Cheap Wine, Expensive Wine, and Good Wine


Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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79 Responses

  1. Avatar BSK says:

    “So if everything is all about personal preferences, why should anyone ever spend more than ten bucks on a bottle of wine?”

    This seems a bit too narrow.  What if someone’s favorite wine is $20 a bottle?  I have no doubt there are a multitude of great options for less than $10/bottle, but if what you like is more and you can afford to buy it, why not go for it?Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to BSK says:

      I was kind of trying to get at that, but before one can even get to the point of deciding that their favorite wine is around $20, one needs to first go out and buy a $20 bottle of wine.  Then of course is the issue that the $20 bottle of wine that you love one year could well be gawdawful the following year.Report

      • Avatar BSK in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Good point.

        I would presume that part of this is the result of people dining out.  Many restaurants don’t have a “cheap” wine on the wine list.  Besides the usual markup you see, a lot of places simply don’t stock cheap stuff, unless they are using giant bottles for house wine.  So I could imagine someone falling in love with a more expensive bottle that they had out to dinner because their only options were expensive bottles and even-more-expensive bottles.  That doesn’t stop them from approaching a wine seller and saying, “I loved this bottle.  What do you have similar for under $10?”

        I don’t drink a ton of wine, but when I do, I usually just look for a style that I enjoy.  It doesn’t have to be a given grape or vintage or winery, just something I’ll enjoy, so i can usually do that relatively cheaply.  I do sometimes get very expensive bottles as gifts, which is often more about the gift giver showing off than the gift recipient enjoying the added cost of the gift.  Some of those have been truly great bottles, but not worth the price difference if I’m doing the purchasing.Report

        • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to BSK says:

          True enough – and I think a good general approach to buying wine.   That said, I suspect that the response from the pro-cheap-wine folks would be to suggest that you’re probably overvaluing the amount you enjoyed the glass of wine at the restaurant because of the fact that you paid more for it.

          The crazy thing is that a oenophile wouldn’t even necessarily disagree with this argument.  Instead, they’d probably point out that the best way to decide what wines you really like the most is to do blind tastings with a nice mix of price points included in the tastings.

          The cheap wine advocates of course love to mock the fact that the cheap wines often do quite well in these blind tastings, but – and this was kind of my point with this piece – to a oenophile, there’s nothing at all wrong with a cheap wine coming out on top.  It’s just that there’s also nothing at all wrong with an expensive wine coming out on top, either.

          A year or two ago, I hosted a blind tasting, with prizes going to whomever brought the wine that scored the highest.  We had a total of 10 bottles (5 red and 5 white, with all five in each category of the same style or varietal, don’t remember which).  In each category, we wound up with one bottle under $10, one bottle around $30, and the rest in the $20-$25 range.  In both categories, the cheap one and the expensive one finished in a virtual dead heat, with the cheap one winning by a hair; if I recall correctly, in each case, the most expensive wine wound up first in the relevant category on the majority of the ballots, while the cheap wine wound up second on the majority of ballots.  The cheap wine won in each case because it never did worse than second on any ballot, while the expensive wine had one person who rated it extremely lowly.  The person providing the extremely low rating to the expensive wine was the person who drank wine the least frequently.

          The victorious cheap wines were not overly complex, but they were really enjoyable.  The second-place expensive wines were beautifully structured and quite complex and subtle.   The other wines that failed to score highly but were still not very cheap were bad because they tried to be a fine, complex wine, but created a structural disaster in the process.Report

          • Avatar BSK in reply to Mark Thompson says:

            I suppose it is possible that I am swayed by the price, but I am usually frustrated at the prices as opposed to impressed.  So perhaps this mitigates it.  I have also had amazing bottles of wine that I thought was expensive (not just because of quality but because the bottle was ‘dressed up’ in such a way that made it appear more expensive) only to google it and found out it was a $15 bottle.

            What I find most curious about this issue is when oenophiles and wine reviewers write up reviews that are simply impossible to offer.  They’ll describe 20-30 different flavor notes in a single tasting, though I’ve seen research that indicates this is simply impossible for the human palette.  It is the illusion of faux authority and expertise that is most annoying to me.

