Selecting Good Wines on a Budget

As we begin a new year I think it is fair to say that Inflation is still on everyone’s mind and most of us are continuing to feel the pinch right now. As we adapt and change our spending habits for purchases of gas, food and utilities, the budget for wine (which is no exception to price increases as well) may be a little less again in 2023.

However, treating yourself to good wine doesn’t have to mean breaking the bank. So, as wine lovers how can we continue to refine our palates when prices continue to rise? In this post I’ll share a few simple steps to help you determine what/how to look for affordable good wine and I’ll describe using a few different avenues to get the most for your money. Additionally, I will recap a few affordable good wine ideas from my Instagram Frugal Friday Series along with a recommendation for an under-rated California varietal, Petite Sirah.

If you follow a few simple steps to determine what you are looking for and use different avenues to purchase wine, I hope you’ll see you CAN drink diverse good quality wine on a budget. Afterall, right now we all could use some thrifty ways to get more value for our money. 

“A man will be eloquent if you give him good wine.”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Choosing “Good” Wine….

Wine is sophisticated and can be complex, but with thoughtful purchases the requirements of various budgets can be met. A keyword here to remember is “Good” wine and “Good” wine is inherently subjective. In this article, I am going to be addressing good wines that are a great alternative to the big brand names, like Sutter Home, Barefoot and Yellow Tail. I always look for wines that deliver on taste and quality without breaking the bank. Before we get to a few wine selections, I want to share some tips on finding good deals on wines that you‘ll savor and be proud to share with others.

When you look at wine labels you’ll often see a point scale, as a wine professional I tend not to purchase wine based on these point scales. In this post I’m advising you to put these flashy stickers aside and focus on using some tools that are readily available to you. I’ll also touch on how research will help you build up confidence in purchasing wine.

Now back to choosing a good wine and an important question. Are those $100 bottles of Champagne really better than a $20 Crémant from Alsace, and is that bottle of $150 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon better than a $30 Cabernet from Washington State? In general the answer is yes, but how much better varies and this does not mean you can’t find deals on good wines that are a little easier on your wallet.

Finding Good, Affordable Wines….

With crazy expensive wine tasting fees and bottle prices currently found in Napa Valley and other wine regions, combined with soaring prices of wines from Burgundy, many people believe wine must be expensive to be good. Seeing high dollar signs put on bottles may also make it feel impossible to think about enjoying a really good wine any day of the week. That may be true unless you are willing to do a little work and seek out great-value wines.

Finding good inexpensive wine comes down to one key thing, exploration. If you are set on only drinking your favorite Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon from a specific winery, you may be missing out on affordable wines offering great value and can come from every corner of the globe. Being flexible and willing to explore opens up opportunities to find diverse wines that fit your palate and your wine budget.

  1. Start with People You Know….Seek out your friends and family who may be able to offer recommendations of wines to try. Let them know what type of wines you enjoy the most, and be sure to ask for lower priced wine recommendations. Style and taste is of course subjective but friends and family tend to know you the best and in most cases they can come up with a few wines that will surprise you.

Wine Buying Tip: Ignore the Label….I think many of us have allowed our wine purchasing decisions to be swayed by the pretty or eye catching label on the bottle. That doesn’t change the fact that labels market wine and are used by wineries to get your attention. Whether a fancy intricate design or a plain labeled bottle on the bottom shelf, the label on the bottle doesn’t affect how the wine tastes. Choose a wine from what you know about the region, producer, varietal

2. Consider going to a wine tasting…. If you have never been or it has just been awhile, going to a winery or tasting room allows you to try samples of local wines. You will also get to experiment wines that you are familiar with and explore new ones.

Seek out not only local wineries but wineries and tasting rooms when you travel. I had always been a fan of the value sparkling wine produced in New Mexico by GRUET, but when I was in Santa Fe on a trip I was able to taste more than the brut and sparkling Rose’ that you find on the supermarket shelves. This tasting room experience allowed me to take notes on other Sparkling wines they offer and make a list to order in the future from the GRUET website.

American-made, this New Mexico winery specializes in Méthode Champenoise sparkling wines. The average price for the GRUET sparkling wines range from $15 to $36, these great-value wines are worthy of opening up even on an ordinary Tuesday night.

