An Anti-Review of Really Cheap Wine

cheap wineOK, this may not be pretty. It’s going to be rant, and it may get out of hand, as it usually does when I talk about REALLY CHEAP WINE. Now let’s get this straight right off the bat — I’m no wine snob. One of my favorite everyday wines is Banrock Station Shiraz/Cabernet, which sells for anywhere from $7 to $9, so I know there are some great-tasting values out there.

What I’m talking about are those “Premium Wines” in the $3, $4 or $5 range that clutter up the aisles at every grocery store and warehouse club.

Here’s why I’m so annoyed. On any given day in my life as a wine retailer,  someone will cruise into my store and say, “Do you have any of that Two Buck Chuck?” When I say, “No, you can only get it at Trader Joe’s,” they invariably say, “You know, it’s not bad.” YES IT IS!

Two Buck Chuck (which is actually 3 bucks in my state) is like all the other Really Cheap Wines out there. It’s made from the cheapest, lowest quality grapes from any given wine-producing country. In the U.S., this means grapes from the hot Central Valley of California, where it’s impossible to create any acid, tannin or structure in the grapes. Then the grapes are fermented and aged in huge concrete or stainless steel vats, and often stabilized with a veritable chemical cocktail of additives. (Wonder why you get headaches after drinking cheap wine?) And if you want the flavor of oak in the wine? Instead of using expensive oak barrels, they throw in SAWDUST or oak chips. Nice touch…

So besides being a headache waiting to happen, Really Cheap Wines have a common flavor profile — they’re SWEET! They taste like grape juice with added alcohol. In fact, the “winemakers” often add back some unfermented grape juice because sugar covers up flavor flaws, which these wines have in plenty.

It’s not that I don’t like any sweet wines — I love a good Riesling, Moscato, or dessert wine when it’s balanced with the proper acidity. But DON’T GIVE ME SWEETNESS IN MY CABERNET! It doesn’t belong there, or in Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or Pinot Grigio either.

Now, I know that with the economy in the toilet, us wine drinkers have to work harder to find something we can enjoy and afford. I’ve found great bargains from Spain (try Borsao or Fuego), from South America (try Santa Rita 120) and Australia (the aforementioned Banrock Station). And I’m always looking for more. Tell me about wines you’ve found that don’t cost a lot AND don’t suck. I’d love to hear your ideas.  And Cheers!

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