            In the end, people should drink what they like.  It does not surprise me to learn that cheap wines can rate just as well as expensive wines.  I doubt this phemenon is unique to wines, though the vaguaries of the wine making process and even-greater-vaguaries of the wine pricing process probably exacerbate the situation.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Mark Thompson says:

            What the cheap-wine advocates are mocking is the idea of confirmation bias. I kind of wish they’d just come out and say so, instead of going on this weird class-war thing where they claim that there’s no difference at all between commodity wine and boutique wine.Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    The best selling wine in America is, I think, Berenger white zinfandel from California. If you ask me, this is alcoholic Kool-Aid, but people drink lots of it. You can get this for $6 a bottle without much effort. I have plenty of friends who seem to want their wines as sweet as they can get them. If all you actually care about is sweetness (regardless of what you claim to care about), then there is no reason to ever pay more than $7 a bottle pretty much anywhere you go, including hyper-expensive metro areas like NYC, DC, and SF.

    But if the question is, why pay more than $10 a bottle, I think that the answer is, to educate yourself. The quality goes up when sweetness is set aside in favor of tannins, and the maker stops having to appeal to such a broad audience. Smaller labels, often ones whose only marketing is their tasting rooms, offer a lot of different options. To get there, though, you need to tolerate the price point rises to around $25 a bottle, you start finding some really interesting stuff, the spectrum of the different varieties and styles opens up enough to educate you, and it ought not to take too long before you start finding labels and makers that you like.

    Once you’ve educated yourself you can start searching the lower tier of prices for something similar to what you’ve enjoyed during your time in the middle tiers — and you can feel at least reasonably comfortable when you are out at a nice place and are confronted with both restaraunt markups (2-3 times what you’d pay retail) and specimens from the higher tiers of pricing.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Sweet white wines usually make me feel blugdy and gross (some sweet reds are okay).  I like dry white wines, myself, usually.

      This particularly cuts off “I’ll have a glass of that white”, as many people in particular like the buttery chardonnays or the really sweet whites, whereas I want a Viognier or a cripsy Riesling.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        Patrick, I’ll consider doing a piece on wine, but I’ll have to confess up front I just don’t do whites anymore with the possible (and rare) exception of some special dessert wines. Now maybe if we tag-teamed and you handled the whites?Report

    • But if the question is, why pay more than $10 a bottle, I think that the answer is, to educate yourself.

      This is the simple way to put what I was trying to say.


      • Avatar BSK in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I’m a Malbec fan myself.  I like reds that are bold and spicy.


        Something else I hate is the “You have to drink this with that” wine nazi guy.  If you like the wine and you like the food and you like the two together (not necessarily guaranteed simply because of the first two premises), go for it.  You can sit on you “rules”.Report

        • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to BSK says:

          The pairing “rules” are really better viewed as guidelines for beginners, or perhaps as a default starting point. My favorite book on pairing does a good job of emphasizing the benefits of experimentation even as it gives plenty of recommendations for what the authors think will work well with what.  It’s more interesting and, in the long run, useful, to learn why you think a given pairing works or doesn’t work.

          On the rare occasions where I’ve had the opportunity to ask a sommelier for a recommendation on what to pair with dinner at a restaurant, I’ve noticed that the first sentence out of his mouth was something along the lines of “what types of wines do you usually like?”Report

          • Avatar BSK in reply to Mark Thompson says:

            Interesting.  At a recent wedding, I was up from the table when the wine pourers came around.  The only dinner options were chicken and fish (cod) so my friend insisted that everyone at the table have white wine because you HAVE to drink white wine with chicken and cod.  When I came back, I asked where the red wine that I had wanted was and he kept insisting it was simply wrong to drink red.  I insisted that I didn’t like 90% of white wines and no amount of chicken and fish was going to change that.  More importantly, I had fully intended to finish the first glass well before dinner arrived, since they had a cash bar but the table wine was free.Report

            • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to BSK says:

              Ugh.  That rule is the worst.  In general, sure, white wines are going to work pretty well with white meat and fish and perhaps less well with heavier meats with the opposite being true for reds……but “in general” is not remotely a “never, ever.”  Heck, is there any more classic pairing than coq au vin and pinot noir?  If you hate the wine on its own, then it doesn’t much matter what you pair it with, you’re still going to hate it.  If you like the wine on its own, then there’s at least a chance that it’s going to pair well for you, and oftimes a very good chance.  For most people, the number of pairings that will actually ruin a good meal are few and far between.  There are plenty of pairings that might make a wine you like disappear, though, but there’s probably no pairing that will turn a wine you hate into a wine you like.