3. Yearly Best Buy Wine Lists….One way is to use your favorite search engine and seek out lists that put together wine lists each year such as Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Best Buys 2022 that includes wines that are also $15 and under.

4. Shopping online…. Buying wine can be challenging enough, especially if you’re navigating unfamiliar regions, producers and grape varieties. Buying online can help you find more options that fit your palette without limiting you to local bottle selections.

When buying wine, you may look at every dollar you spend as an opportunity to try something different and each bottle of wine is a learning opportunity. So why not try to drink as widely as possible? With this in mind, when online I tend to favor and I take advantage of their yearly Stewart Membership which gives free shipping along with weekly, monthly and seasonal sales.

Many online stores will let you mix and match, which is a great way to save money while also stocking up on a variety of your favorite types of wines. Shopping from the comfort of your own home makes intentional purchases a little easier and the ability to find great value wines made with just as much thoughtfulness and care as wines that are three to four times more expensive.

Wine Buying Tip: When you are in need of help to select a wine you can always open up a wine app like Vivino . For many wine enthusiasts including myself, this is arguably one of the best and most popular wine apps. Vivino is used by wine lovers around the world to check out comments and reviews on just about any bottle of wine. Vivino has photo recognition that allows you to take a photo of a label then the app will scan it and show you all of the information that it can find about the wine. I really like how Vivino uses simple language that’s easy to understand, meaning wine consumers on every level should understand the information being shared about the bottle.

5. Wine Stores

When purchasing wine in local stores be sure to Keep an Eye on Sales. While you’re browsing the wine aisle at your state store or grocery store, you may find select wines are often offered at discounted prices. This is a great way to save money, but you should also be a little wary and do some research with an app (like Vivino) before purchasing. Here are a couple of my favorite stores to purchase wines that are in my region of the Pacific Northwest;

Trader Joe’s® is renowned for their selection of inexpensive private label wines, however there are some gems to be found in their collection of good value wines. Although many of the popular labels are always available, a number of wines are changed by season and by region. I often pick up some bottles of one of my favorite “house wines” Pine Ridge’s Chenin Blanc +Viognier for under $20 at our local Trader Joe’s. You can also find wines from Stel+Mar that I shared on a previous blog post, BACK TO GOOD TIMES WITH STEL+MAR WINES for under $10 a bottle.

Costco® is the number one wine retailer in the U.S. and just one look at their low wine prices should tell you why! Costco’s inventory of wines will vary by market so at times you can find some low production wines available in an individual store but not at another.

Costco Advent Calendar

Each year Costco offers an Wine Advent Calendar box, which is exclusively available at Costco. It sells for $99.99, contains 24 half (375ml) bottles and comes from Flying Blue Imports which means that all of the wines come from their portfolio. Don’t expect every wine to be great in the Costco Wine Advent Calendar, but If you look at this purchase as a fun exploration of varieties and regions you wouldn’t typically consume, then this has the potential to be lots of fun. I was able to purchase the calendar in 2022 and found that I enjoyed about 50% of the wines.

The wine selection isn’t always the broadest but in addition to their Kirkland Signature Line, they do tend to bring in some very nice wines from all over the world Including California, Washington, France, Italy, Australia, Argentina, Spain and Portugal, many of these fall under $20 price point. I often find some of my favorite wines at Costco such as Hedges Wine Red Mountain Estate Red and Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio which I share more about below.

6. Buy More Than One Bottle
If you are willing to buy a case, you can save anywhere from 10% to 25% on wines. Many retailers will give you a discount if you buy wine in bulk, which is the cheapest option over the long-term.

Wine Buying Tip: Most wine experts recommend buying at least three bottles of anything you come across that you really enjoy drinking. Don’t just buy one bottle at a time because if that bottle is “corked” you have a replacement bottle on hand. Also if you have a few bottles, you can get to know the wine over the years as it develops.

A ‘corked’ wine will smell and taste like musty cardboard, or a moldy basement. It’s really easy to identify! Some wines may have the faintest hint of TCA, which will rob the wine of its aromas and make it taste flat. This problem only occur in wines closed with a natural cork.

Something to think about….Wine can be a complex, cultural, multisensory stimulus that evokes our senses of its properties and is influenced by everything that touched it during its creation from vineyard to bottling. As wine lovers we focus a lot of attention on sight, smell, taste and feel which help us build stronger wine memories. These wine memories keep accumulating with each bottle opened building a library of wine knowledge that is unique only to you.

