“how to find the best cheap products” — kiplinger

Cheap Red Wine Buying Guide

Cheap Red Blends Cheap Bordeaux
Cheap Cabernet Cheap Malbec
Cheap Merlot Cheap Pinot Noir
Cheap Rhône Wines Cheap Rioja
Cheap Syrah Cheap Zinfandel

In our continual search for the best cheap red wine, we've consulted wine experts, read online reviews, and sampled some wines in tastings. This year's final determination rested with Cheapism's resident wine expert, Tess Rose Lampert, a New York City-based wine and spirit judge and educator.

In her experience selling and purchasing for restaurants and stores, and working with Ultimate Beverage Challenge, she has encountered hundreds of wines at a vast range of price points. She settled on a dozen red wines under $10 that command respect.

The best overall are Underwood 2013 Pinot Noir from Oregon (starting at $8) and Chono Reserva 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile (starting at $9.50). Two other very good choices are the Cortija Rioja 2013 from Spain (starting at $9) and the Hedges CMS 2012 red blend from the Columbia Valley in Washington state (starting at $9.50).

What do you get for $10 or less? Cheap red wines range in color from deep, purplish red to bright ruby red; in style from full-bodied to light, rustic to elegant; and in taste from fruity to spicy, earthy to tart, dry to sweet. In a blind tasting, many wine drinkers would surely be able to identify the difference between a cheap wine and a top-tier bottle costing $50-plus. But it's often more difficult to tell the difference between a really good budget red and a mid-level wine selling for $10 to $25 or so -- especially for someone who doesn't know the cost of the wine, studies show. So why not go with the bottle that suits your budget?

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We'd be remiss if we didn't note differences between entry-level and upmarket red wine. Expensive wines are usually made with meticulously selected grapes from carefully tended vines grown on high-quality land. These grapes are often hand-picked, processed in small batches, and aged slowly -- often in expensive oak casks. High-end red wine demands 24/7 attention at critical times of the year, and the finished product is often smoother and more balanced than cheaper wines, layered with flavors, and imbued with a pleasant, lingering "finish." Wines produced under these conditions are typically available in relatively small quantities; you won't find them at big-box outlets.

By contrast, mass-market producers often buy surplus grapes from many vineyards, use centrifuges to skin them (a process that removes tannins and eliminates the need to age the wine naturally), and sometimes use oak chips (or liquid smoke) to impart a hint of oak flavor. The resulting wines are usually released just days after bottling. Inexpensive red wines are produced all over the world, usually with a blend of grape varieties. Federal regulations require that any particular variety of wine (say, pinot noir) must contain at least 75 percent of that grape, but the rest can be any type of grapes from any vineyard.

For this product category, we've taken an unusual approach and selected many budget options beyond our top picks. This market segment is awash with products that are not sold everywhere, and we wanted to increase the likelihood that consumers will find at least one recommended cheap red wine, either at a local wine shop or through a preferred wine vendor's website. Our expanded list of worthy buys appears below, broken down by varietal. Note that wine prices vary from seller to seller and state to state, so the starting prices are approximations and do not include taxes.

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Shoppers can order wine online from retailers such as Wine.com, WineAccess, and even Amazon. This is not a recommended strategy for frugal consumers -- shipping charges can double the price of your order. Alternatively, go to Wine-Searcher to find the nearest brick-and-mortar source offering the best price on the wine you're seeking. For organic wines, browse Organic Wine Find; for kosher wines, try Kosher Wine Rack.

Bear in mind that wine drinking is a very subjective experience. We're offering suggestions for the most popular types of wine and recommend using the list as a jumping-off point -- tasting and determining which ones appeal to you, noting the qualities that underlie that appeal, and making future selections accordingly.

Cheap Red Blends.

Wines that don't feature one particular variety have more flexibility to use the best of the current year's crop, which translates into extra savings for consumers. While differences may be noticeable from vintage to vintage, the house style should remain consistent.