              My response in your situation might have been to point out that if you weren’t ever supposed to drink red wine with chicken or fish, then you wouldn’t even have had the option to drink red.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mark Thompson says:

            When I played pretend sommelier at the restaurant (MJ Valliejo!) the point was to make the customer feel like s/he was at a much more expensive restaurant than they actually were.

            “Here is a bottle of wine that is 17 months old… would you like to sniff the cork?”Report

          • Avatar Aaron W in reply to Mark Thompson says:

            I couldn’t agree more on the silliness of wine pairing rules. It just feels so incredibly subjective to me, even more than normal wine tasting. I went to a winery in Healdsberg where they did a wine – food pairing for their tasting room. All the wines tasted much better before they gave me any of the food. I’ve found the same to be true of any other wine food pairing I’ve done at a winery. Skip the food, let me taste the wine! Not that there isn’t necessarily good wine pairings, (port + chocolate comes to mind) but I must have way different tastes than most.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Burt Likko says:

      your quality does not equal my quality. If you’re able to say “it’s more difficult to make a good tannin-style wine” well, that’s fine and dandy. I still won’t think it’s higher quality, because I evaluate it differently (not that I drink white wine often, but my tastes run sweet–dessert wines or a good tannic port)


      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Kimmi says:

        Of course what you like will be different than what I like, and it seems that your tastes are quite different from mine. That is one of the reasons why the experiential education is a task which cannot be delegated to another. No one can taste the wine for you. Especially if you are in the world of dessert wines and ports, which can become quite expensive quite quickly, acquiring an education about where you money will be best spent to maximize your pleasure is an important part of moving from “Someone who drinks wine every once in a while” to “Someone who knows a thing or two about wine.”Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Burt Likko says:

          “No one can taste the wine for you.”

          This is more or less true, but this is what separates the good critic (of anything) from the bad critic.

          The good critic evaluates the thing as it stands.  “It tastes like *this*, and *that* and *the other*”, perhaps quantifying it with a “If you like this and that, I would suggest that this wine goes well with either of those things, if you like those things and you like my description of this wine”.  The opinion part of the review is distinct from the evaluation of the thing’s characteristics, if you get the distinction.

          A bad critic thinks to himself: “I don’t like spicy foods, ergo everything with a spice level above “mild” sucks, and I will begin, middle, and end my review of anything with a spicy level above mild as, “this is ass”.Report

          • Avatar NoPublic in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

            I’ve been in training for the BJCP and this is one of the hardest things to deal with.  I now find myself asking “Is this a good example of the style” as often or more so than “Do I like this beer”.  In fact, it’s rather put me off the whole process a little since I like drinking more than I like critiquing.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to NoPublic says:

              This is generally how I try to review stuff and it was the first thing I noticed about Jaybird’s reviews on MD.  He’s upfront honest about the conditions under which he’s writing his reviews (and often writes reviews which use multiple lenses), which makes them much more useful than reviews that are written without such a context.Report

          • I think this is useful.  I’d just add that I think a good critic starts by asking him/herself “what is the _______’s goal with this (movie, song, album, wine, beer, etc.)?” and then makes an evaluation based on how well that goal is achieved.  The great critic is the critic that most comprehensively understands what the (movie, song, album, wine, beer, etc.) is trying to achieve.

            So… reference Erik’s beer snobbery (I kid because I love), the proper way to evaluate, say, Miller Lite, with its old “Great Taste! Less Filling!” campaign, current emphasis on its “Triple Hops Brewed” BS, and longstanding market positioning as a cheap buzz on a 100 point scale would be:

            1.  To what extent is it, in fact, “Less Filling” (30 points max)?

            2.  To what extent does it, in fact, have “Great Taste” (40 points max, based on use of two campaigns emphasizing taste, one of which claims that it has a really hoppy taste)?

