list based on individual tastes and local distribution and pricing limitations. I invite you to name your own winners. In this spirit, here is The Wine Economist personal list to get the ball rolling.

  • Barnard Griffin Rose of Sangiovese
  • Casa Santos Lima Red Blend Portugal
  • Chateau Ste Michelle Dry Riesling
  • Clean Slate Mosel Riesling Germany
  • Kirkland Signature Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
  • Matua Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough
  • McManis Family Vineyards Petite Sirah (or the Viognier!)
  • Monte Antico Toscana Rosso
  • Yalumba Y-series Viognier
  • TBA

Wait, that’s only nine wines. I thought this was Ten under $10. Well, to be honest, I just can’t make up my mind. I guess I’ll just have to open a few more bottles — and the list gives me lots of options to explore and I think that’s the point. I hope you will experiment, too, and that you have found this exercise informative and that it will inspire you to enjoy the good values that the wine world offers us all.

One response

  1. if I were to focus on regions or countries, then Marlborough SBs, southern Italian reds, Portugal, Argentina, Spain, Languedoc and SW France plus some ZA. Agree on that Clean Slate Riesling, Terra Santa Ile de Beaute Rosé, Bodegas Olivares Jumilla, Domaine DW Sancet Cote de Gascogne, The Kitchen Door. Shiraz, Cusumano Nero d’Avola,

Leave a Reply