From the Columbia Valley in Washington, for instance, comes the Hedges CMS Red 2012 (starting at $9.50). "CMS" denotes the blend of cabernet, merlot, and syrah that make up this full-bodied, easy drinking red wine. The texture is soft, with flavors of blackberries and pepper spice, making an excellent pairing with grilled meats and cheese plates. Another top value wine is La Vieille Ferme Côtes du Ventoux Rogue 2014 (starting at $7.50). A blend of carignan, grenache, cinsault, and syrah creates a very pretty wine with a light body, minerals, and delicate floral notes with flavors of strawberry and red raspberry.

Cheap Bordeaux.

Wines from Bordeaux, France, are iconic and highly sought after. Although some of the world's most expensive wine comes from this region, great expressions of this terroir can be enjoyed for less than $10 a bottle. The Château Haut Bel-Air 2011 Vieilles Vignes (starting at $8) is an exemplar of inexpensive Bordeaux. It delivers smooth flavors of plum, blackberries, and currants with hints of soft spice. Drink this on its own as an all-purpose red or serve it with anything meaty, from burgers to filet mignon.

Cheap Cabernet.

This popular grape grows in every wine-producing region and has been a boon to second-tier producers such as Bulgaria, Greece, and Hungary. It also flourishes in California's Napa Valley, Washington state, Chile, and Australia. Cabernet tends to evoke flavors of black currant, bell pepper, grass, and a bit of mint. If the grapes aren't harvested at just the right moment, the resulting wine may seem too jammy or vegetal.

Younger (cheaper) cabernets can be very tannic, but with time they can become smooth and earthy; they need about eight to 10 years to reach full flavor and optimum mellowness. Aging is an expensive proposition that adds significantly to the wine's price. For this reason, cheap cabernets are often blended with other grapes (usually syrah and merlot) to tamp down the tannins.

Cabernet sauvignon is a fairly bold and full-bodied wine that pairs well with red meat and strong cheeses. Chono Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from the Maipo Valley of Chile (starting at $9.50) is a delicious, powerful red wine that tastes of blackberries and earthy bell and spicy black peppers. A firm tannic structure makes this wine an ideal match for grilled meats and perfectly cooked steaks.

One cab that doesn't pass the taste test is Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon (starting at $2.49), known in the popular vernacular as "Two-Buck Chuck." In a taste test one sommelier compared the aroma of this Trader Joe's exclusive to paint thinner. He said the wine was so sweet that sugar crystals would appear in a glass left out overnight.

Cheap Malbec.

The malbec grape originated in France, in and around the area of Bordeaux. Its popularity surged after it arrived in Argentina, where the deep red color and intense flavor of malbec wine complements the country's famous beef. Malbec grapes also grow in Chile, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and the United States. This grape is often used in blends but can stand on its own, yielding a medium- to full-bodied wine that's somewhat spicy and tastes of blackberry, plum, pepper, and (yes) leather.

The Jelu Malbec 2011 from Mendoza, Argentina, is consistently delicious and consistently priced around $9. It is full and rich with flavors of plums, black fruits, and layered sweet spices to create a warming effect with each sip. Another cheap and delicious malbec is the Georges Vigouroux Cahors "Gouleyant" 2013 (starting at $8), which hails from southwest France, the home of malbec. Considerably more delicate than its New World counterparts, this French malbec is full-flavored, interwoven with red and black berries, savory spice, and a touch of leather in a bright medium body.

Cheap Merlot.

Merlot is among the best-known and most popular red wines. The merlot grape is grown all over the world, from California to France to New Zealand, as well as South Africa, Hungary, Argentina, and Canada. It can be vinified as a single variety or used in a blend. Either way, the merlot grape produces a medium-bodied wine that's relatively fruity and smooth, with hints of plum, tea, and berries. It pairs well with grilled meats and cheeses.