            3.  To what extent does it, in fact, offer a cheap buzz? (30 points max).

            Answers: It goes down like water, so it gets the 30 out of 30 on question 1.  It tastes like relatively clean water, which is definitionally superior to tasting like fetid water and obviously inoffensive to any palate, but which has virtually no hoppiness, so it gets perhaps 20-25 out of 40 points on question 2.  It’s just about the cheapest beer on the market, but also has a low alcohol content, so it gets a respectable 25 out of 30 points on question three.

            Total score: an entirely respectable 75-80.  And if it weren’t for the stupid “Triple Hops” campaign, it would score even higher, at least in the mid-80s.*

            *I suspect Yuengling would get graded on similar metrics, and would score somewhat higher overall, but not excessively so since it costs slightly more.  Bud Light would do noticeably less well.  Craft brews and the like would get graded on completely different metrics, with some scoring higher than Miller Lite and others scoring lower.


            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Mark Thompson says:

              I’ve often said that Yuengling is right on the intersection of “good” and “cheap”–it has enough flavor that it tastes like something other than watery hops, but it isn’t so heavy or flavorful (or pricey) that you feel bad about swilling it.Report

              • This sounds about right to me, though in these parts at least, the pricing difference between it and Miller Lite or Bud, etc. is pretty small, maybe fifty cents on a six pack (if that).  At most bars I can think of around here, it’s the same price per glass as the macrobrews.Report

            • Avatar BSK in reply to Mark Thompson says:

              Miller Light better than Bud?  HA!

              I do love the approach though.  How well did the creator do at achieving his goal?  Bud Light does exactly what it sets out to do: make a beer that most anyone can drink.  There are few people I know who don’t like Bud Light, at least when compared to the other giant Macros (namely Coors and Miller).  They might prefer one of the others, but I don’t know anyone who won’t drink it.  In that respect, they have made the perfect beer.  Or they have made THEIR perfect beer.  The fact is they just set their sights in a different direction than many microbrews.  We can critique their goal, but it would probably fall on deaf ears; last I checked, they were doing quite well.

              Along those same lines, as NoPublic touches on, I hate when microbrews take a “bigger, faster, stronger” approach.  I like a hoppy IPA, especially in the winter.  I’ve had a few IPA’s, generally made by new startups, that are so aggressively hoppy as to be bad.  It’s like hot sauces that have the sole goal of burning the shit out of your mouth, instead of actually adding flavor.  Hoppy is good.  As-hoppy-as-humanly-possibly-for-no-other-reason-than-to-be-the-hoppiest is silly.  Stop.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to BSK says:

                I can’t stand Bud Light in any context.

                Coors Light has a place in the beer universe, as does normal Budweiser.  But Bud Light is just awful.Report

              • I was actually shocked when I found out Hurricane High Gravity (a malt liquor) was an Anheuyser-Busch product — because I liked it, while I hated anything else they did.

                Much as people diss malt liquor, at least it has a flavor.Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                I’m a Bud Heavy guy myself.  I think Bud Light is more common among my peer group (20-somethings) because A) less flavor, which some people prefer, B) often cheaper, and C) advertising, which is probably the biggest factor.  Bud Light brands itself much more as a “party beer” for young people; Bud Heavy is what my dad drinks.  If I’m a college kid throwing a kegger, I know which one I’m grabbing for.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to BSK says:

                Am I the only purist bothered by the fact that Bud is made with RICE instead of Barley?Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to wardsmith says:

                Most assuredly no.Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to wardsmith says:

                But it is the CHOICEST rice!Report

              • Avatar Sam M in reply to wardsmith says:

                Bud products give me a headache. I blame the rice. Others blame overconsumption.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to wardsmith says:

                Folks tell me all the time I can buy them a beer as long as it’s not a Bud.  They must be really really serious about this.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to wardsmith says:

                An ice cold Budweiser longneck is a good polish off for mowing the lawn in 103 degree heat.