In addition to the sensory components, I think that whatever wine you buy should always show a sense of place, no matter which appellation it hails from, which grape variety it is or in what manner it was farmed. This “Liquid Geography” wine knowledge is also a valuable tool in assisting you when you find you like a particular varietal, say Pinot Noir, but only from regions like Burgundy or Oregon as oppose to California or New Zealand.

There are many reasons to search for bargain-priced diamonds in the rough beyond being friendly to our bank accounts. Finding an under $20 Rosé that you love and can pick up by the case, ensures you always have a refreshing bottle on hand for the summer season and cool weather food pairings. If you discover a similarly affordable sparkling and you are able to stock up, it will put to bed the belief that bubbles should be saved for special occasions.

Here are some links to articles that I think are really helpful when trying to find good quality wines on a budget:

A few of my Best Budget Wines Recommendations….

On my Instagram page, Drink In Nature , I recently started to feature Frugal Friday wines that I felt really fit the bill for wines that are under $25 and a good quality wine you can rely on to be consistently produced year after year. The following are some of those wines that might give you a head start in stocking your wine shelf or fridge with some budget friendly gems. Consider this a list of “buy it now” wines you should instantly pick up when you see them on sale and keep on hand for everyday drinking.

California Petite Sirah

I have often thought that Petite Sirah is a wine that deserves more respect and attention. This exceptionally rare grape, grown mainly in California, has less than 10,000 planted acres worldwide and is a clone of Syrah and Peloursin. Petite Sirah has always been used for blending but in California there are numerous 100% Petite Sirah wines that range in price from $10 to $75. Within this price range you can widely find several notable bottles that are under $25 that are worth investigating.

I will be sharing more a Petite Sirah from California along with a sampling of wines from various regions in California in an upcoming story. Until then, I recommend trying Pedroncelli’s Petite Sirah which a nice introduction to this varietal and can be found for under $25 a bottle. I purchased the 2018 vintage on for $21.99.

Pedroncelli Petite Sirah

Petite Sirah is profoundly deep purple in color, powerful, robust and delightfully aromatic. From start to finish this varietal delivers a juicy blueberry, blackberry and dark cherry fruit bomb often with notes of chocolate, coffee and spice tones that delight the nose and grace the palate.

The Pedroncelli family has deep roots in the history of California wine, tending their 90 acres of vineyards in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley since 1927. In 1934 Pedroncelli Winery became California’s 113th Winery and since then this small family winery has prided itself on keeping its wines affordable for all to enjoy.

The 2018 Pedroncelli Petite Sirah from the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County is framed by a smooth patina of oak of the nose and palate. These smooth oak notes mingle and blend with the wine’s generous and deep blackberry, black currant, plum and dark cherry aromatics and flavor. Hints of white pepper, smoked chocolate and savory dried herbal notes give length to an already delightful medley. This full bodied Petite Sirah with its complex flavors and well structured firm tannins is a nice introduction to the wines being produced in California from this distinctive varietal.

On the Pedroncelli website this wine is available for $36


If you are looking for easy drinking, great value Prosecco then you can’t go wrong with the Prosecco DOC Treviso Extra Dry or the Prosecco DOC Rosé Extra Dry Millesimato From Corvezzo. These all Organic and Vegan sparkling wines along with the Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC are such a great value with an SRP of $13.00 and are available nationwide.

Many of you may be familiar with Corvezzo’s Prosecco, now it’s time to try Corvezzo’s Rosé Prosecco which has its own level of elegance and charm. Made with the legal maximum level of 15% Pinot Nero which is added to the Glera base, the Rosé Prosecco has an expressive intense flavor of fresh wild strawberries and mixed red berries with inviting speckles of floral notes. Instantly fresh and delicate on the palate, the creamy froth delivers flavors of vibrant red-fruit and citrus that linger in the long finish.

Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc +Viognier

One of my favorite ‘Go To’ wines that many people may recognize is the Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier. Since this wine is available for under $20 a bottle, I bring it to friend’s houses when we are having a casual get together or I’ll put out a bottle or two when Friends and Family gather at my home. It really is a wine that everyone enjoys.

Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier is a 83%+17% blend that is aged in steel, a crisp and fresh white that is amazing with hearty savory dishes. This wine has a subtle sweetness that provides a welcomed balance to the Umami and earthy notes of the Mushroom Pâté.
For me this blend is all about the taste, a compilation of melons, apples and citrus with a zesty finish that sings with a slight floral acidity and lots of character.

This wine is available in most grocery stores.

Hedges Wine Red Mountain Estate Red

No matter the weather I can’t think of a better Washington value wine that has become a staple in our wine cellar, Hedges Wine, Red Mountain Estate Red. (purchased at Costco for $18.99)

Tucked in the East end of the Yakima Valley AVA , Red Mountain has built worldwide acclaim and an ever-growing reputation, with more than 2,000 acres under cultivation of primarily red varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Syrah.

Hedges has a remarkably consistent method of taking the best of their eco-friendly vineyards and turning the grapes it into wines that have notable vintage variations, but that are true examples of Red Mountain’s ability to let the grapes speak for themselves. The 2019 might be my favorite so far with each varietal adding its own unique energy to the blend. Consisting of 43% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Syrah, 4% Cabernet Franc, 7% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot, and 1% each of Souzao, Touriga and Tinta Cao this complex vintage shouldn’t be missed.

The intriguing prominent smoky orange undertones mingling with rich black fruit captured my attention in this vintage. The sleek tannins, rich full body and notes of chocolate covered hazelnuts followed by a warm spice finish keeps me coming back for more.

Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio

This wine is one that I often suggest to people when they ask for an inexpensive white wine recommendation, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio.

I imagine that many of you are familiar with this Italian label and the crisp wine inside the bottle. This very popular Pinot Grigio, which celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2021, can typically be easily found in many stores and it sells almost 2 million bottles a year in more than 90 countries.

This technically flawless and well-balanced wine has quite the following and many #winelover gush over its mouthwatering acidity and floral fruitiness on the nose and palate. Expertly encompassing everything a wine enthusiast loves about this varietal, Santa Margherita Wines Pinot Grigio satisfies with its ripe citrus flavors, with notes of apple and hints of spring blossoms and almonds. This is one of my “Always keep 2-3 bottles on hand” wine list.

Value wise the 750 ml bottle can usually be found for around $20 and the 375 ml bottle for about $13. This food friendly Pinot Grigio paired perfectly with my garden tomato bruschetta. If you haven’t tasted this Pinot Grigio I highly recommend it.

Elk Cove Vineyards Estate Pinot Gris

I love great-value wines that not only become members of my “go to” wine list, but that are also a little more friendly on the pocket book when it comes to bringing wine to share at parties and get-togethers. When it comes to consistency, excellent value (typically under $25 for their whites and Rosé), Elk Cove wines are on top of my list.

Favorite characteristics of this wine
Each year you may pick up on subtle flavor variations, maybe last year’s vintage had a little more grapefruit notes and this year’s has more pear and apple notes up front. Yet, what doesn’t change is the balanced acidity and great body of this wine and how it always brings a smile to my face when I pour myself a glass or the smiles I see on the faces of family or friends when I pour them a glass for the first time. I often think that is an important sign of a well-crafted wine, ‘The Smile Factor’.

My favorite food pairings with Elk Cove Pinot Gris:
Although I enjoy sipping this wine alone, it pairs so well with a number of different dishes including Thai Take-Out, which I may have done a few times! A favorite combination however is when I pair it with my homemade crab or salmon cakes, carrot puree and potato latkes with a side of mango chutney that has a sweet spicy kick to it. I hope you have the opportunity to try this ‘Frugal Friday’ wine recommendation, if you do, it might just become one of your “go to” wines as well.

The wines that are being discussed here are not the wines that you will stash away in your basement cellar and enjoy 10 to 25 years from now. These are wine that you should keep close to the kitchen and are best enjoyed within 2-5 years of purchasing.

I know that sometimes you just want your favorite type of wine, no matter the price. However, I hope that a few of these tips help you spread out your wine budget out a little more and has helped you know really good wines are available without the high price tag.

I’d love to hear about some of your favorite wines under $25, leave me a comment with your recommendations or tips on how you buy wines on a budget. Cheers everyone and thanks for reading.

All images and content © copyrighted by Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.

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