Sunday read: Why you should be drinking cheap wine

Argh, my scheduler messed up, that is me…this should only have been posted tomorrow…a well, you can still decide to come back tomorrow…

Today, let’s go for something more provocative, because I am in the mood for it.

Brian Palmer over at Slate published an article in November 2011 that reflects on some things I have been thinking about/puzzled by since I moved to the US: Why is wine so expensive here? Palmer starts with an initial assessment that a wine merchant will tout a $15 bottle as an everyday wine and then wonders why that is. I have definitely been in that position before, and I am used to paying around $5-7 for my everyday wine bottle in Germany (and those wines were from good winemakers!).

To quote from the article:

“In Europe, consumption is 3-to-6 times higher than in the United States. But only the most affluent would spend 11 euros to drink a bottle of wine at home on a Wednesday night. Europeans seem perfectly comfortable cracking open a 1-euro tetra-pak of wine for guests.”

While I would not open a 1 euro tetra-pak for guests, or buy the $1.79 bottles my compatriots in Germany seem to crave, I still think it should be possible to get good wine in the price range of $5-8 per bottle. The fact is, I (and many others) simply cannot afford to drink $15+ bottles three to four times a week. Wine seems to be priced like a luxury article here in the US, and not something that is part of daily life. I think it deprives us of something. The instant connection of expensive equals good is also not really helpful. There are cheap wines out there that are good. Maybe not outstanding, but good, decent wines that can fulfill our everyday needs, not our luxury needs…

I don’t necessarily agree with everything that Palmer says, and I do think that there are instances where paying more for good work should be something we all care about. But to me, a good wine has one major component and that is whether I like the wine or not. I can love the idea behind a wine, but if the wine does not taste then sorry, I don’t want the wine. It all boils down to taste. And I can find wines I love for $50+ per bottle, but I can also find wines I like (or even love!, like this one) for under $5. It’s all up to my tastebuds…

So, go get yourselves a cheap bottle of wine that you love, and enjoy your Sunday read…

What do you think on this Sunday morning?

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31 thoughts on “Sunday read: Why you should be drinking cheap wine

  1. […] (again from most down: About, The Wine Century Club, Sunday Read: Almaroja Pirita 2007 Arribes, Sunday read: Why you should be drinking cheap wine and Trader Joe’s Espiral Vinho […]

  2. I know both German and U.S. wine market. I completely agree :)

    Btw, in case of Germany it is not about lower taxes or margins in wine imports and sales, it is rather about German mentality. On average, Germans spend on wine much less than other Europeans, that is they drink cheap wine. Here not the taste but the price is the first factor determining choice.

    • the winegetter says:


      • Btw, I loved the wine shop in Ann Arbor, opposite to the Zingerman’s Deli. I’m sure you know it :)

        • the winegetter says:

          Haha, you have been around!! :) What brought you to AA?

          I don’t know many wine stores here. I have been to Morgan & York on Packard, but they are prohibitively (read insanely) expensive. The Produce Station has a decent wine selection. I have yet to explore Plum. But Costco has opened a store here now, and their selection is fabulous!

          • I spent a research semester at the MSU, so actually I lived in East Lansing, a real caput mundi ;) Well, AA is better… after all I’m from Europe and in AA the atmosphere is somehow more… social democratic :)
            I heard that there is a great wine shop in Grand Rapids, but difficult to find. I can ask my friends for more info if you want…

            • the winegetter says:

              That would be nice, thanks!

              I was in Lansing for a wedding this summer…interesting from a socialdemocratic-liberal European perspective, to say the least…:)

  3. […] Sunday read: Why you should be drinking cheap wine. Share this:FacebookTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  4. This guy has very good deals, goes around the world hunting out little-known wines and brings them back to Portland (no middle-men). We’ve found his descriptions to be spot-on. His are especially good deals if you can buy by the case and cellar, and if it’s legal to ship wine into your state (some states don’t allow it, and believe me, you don’t want to break liquor laws).

  5. vinibuoni says:

    In my opinion most wines in Germany under 7€ don’t taste very well. In Italy there are decent wines for around 3-5€.
    I’m always amazed at how expensive decent wine in the US is. If I pay 12€ (15$) for a wine then I usually get something better than the average everyday wine. In America it seems to be that everyday wines start at 15$.
    If you buy European wines in America you have to consider transportation and everything yet this doesn’t justify why your local American wines are so expensive.
    When reading the reviews over at I often think that most wines in America are overpriced.

    • You can definitely find good wines under 7 euro in Germany, most likely at the winery itself…I have had good luck with that.

      My impression of the wine world here in the US is similar to yours: the pricing is not justified by the costs of producing wine and shipping it. Don’t forget there are a couple of middlemen involved, too.

      And yes, an everyday wine for $15 is a weird though to behold.

      Thanks for your thoughts, as always much appreciated.

      • vinibuoni says:

        Of course if you go to the winery itself then you can get a good wine for under 7€. But as you said there are always middleman involved and in a wineshop it’s always more expensive..

        • That is true. But, e.g., I know a wine bar in Trier that sells the wines for the price you would pay at the winery (granted, they mostly have top notch wineries that are more expensive than 7 euros). If you drink the wines there, they just add a corkage fee. It still works because they get decent rebates when they buy at the winery.