                It’s not proper beer, but it’s drinkable in certain scenarios.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to wardsmith says:

                Pat, most complain it’s a headache beer, or more often, unfriendly to their G-I tract.Report

              • Avatar NoPublic in reply to BSK says:

                Along those same lines, as NoPublic touches on, I hate when microbrews take a “bigger, faster, stronger” approach.  I like a hoppy IPA, especially in the winter.  I’ve had a few IPA’s, generally made by new startups, that are so aggressively hoppy as to be bad.  It’s like hot sauces that have the sole goal of burning the shit out of your mouth, instead of actually adding flavor.  Hoppy is good.  As-hoppy-as-humanly-possibly-for-no-other-reason-than-to-be-the-hoppiest is silly.  Stop.

                A-freaking-men.  I love a hop-bomb once in a while but there are good ways to do it and bad ways.  I remember the first time I had a APA that wasn’t stupidly hopped.  I thought “Wow, they can actually brew this style as a more balanced beer.  Why don’t they do this more often?”.  As with all things, the answer is the market.  Hoppy has become manly and the west coast APA style is dominant (much like the ascension of west coast chardonnay that tastes like sucking on a toothpick IMHO).  I’m looking forward to the ascension of sours but I’m not looking forward to the inevitable warheads-like beers that will follow.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

              I think the way to judge Miller Lite is by comparison to its market competitors.  To me, Miller Lite is vastly superior to Bud Lite, somewhat better than Coors Lite, and better than any other lesser Lite I am aware of (Keystone, Natty, etc.).  It’s not a good beer, but i don’t see the point in comparing it to Fat Tire.  They don’t occoupy the same market space at all: less so even, I would argue, than a $7 and a $27 Cab do.

              The thing to say about Miller Lite, at least as far as my palette goes, is that it is the best of the macro Lites, or very near the top.  It’s better, to my taste, than many macro standards (Budweiser sticks out, though once at a baseball game a friend went to get beers and though I asked for a High Life, he brought back Miller Lite, though I didn’t realize this til later.  I enjoyed the Lite, thinking it was High Life, a legitimately good beer within the macrobrew context, actually more than I had the High Life I’d had just before it).  If I am at a ballpark and all that is available are a bunch of really bad beers and Miller Lite, I do not consider myself to be stuck on a beerless desert island – far from it.Report

  3. Avatar Ryan says:

    Given Erik’s proclivities for craft beer, I’m not sure that he gets a pass on “dismissing wine snobbery.”Report

  4. The issue, actually, is that we aren’t the rational serious types that we think we are.  There is a nifty study about this, ( which shows that our (mis)perceptions actually influence how we feel about stuff. If you don’t feel like reading the article, the summary is that if you think the wine is more expensive (and it isn’t obviously skunked), you *actually* derive more pleasure from it (i.e., you’re not faking it).

    Edited by Leslie G. Ungerleider, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, and approved December 3, 2007 (received for review July 24, 2007)


  5. Avatar b-psycho says:

    Eh, I never really understood wine at all tbh.  I mean, if someone else is buying I’ll drink it, but beyond basic red/white and how dry it is what else is there really?Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to b-psycho says:

      It’s like those video games, it’s just a bunch of beeps and boops and who got the high score.

      Or like books, all those words and chapters and stuff, does it really matter beyond whether the guy has a ray gun or a magic sword or a pistol?Report

      • Avatar b-psycho in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Of course if people simply refuse understand something they’re not going to see much more.  I’ve tried to “get” wine, I’ve had wine with other people, I’ve even done tastings, it’s just that my conclusion to date is either there’s less to it than wine fans say there is or all the complexity they talk about is waaaaay outside of my price range (thus irrelevant to me).Report

      • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to DensityDuck says:

        As the greatest philosophers of our time put it, “Fishing magnets, how do they work?”Report

  6. Avatar wardsmith says:

    Every Friday we have “Wino” night. My wine cellar is currently about 500 bottles but has been as high as about 1200. My wines have run the gamut from super expensive (for me, although there’s always some fool who will pay more, the bigger fool theory) to ridiculously cheap yet fantastic.

    Over the years I’ve figured out that it is vastly superior to age wine in your own (controlled) cellar than trust to the provenance of “stores” who may have had cases of that wonderful stuff sitting in a non-climate controlled distribution center in the hot sun all summer.

