This story is part ofCNET’s collection of practical tips for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.
To be clear, there are cheap wines and there are value guilt. Cheap wines may only cost you a few dollars, but their quality is questionable. Value wines, on the other hand, can have a wide range of prices, from really cheap to kind of expensive, but they deliver more at whatever price point. Cara Patricia is a sommelier and co-owner of DecantSF in San Francisco and recently shared some helpful wine buying tips via email. “If (the price) seems too good to be true, it is,” she said. “Wine i can to be cheap, but it comes at a price.”
Determining which wines represent excellent value can be challenging even for educated wine consumers, which is why people like Patricia have a job they love. (Pro tip: Corks over screw caps don’t necessarily mean better wine.) Wine is a huge category that people like sommeliers and other wine professionals devote their lives to.
As casual wine drinkers, we are not expected to know everything or even anything, yet sometimes we still feel intimidated to seek help. Sometime in the last few decades, it seems that the prevailing attitude has become that wine knowledge is a requirement for urban adults. But what’s an urban adult to do when it sometimes feels like the only word we have to describe our wine preferences is “dry,” and the only financial strategy we have when buying wine is to choose the second-best expensive selection? (Hint: This is often not the best bang for your buck.)
Patricia’s wine motto is “drink for yourself,” and DecantSF is known for its laid-back approach to connecting people with wines they’ll love, without even Supson of claims. As a woman-owned and queer business, the most important business at DecantSF is inclusivity, including in matters of budget. Using Patricia’s wine expertise and consumer friendliness, here are seven strategies on how to shop for the best value wines.
(We also have the spoonand and if it is or at the grocery store.)
“You won’t find a wine expert in a big box store,” Patricia said. “Shop in boutique stores where the experts are” and you’ll have access to a wealth of knowledge honed over many years of study, evaluation and most importantly, drinking wine. Wine professionals are also often on a tight budget. “Go to a store and ask for a selection of staff in your budget,” Patricia advised. “If you’re looking for wines under $25, ask about the staff’s favorite wines, as that’s probably what they drink most at home.”
“At DecantSF, we blind taste everything before we bring it into the store, and the hardest part of blind tasting is our cheapest wines,” said Patricia. “We really we want these wines to exceed their value and taste, so we’re super picky about what we bring in. We stock our own homes with these wines, so they must be good!”
But local isn’t always an option. If there isn’t a reputable wine store in your area, you can check out our list ofand .
Know your price
You have full control over your budget and you never have to worry about what you want to spend. Wine professionals work every day with people whose budgets are in the tens of dollars, as well as people whose budgets are in the tens of thousands of dollars. Either way, they’re willing to play matchmaker and take great professional pride in connecting people with the right bottles for any budget.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a restaurant sommelier and a shop owner, it’s: focus on the subject and be honest with what you’re looking for,” said Patricia. “Be honest about what you want,” especially if you’re working on a tight budget. For example, she suggests starting with something like, “I’m looking for a red wine under $30. I have previously enjoyed wines like X, Y and Z and would like something similar. Do you have any suggestions?” You’re more likely to have a positive wine shopping experience if you open up honestly.
Wine apps and websites are a great way to compare prices and make sure you don’t overpay. Try one of theseto make sure you don’t get dislocated.
Avoid modern wines
“Beware of fads, Instagrammers or crass marketing,” Patricia said. A disproportionate amount of marketing dollars are spent on only a small fraction of the world’s wines. (Looking at you, Whispering Angel.) Most premium wine producers prefer to keep their dollars in the vineyard and winery, making excellent wines. They rely on their own tasting rooms, plus sommeliers and wine shop staff to do the marketing for them, based on genuine enjoyment of the wines, not expensive advertising and influencer sponsorships. “There’s often a promotion of the coolest or hottest wines,” Patricia said, “and you can tell when a lot of the money is going into marketing instead of the product.”
However, orange or amber wines are wine trends worth checking out for some excellent selections.
Remove the card
Becoming a sommelier has a lot to do with geography, which is another good reason to put them to work for you when it comes to finding well-priced wines. You don’t need to know every small wine-producing region, or even every major one, but you can do yourself a favor by getting to know a few important regions for the styles or grapes you like best, and then getting to know their neighbors.
“Look for regions that are just outside the known regions,” Patricia said. “Perhaps Sancerre is getting a little too expensive, but there are many wonderful Sauvignon Blancs from Touraine to try. Prices in Napa Valley are insane! Let’s try something from the foot of El Dorado instead.”
It can also be valuable to learn which New World or other emerging regions are producing wines similar to some of the most successful, as these are often places that deliver too much for their price. If you like big cabernet sauvignons from Bordeaux or Napa Valley, look for big reds from Chile or Washington state to save money without sacrificing quality. Sumptuous Chardonnays aren’t limited to France and California either, with lovely, wallet-friendly expressions coming from Australia and South Africa.
Look for entry-level wines
The world’s most famous winemakers became so because they made some of the world’s most legendary, top-dollar wines. But these are very rarely the only wines they make, and most offer bottles that come from wider, cheaper wine regions than their top cuvettes.
“Love Grosses Gewächs Dry Riesling but can’t shell out $100? Try a Trocken Dry Riesling from the same estate at a quarter of the price,” said Patricia. “Do you want to be able to splurge on Puligny-Montrachet? Try your favorite producer’s Bourgogne Blanc, which can often be a blend of declassified fruit from younger vines.”
In addition to looking more broadly at the wine list, it can also be a sound financial strategy to try lesser-known grapes from many well-known producers. “Try different grape varieties from famous growers,” said Patricia. “Do you specifically like Barolo? Try Barbera d’Asti and get the same great winemaking with different grapes that cost a lot less to produce.”
Consider a membership
Some wine shops offer membership deals that are worth checking out. “There are usually discounts for members and you get a lot more variety each period than you would as a member of a winery club,” said Patricia. “For example, members of DecantSF’s bottle clubs receive a 10% discount on all repeat orders of wines featured in the clubs, waived corkage fees for drinking bottles in store, free wine flights, class discounts, advance sales and other benefits .”
When it comes to online memberships or wine subscriptions, she advised applying healthy skepticism. “Stay away from online-only wine clubs that ask you to be an ‘investor,’ or use an algorithm test instead of a sommelier to match your preferences, or guarantee a case of wine for too cheap a price,” Patricia said. “These are often the lowest quality wines using mass-produced fruit and exploited labor that are blended and bottled under fancy names. You can also buy from the bottom shelf at Walmart.”
However, if there isn’t a reputable wine store in your area, we’ve checked out some online wine clubs for you with. Some online wine retailers such as also offer introductory offers for first-time buyers, and Last Bottle periodically offers marathon shopping weekends, all of which can be a good way to stock up.
Buy in bulk
Buying in bulk is a time-honored money-saving strategy, and it certainly doesn’t stop with wine. “Buy more, save more,” said Patricia. “For example, DecantSF gives 5% off six bottles or 10% off 12 or more bottles.” You can also save on shipping or delivery by stocking up on wine a few times a year, rather than popping out for a bottle every time , which requires one. Larger format bottles, like magnums, or even boxed wine—yes, I said it—from reputable producers can save you some money.