Cheap wine! What’s not to like? Besides, like, the hangover and the foul taste and the vomiting and stuff. Yeah, okay, but look, it doesn’t have to be that way. There is relatively cheap wine out there that is drinkable and I, your intrepid correspondent, have found it for you. First off, let’s define terms: cheap means under $8. People are all, like, I found this delightful little wine! And it’s so inexpensive! I will get excited and say, ooh, what is it? And then I discover that it’s $14 a bottle or some shit like that. No. No no no no. A bottle of wine shouldn’t cost more than a six pack and if you’re paying $14 a six pack, U R doin’ it RONG, as the catz say. Also, do you want to get married? Just kidding. Sort of.
Anyway! I digress. Let us move directly on to finding cheap, drinkable wine.I like wine. I used to drink beer, but now that I am aged, it gives me way too vicious of a hangover. The last time I drank a bunch of PBR I was sick for a week. PBR is not worth that and neither is the finest craft brew. I happen to live in Beer CIty, USA, the smoking hot center (or crater, depends on how you look at it) of the craft beer epidemic that is sweeping America. That’s another reason to switch to wine, if you’re contrary minded as I so often am. I switched from beer to wine a couple years back and I like it. In the summer I drink white wine; in the winter, reds. In the winter I have deathly hangovers, appropriate to the season, and in the summer I generally have lighter ones, less doom filled altogether. Many weaker people would quit drinking, given the apocalyptic regularity of these hangovers, but I am made of sterner stuff. In addition to hangovers, I have poverty, which can also be an obstacle to the novice wino. I can’t do anything about the hangovers, except praise Mexican coke, the only real cure, with all my heart but I can do something about the cost of vin de table.
For the record, in the winter I mostly drink malbecs, pinot noir in a pinch, and in the summer, pinot grigio or sauvignon blancs when I can’t get pinot. I don’t like chardonnay, yuck. I also don’t like cabernets for the most part – I have had some amazing ones but not on my own dime; I think they need to be expensive to be good. And I don’t like sweet wines – I can handle the occasional riesling but not often and moscato is an abomination. I am not above rose, nope, sometimes I like pink wine.
Here are some of the things I have learned about wine:
- The paler the white, the better it is. Seems to make sense: if it looks like piss, it will probably taste like it. You want it to be as close to clear as possible.
- Like Dr. Bronner’s famous soap, cheap wine is better all the way around if you dilute, dilute, dilute. I add seltzer to white wine and plain (filtered, skip the chlorine) water to red. You would be amazed at how much this helps the hangover and also, if you’re drinking with beer people, you can drink at the same rate. Otherwise I tend to go through my teeny little glass of wine in about half the time they take to go through their pint of beer and bad things can happen.
- White wine doesn’t age well. In fact, all wine doesn’t automatically get better with age! People tend to think that if it’s old, it’s good. Nope. Wine can go bad too and if the gas station is selling five year old white wine for $4 a bottle, that’s probably not because they just don’t know what an amazing vintage they have on their hands.
- Some red wine really does need to sit a bit after it’s opened. This seems crazy but if it tastes like turpentine on the first sip, leave it alone for half an hour and try again. If it still tastes like turpentine. oh well, you’re out the $5 for the bottle. Pour it down the sink and cry.
- You probably know this but just in case: no, you cannot refrigerate red wine. Unless it is Sangria. We’re not discussing Sangria today.
- Wine is not as consistent as beer. You can buy a sixer of Budweiser or even a bigger craft brew like Fat Tire and it will taste pretty much exactly the same as the sixpack you had last month and the one you’re going to drink next year. Two bottles of wine might have the same label, look exactly the same and yet be totally different. It is a mystery! It also makes it sort of fun if you like that sort of chaos driven uncertainty, which I do.
And now, on to the wines themselves. Let’s start with the famous duck, the title of this post, which is courtesy of my friend Dillon, who looked at a bottle I brought to a party and drawled, “So, you’re rockin’ the duck tonight.” Lucky Duck is Wal Mart’s house wine. Yeah. Roll that concept around in your head for a while. Brain exploded yet? No? OK, this will do it – it’s actually sort of. . good! Yeah, the duck is not bad at all and at $3.99 a bottle, that is a damn good thing. I am trying hard to stay out of Wal Mart – I find it’s healthier, generally, to avoid the temptation to enter giant edifices of ancient and unknowable evil – but there are two things that make me succumb to the dark side and they are the Duck and the $9 giant blocks of Cabot cheddar, which we can subsist on for two weeks in a pinch. The Duck does not come in pinot grigio but it does come in sauvignon blanc and in malbec. The malbec has an upside down duck on the label (this signifies that it comes from the Other Hemisphere and actually is a very cute idea; the labels are even nicely done, which is just so strange in a Wal Mart product) and is a little better than the sauvignon – it stacks up favorably against a whole lot of malbecs that cost $5, $6 or even $7 a bottle. The sauvignon blanc is, well, inoffensive. It doesn’t have a lot of flavor but it’s entirely drinkable. Morally, yes, it’s wrong, but god, sometimes you need a $4 bottle of wine.
If you can’t face the darkness and the shrieking of tormented souls but yet are still broke as fuck, there is Flip Flop. Flip Flop makes a damn good pinot grigio for $5 a bottle at most supermarkets. I don’t think they do a red; at least, I’ve never seen it. And not only is there Flip Flop, there is Aldi. Thank the gods – the strange, inscrutable, Teutonic deities – for Aldi. Aldi has a variety of mostly pretty drinkable wines. You want to stay away from Winking Owl for the most part, although I confess to a lingering fondness for Pink Winking Owl, because I’m certifiable, but a lot of their other wines in the $5 – $7 range are pretty good. They make a very decent malbec and a not bad at all pinot grigio, although it’s not actually quite as crisp and tasty as Flip Flop, go figure. Aldi has recently introduced some godawful new brand called Flirty Girl or something similarly grotesque; they’re all blends. I haven’t tried that yet but I probably will, eventually, when the lure of the $3.75 bottle gets too great.
Other than those, I can’t think of any other specific brands. Cielo is good if you’re at Earth Fare and it’s on sale and so is that one with the twisted tree going up the label – that one is very good in every variety I’ve tried, but usually too expensive. Sometimes – oh happy day! – you can find it at GO grocery for $5 or $6. As always with GO grocery, you never know what you’re going to find. Tisdale is to be avoided for the most part, ditto the kangaroo wine that has a lock on the gas station markets. If you have to do the kangaroo, the reds are generally better than the whites. As far as where to buy wine other than the supermarket, Amazing Savings wines are the same prices as Earth Fare for inferior product; don’t do it. I don’t think Trader Joes wines are a) as cheap as everyone says and b) all that, just as I kind of think that about Trader Joes in general, but they’re not bad either and if you’re going anyway, by all means pick up some of their sale wines. I am sure I don’t have to say that you want to avoid Gallo and anything from the Biltmore – come ON, people, WNC is a great place in many ways, but wine country it is emphatically not. I also recommend avoiding Middle Sister or any of those cutesy Sister wines or, really, anything with an overly cutesy name and label and Black Swan (urgh.)
Now go forth, oh my children, and drink cheaply and if you have any recommendations of your own, please share!