    The other problem is that wine is alive in the bottle, until it’s dead. My mistake of keeping wine for too long was I kept it for too long. 1980 was a very good year, but I have an ’80 that I’m afraid to open now. 1996 was also a great year, and I still have about 40 bottles from various vintners including my favorite, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. (I’m still pissed at Parker for praising it and raising the price on my baby.) When I open a bottle, there is always that hesitancy worrying about whether I’ve kept it too long. That’s why my cellar is so much smaller than before, I’ve kind of done the math and figured out that at the rate I kept buying and the rate I kept drinking, I was going to end up with a lot more ‘dogs’ if I wasn’t careful. The problem of course is I have to keep buying them, have to keep exploring. I also go through phases where I try out new varietals and then look for blends of those varieties. I’ve even committed the sacrilege of mixing wines in the glass to see what happens. This works especially well with young wines that have a lot of spirit but no complexity and old wines that have complexity but have lost their spirit.

    My strategy is always the same. When I’m at my favorite wine merchant, I buy two bottles. If the wine is good I have the second bottle and can remember to get more when I return (unfortunately when it is REALLY good, when I return it is often all gone, hence the reason I buy two). If the wine isn’t good, well I only bought two so I don’t feel that bad.

    As for price, I like to buy by the case (usually at least 10-20% off) once I found something I like and I like to age it myself. I’ve visited hundreds of different wineries over the years (ok, maybe only a hundred or so – a lot are repeat visits). I’ll usually buy some bottles there to be polite, but if I want cases, I’ll always get a better deal at a wine store (because vintners don’t want to antagonize their retailers by offering lower prices).

    Unlike craft beer, which I also love, wine is definitely more of a crapshoot. It truly does vary year by year when every other variable is constant. Same winery, same winemaker, same grape varieties – doesn’t matter.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to wardsmith says:

      Write a guest post for M.D. on vino, sir.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to wardsmith says:

      My strategy is always the same. When I’m at my favorite wine merchant, I buy two bottles. If the wine is good I have the second bottle and can remember to get more when I return (unfortunately when it is REALLY good, when I return it is often all gone, hence the reason I buy two). If the wine isn’t good, well I only bought two so I don’t feel that bad.

      Kitty and I like to do the winery drive every once in a while.  Do a tasting, pick two bottles and take the vinter’s advice on how long to keep ’em, and keep a stable of a dozen bottles of decent wine, but nothing longer term.

      Now that we have a California basement, we can actually consider stocking up some.  A nice raft of reviews would be great from a real wine fan.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I love me the wines that are dark and fruity and spicy (defined as drinking them after eating painful food does not help but pokes at the tongue in new and interesting ways). The problem that I’ve found is that the wines that are around six bucks (think the Penguin or the Kangaroo) play one note and play it loudly.

    I’m not saying that I’m particularly subtle in my tastes or anything but I prefer the power chord of, say, Black Opal.

    (It should also be pointed out that Sideways screwed over merlots. Merlots deserve better.)Report

    • Avatar Jonathan in reply to Jaybird says:

      I was working in the wine industry when Sideways came out. The sudden love of Pinot Noir and disdain for Merlot would have been funny, had it not been so annoying.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Jonathan says:

        I can honestly say that I disliked Merlot long before Sideways, though that movie probably deepened my prejudice against Merlot.  I’ve been starting to drink it again over the last year or so, and indeed to enjoy it.  But until then, my main memory of Merlot was that it was the first “real” wine I ever drank junior year of college (before that, I pretty much had only ever drank that super-cheap rotgut referenced in the OP).  I don’t know what I was hoping it would taste like (probably something along the lines of “super-sweet” and “chilled”), but whatever those expectations were, there was no Merlot on the planet that was going to be in the ballpark. Because I kept expecting it to be something that Merlot – or really any red – can never be, it tasted like vomit.  I became semi-permanently prejudiced against it, and Sideways just seemed to confirm my prejudice.Report

  8. Avatar North says:

    Personally I’m more partial to tequila.Report

  9. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    “if you slow your eating and drinking down a bit?”

    You speak strange words to me.  These words confuse me and fill me with anger.Report

  10. Avatar J.L. Wall says:

    J.L. Wall’s Wine-Purchasing Advice:

    1) Do you keep a kosher kitchen?

