Anyone with a passing interest in wine is always in search of bottles that offer value for money. Good, cheap wines are in perpetual demand, but winemakers around the world are dealing with increasing production costs, including fuel, electricity, glass bottles, labels, cardboard, shipping containers and freight rates. While wine merchants are leery of losing market share by increasing their retail price, your favourite wine might follow the rising costs of eggs, fruits, vegetables, cereal and other grocery items.
Adding to the supply pressure, France, Italy and Spain, have endured three consecutive short crops. Those countries account for 45 per cent of the world’s wine production, which means some wines may be scarce in coming months. Winemakers in other parts of the world enjoyed better than average yields. In fact, most areas in the Southern Hemisphere brought in a bumper crop in 2021.
Considering the competitive market for wine, the situation is largely a problem for the trade, not consumers. Bottles selling for less than $14 represent 75 per cent of wine purchases in Canada. Established wineries are used to unpredictable vintages and other challenges. They won’t push price increases unless completely necessary because the market and assortment is so vast. But if production and shipping costs continue to escalate, some will need to pass them onto consumers.
What makes an affordable wine good?
Taste in wine is no different than taste in music. It’s subjective: Do you like the wine or not? Would you want to have a second glass? The goal for recommending wines in this column may be to single out interesting wines with a sense of place or a wow factor. But the first consideration is whether the wine has the intensity of flavour, balance and complexity to make it enjoyable.
The growing season helps to develop intensity of flavour, colour, and other compounds in grape berries that impact the taste and character of the finished wine. Many inexpensive brands come from warm climate regions that allow growers to ripen more grapes from each vine without losing the desired depth of flavour.
Balance in the finished wine can be described as harmony, precision or finesse. No single element stands out. The wine’s structure components, notably acidity and tannins, are countered by the fruit, sweetness and alcohol to present a complete package.
Complexity is key to a good wine and comes when a wine reveals a combination of flavors and aromas in the glass. There are layers of notes instead of one or two dominant ones. The first impression changes as the wine expands across your tongue and after you swallow. It’s the most elusive element for inexpensive wine, which are often simpler in style than complex.
Where to start the search for good, cheap wine
In spite of the reduced volume of wine produced in recent years, France, Spain and Italy continue to offer a well-made selection of affordable wines from less famous grapes varieties and regions. Red wine lovers can find great value garnacha (aka grenache) from Spain and the south of France. Central and southern Italy offer a steady supply of interesting and enjoyable wines made from indigenous grape varieties, such as montepulciano, nero d’avola and primitivo, as well as international varieties, like chardonnay, merlot and syrah.
Smart shoppers have long celebrated Chile and South Africa for value priced selections. These areas develop well-packaged and well-priced wines made with popular grape varieties that deliver the expected aromas and flavours of the grape named on the label. I would also add Portugal to the list, particularly for lovers of inky and bold red wines that offer a lot of personality for their price.
Five Value Selections to Buy Now
Adesso Merlot D’Italia 2021 (Italy), $9
A modern style merlot made in Veneto, Italy, the aromas and flavours suggest berries and plums with some spice and floral accents. There’s some sweetness on the palate that makes this a soft and approachable red wine that is enjoyable on its own or enjoyed with a meal. The medium bodied and fruity style works as a nice base for sangria as well. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in British Columbia and Alberta.
Fantini Casale Vecchio Lot 23 Montepulciano D’Abruzzo Organic 2019 (Italy), $9.95
Based in Ortona, Abruzzo, Fantini produces a strong portfolio of red and white wines from its expansive 4,000-hectare estate. This fruity and medium-bodied, organic red wine is produced under its Casale Vecchio label. Made in a ripe and rewarding style with blackberry and plummy fruit flavours with floral, licorice and spice notes, this value priced red is nicely structured, with good length and complexity. Drink now to 2026. Available in Ontario.
Flat Roof Manor Pinot Grigio 2021 (South Africa), $12
This riper expression of pinot grigio offers appealing fruit, with a mix of lemon, peach and melon flavours, with some floral and honey notes. The style is fresh and balanced, making this quaffable white a solid value. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in British Columbia and Alberta, $12.99 in Manitoba, $14.99 in New Brunswick, $14.79 in Nova Scotia, $15.84 in Newfoundland.
Marques de Riscal Rueda 2020 (Spain), $13.50
Rueda specializes on making white wines, with a focus on its indigenous grape variety, verdejo. Marques de Riscal has been producing this fresh and bright white since the 1970s and helped to introduce wine lovers around the world to the ripe and refreshing nature of wines from this Spanish region. Look for a mix of tropical fruit and herbal notes, notably fennel and grassy notes, that are sure to appeal to fans of sauvignon blanc and other aromatic white wines. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.
Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2021 (Australia), $14.95
The viognier grape often produces a potent and pungent style of white wine known for its floral fragrance and rich, full-bodied character. Yalumba’s entry level expression is a less intense but equally enjoyable introduction to the honeysuckle perfume and peachy flavours of well-made viognier. A white with weight and persistence, this has nicely concentrated flavours and a rich texture with an excellent balance of fruitiness and acidity. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price, $16.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $18.49 in Saskatchewan, $15.50 in Quebec, $18.78 in Nova Scotia.
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