    • I think there is little good wine in Germany under 7 Euro. It is rather the minimum price for a bottle of something decent. In Italy it’s a different story. There was lots of disgusting stuff like 10-20 years ago, but the quality improved altogether. The sad fact is the many still bad wines go to Germany or even more to the U.S., e.g. Pinots from Trentino. But as a result, in Italian supermerkets you can enjoy a pretty big spectrum of good wines between 6 and 15 Euro.

      • vinibuoni says:

        In most “Enotecas” (wineshops) in Munich I get a good Italian wine for 13€+
        In Italy the same wine costs a bit less due to import costs and so on. In the average German Supermarket I never buy wine since they only sell cheap, not very well-tasting wines. Often mass-produced wines from Veneto and Trentino.

        • You’re right. I usually try to buy some nice bottles in Italy. The supermarkets of Berlin are dominated by Venetian pinot grigio and soave, and frascati :) But try to find something from Colli Orientali…
          E dopo, sei un italiano? Di dove?

      • vinibuoni says:

        Sono cresciuto a Monaco ma ho il padre Italiano. Ho vissuto a Bologna per un paio di anni.
        Tu invece sei anche Italiano?

  6. My scheduler did this too, yesterday–and I know I was careful. I was sure I changed the date forward and hit “update.” And double-checked. Still, the post came out WAY before I had scheduled it to post.

    • Interesting…maybe it wasn’t me after all??? I am so bad at math, that I struggle counting days right, so I am pretty certain that I messed it up…

      • I’m sure it was not our fault.

        Of course, it probably was our fault. The big guys never make mistakes. (Actually–they rarely do. Whenever I think they bank has messed up, I’ve been wrong 99% of the time. But once, I was right).

  7. Margaret McCamant says:

    Don’t discount the strong Puritanical streak in America. By many, all alcohol is seen as an opportunity for sin (rather than an everyday beverage). With that goes the impulse to make people pay for their vices, including the government levying relatively high taxes on alcohol.
    Otherwise, food costs in the U.S. are a startlingly low percentage of income compared to most of the rest of the world.

    Bob and I are going to be staying with friends in Michigan for Labor Day, starting out with the Farm to Table Festival at Round Barn Winery in Baroda. It’s a fundraiser, so it remains to be seen how much food and drink our entry tickets will get us.

    • Oh, that sounds like a great trip, Margaret! I sure hope you will get your fair share out of this event…

      The puritanical streak is something I often tend to forget because it is foreign to me. I know it exists in Europe and Germany as well, to a certain degree, it just was never prevalent where I come from…

  8. talkavino says:

    You got me scared for a second – I’m glad it is still Saturday, so I didn’t sleep for 36 hours in a row : )

    Anyway, that was an interesting article, I had a blog post written in response:

    Just two points I want to make:

    1. Lucky people who live close to Trader Joe’s which sells Liquors, can enjoy excellent wines at even under $5. You can of course find enjoyable wines for $5-$7 in a regular store, but it is still a hard work.

    2. I would say this is what is important to take into account: wine is “normal” in Europe – actually a part of the routine dinner. Therefore it is also locally available and can be sold at a minimum cost, including the case when you bring your own bottle to be filled. By the way, if you are in a big town in Europe, most of the store carries mostly expensive and very expensive wines.
    While it is changing, wine is still “special” in US. Most of the people drink wine only occasionally, 2-3 times a week. This leads to lesser availability of the cheaper wines…

    Anyway, sorry for the long comment – just my $.02

    • OMG, I have no clue why this came out today…somehow I messed up the scheduling of this…damn. Will be looking into your reply!!

    • There is definitely the “sin” tax involved in comparatively high cost of wine in America. I wonder if there isn’t also the snob effect — that people perceive wine as elite and therefore think they’re not getting the real deal unless it causes the middle-class pocket book to smart. I’ve heard people bragging about how ridiculously much they paid for a bottle of wine, as if they were clever (or rich enough) to do so.

      • I think there is quite a bit to your assessment, Tracy. Like good cheese, that can easily cost a fortune here in the US, it seems like wine is considered a luxury good, that the “masses” should not consume. Let them have supermarket brand cheddar blocks and Bud Light…

        It is sad, because it cuts out quite a number of people from this perceived elitism (is that a word?), when things like cheese and wine are a staple for me as a European.

        Wine as a status symbol has its share in that, too, it is that thinking in us that something that is expensive MUST necessarily be good…when we can see again and again that it is not true.

        • It’s easy to fall for–I’ve noticed that I tend to assume a really expensive wine is going to be so much better–especially if it’s come out of MY budget, I really WANT to believe it’s worth it.

          My husband is never duped, and that has helped me not to dupe myself. Some of the very best wine I’ve eve had we bought by the case in the $13-18 range (per bottle) and cellared. We splurged a couple of times on pricey bottles, but decided they just weren’t superior enough to make them worth their price. Still, it is tempting to talk about them, because so many people seem to be impressed if you casually drop the right names.

          But, I’ve taken a stand against name-dropping, so I’m refusing to play that dumb game. I like this blog post by Lamont Swittenburg about the annoying use of “dropping” as a self-branding technique.

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