    1.1) If no, skip to question 2; if yes, God help you (and me).  But at this point, unless you’ve tasted the wine before and KNOW you love it, there’s no reason, at any point in your life, even for the sake of charity, to spend more than $18 on a bottle, even for the nicest occasion.  (The $18 bottle should ONLY be for the sake of charity.)  Also, use your wine cellar for something else, because if it’s mevushal (and, let’s face it, it is) the wine’s going bad in 2-3 years.

    1.2) If you like sweet wine, rather than spending $10-$15/bottle on whatever that hyper-sweet “Italian” white in the blue bottle is called, buy the largest jug of grape juice you can find.  Add vodka to taste.  Chill; stir; serve.  You’ve just saved money!  (Preferred fruit juices/Gatorade flavors can also be substituted for grape juice.)

    1.3) Accept the fact that you will never be able to be a oenophile.  Except when you’re visiting family and not asking questions about the origins of that rather good wine on the table.

    2) You’re drinking red.  (Because I said so.)  Does the meal involve meat?  If not, don’t open that Cabernet, unless you don’t care about not being able to taste your food.  Pinot noir and Shiraz, as well as certain blends.  Merlot might also work; I’m just not a huge fan.  Maybe I just need to try a better Merlot (but see point 1 above.  The things I do…).

    3) **Preferred Strategy** Feeling risky?  What’s on sale?  How cheap is it?  Hey, why not?  

    4) If it comes in a box/bag, you probably know what you’re getting ahead of time.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to J.L. Wall says:

      1.2) If you like sweet wine, rather than spending $10-$15/bottle on whatever that hyper-sweet “Italian” white in the blue bottle is called, buy the largest jug of grape juice you can find.  Add vodka to taste.  Chill; stir; serve.  You’ve just saved money!  (Preferred fruit juices/Gatorade flavors can also be substituted for grape juice.)

      Put that up against the cheapest Sauternes you can find ($20ish per bottle, I think).

      The Sauternes wins every time.  Even from an off year.  That’s my guess anyway.

      But to know for sure, we’ll have to wait until the great Organ Meat and Bollywood Star Wars League of Ordinary Gentlemen Meetup, where we can do a blind taste test.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to J.L. Wall says:

      Now, in terms of grape juice, my tastes resemble a gourmand’s better. Get the concord grape juice from Trader Joe’s — sweet, but deep and rich with flavor.

      “the best part of visiting the Fingerlakes Wine Country was the grape juice”Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to J.L. Wall says:

      boxed wine is what the French drink at home (because who finishes a bottle in a night?).

      Personally, I’ve always found wine plain compared to coffee. I think it has to do with how wine is preserved — most volatile chemicals react over time. Fresh coffee (not Spider Robinson fresh — luv the man but his scifi coffee machine was a sad moment for scifi…) is a thing of wonder (and chemical hallucinations — it’s really that complex. sometimes your mouth goes quetzl what am I drinking — grapefruit juice?)Report

  11. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I have learned one lesson about wine over the years, and it is this: given enough glasses, any wine becomes great over the course of an evening.Report

  12. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    Kids made the choices… different.  Which wine goes best with Kraft macaroni-and-cheese is not a question that many aficionados ask (what can I say — they liked it better than baked mac-and-cheese made from scratch).  The wine budget got tighter.  From time to time, activities meant a bottle that had been opened sat too long.  Then age struck, and the old senses of taste/smell aren’t up to making fine distinctions.  Give me a box of a pleasant blended table wine, not a varietal, and I’m happy.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Michael Cain says:

      Hardly surprising that the processed stuff is better received; it’s all extremely strong-flavored (extra doses of flavor powder) so it appeals to the uncultured palate.

      Which, also, this thread.  Cheap wine, as someone else points out, takes one idea and turns the knob up to eleven.  People who aren’t used to drinking wine taste their cheap wine and say “oh!  This has flavor!  It’s rather tasty!  Who needs <i>expensive snooty hoity-toity</i> wine?”Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to Michael Cain says:

      I’m with Michael. I forgot they still sell wine in BOTTLES.

      $15 a box is as far as my budget reaches (though as a nod to Stillwater and Creon, I will pay more for Fair Trade Wine trampled at the feet of the indigent poor)Report