The Bogle 2013 Merlot from California (starting at $8) is a true expression of merlot -- soft, fruity, and easy to enjoy. It delivers a lot of fruit with background notes of black pepper and hints of smoky tobacco. Franzia Merlot (starting at $13 for 5 liters, the equivalent of $1.95 for a bottle) is a box wine that wins points from some bloggers for staying fresh longer than bottled wines but is widely scorned by enthusiasts. The rap against this wine includes a thin, artificial taste and off bouquet. A food writer makes a case for Franzia Cabernet in a piece for The Atlantic but dismisses the merlot. It's also dinged by a few consumers in reviews on Amazon.

Cheap Pinot Noir.

The pinot noir grape grows in cooler regions worldwide and is among the most popular varieties. The best examples of pinot noir are complex and silky, with subtle cherry flavors, floral notes, and a bit of earth. Pinot noir is a difficult grape to grow and vinify, and it has a reputation for putting a high price on quality.

That being said, there are a few examples under $10 that deliver the fruit characteristics of pinot noir in a simple and delicious form. Underwood Pinot Noir from Oregon (starting at $8) is among the best reds for wine drinkers with tight budgets. The flavor evokes juicy red fruits such as plums, cherries, and berries and comes with a tiny spicy kick at the end.

Cheap Rhône Wines.

Red wines from the Rhône region of France are made with a blend of grapes. Any number of 20 varieties, including syrah, grenache, mourvedre, and even viognier (normally a white wine grape), can be mixed and matched. The blends are often sold as Côtes du Rhône and vary in style and quality, largely reflecting choices made by the producer. Some cheap Rhône blends are relatively full-bodied, with undertones of chocolate and ripe black fruit; others are light and spicy with moderate complexity. The VRAC 2014 Côtes du Rhône (starting at $9.50) is an awesome value, offering a medium juicy body with plenty of fresh red berries and spices. Sip this one on its own or enjoy with cured meats.

Cheap Rioja.

The tempranillo grape is the core of rioja wines. Having made its mark in Spain, it now also grows in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and the United States. Rioja is a medium-bodied, spicy wine with flavors of berry, plum, tobacco, and herbs. Vanilla undertones are common in the older wines, which are typically aged in American oak. Rioja is not high in alcohol, and despite a distinct flavor, it's not overwhelming. It goes particularly well with hearty food such as meat, pork, and rich cheeses. One of our top picks for cheap red wine is a rioja from Spain. Cortijo Rioja 2013 (starting at $9) is a silky-smooth wine with flavors of raspberry and hearty herbs, and spice aromas through and through.

Cheap Syrah.

The syrah grape first emerged in France's Rhône valley but is now the most widely planted wine grape in Australia, where it's known as shiraz. Syrah grapes yield wines that range from dense, elegant, and spicy to smooth and silky to sweet and plush. Syrah typically yields flavors of licorice and mocha, and the wine can be fruity or dry. In terms of taste, expect syrah to be well-balanced, smooth, complex, and earthy. The 2013 Old School Rouge from Château Maris (starting at $9.50) is a blend of mostly syrah with some grenache, which is a typical blend in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. It is a joyful, medium-bodied wine with peppery spice and bright red-raspberry flavors.

Cheap Zinfandel.

There's a lot of sugar in the zinfandel grape, which translates to a relatively high alcohol content. Zinfandel is currently a hot red wine in the U.S., where its intense fruit/berry flavor, chocolate notes, and earthy aroma have wide appeal. The style can range from simple and light to dense, complex, and smooth. Zinfandel is an everyday wine, usually said to pair well with barbecue, because the tannins can stand up to the fat in charred beef.

Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel (starting at $7) perennially impresses wine critics, competition judges, and consumers. The bold flavors are dark with smoky plum, silky chocolate, and black fruit. The 2011, 2012, and 2013 vintages have been named Wine Enthusiast best buys and accumulated numerous accolades.

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