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Best Cheap Red Wines
Cheap Red Wines Buying Guide
Who needs a bottle of premium red wine when you can enjoy a thoroughly respectable bottle of cheap red wine without spending more than $10? A wine snob, perhaps, but not frugal quaffers who know even a little bit about wine and aren't afraid to go with what they like. But with so many styles, grapes, producers, and labels to choose from, you need to know where to start.
There are hundreds of cheap red wines out there, many worth drinking and many others that are barely worth the few dollars you lay out for them.
We selected wines recommended by wine experts and sampled some in tastings we organized. From among this group we then chose a select few as our top picks. Our first choices are Esser Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (starting at $9, Wine-Searcher.com), a well-reviewed and well-rated wine given its low price tag, and Callia Alta Malbec 2011 (starting at $8, Wine-Searcher.com), which is full and sprightly with some peppery notes. Falling in right behind are two Pinot noirs: Costco's own Kirkland Signature Carneros Pinot Noir 2011 (starting at $10) and Vini Veni Vidi Vici Pinot Noir 2011 (starting at $8, Amazon), both of which boast good body for this price range. We also identified two cheap red wines that may not be value buys despite their incredibly attractive pricing: Franzia Merlot (starting at $13/5 liters) equivalent of $2.40/750 ml bottle) and Charles Shaw Cabernet (starting at $2.49).
So what do you get for $10 or less? In a blind tasting, many wine drinkers would be able identify the difference between a cheap red wine and an ultra-premium bottle costing $25-plus. But it's often more difficult to tell the difference between a really good budget red and a mid-level wine that sells for $10 to $20 or so. Indeed, experiments have shown that people's perceptions of a wine are influenced by the price: The higher the price, the more enjoyable they report the wine to be.
That said, we'd be remiss if we didn't note differences in taste between entry-level and upmarket red wines. 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 more balanced and smoother tasting than cheaper wines, layered with flavors, and imbued with a pleasant, lingering "finish." Wines produced under these conditions are usually available in relatively small quantities; you won't find them at big-box outlets.
By contrast, mass-market producers typically 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. In addition, explains a sommelier we interviewed, any particular variety of wine, say Pinot noir, need only contain about 80% of that grape -- the rest can be any type of surplus grapes from any vineyard. Inexpensive red wines are produced all over the world, mostly with a blend of grape varieties, and only rarely one grape varietal. These cheap 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.
Best Cheap Red Wines
Esser Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
A California entry, this cab is very deep and fruity with flavors of plum and berry. Deep enough to hold up to meats, it has a medium finish and a lot of drinkability.
Good Cheap Red Wines
Kirkland Signature Carneros Pinot Noir 2011
Costco's entry has good structure and balance, a medium body and a nice finish. A hint of spice means it would stand up to grilled food.
With a starting price that's the equivalent of $2 for a 750 ml bottle, this wine is a popular choice for parties. Be prepared for a taste that's sweet and one-dimensional, and, say some consumers, thin and artificial.
Charles Shaw Cabernet Review
Kirkland Signature Carneros Pinot Noir 2011 Review
Vini Veni Vidi Vici Pinot Noir 2011 Review
Esser Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Review
Callia Alta Malbec 2011 Review
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