15 Tasty Qualities to Look For In A Cheap Wine

Wine lovers have a reputation for being…snooty. But these days, even elite sommeliers will admit that you can get plenty of good flavor out of an affordable bottle. Trevor Gorham, a wine expert and co-owner of the award-winning Vino Veritas Wine Bar and Bottle Shop in Portland, Oregon, serves up some great tips for squeezing the most from a cheap bottle of wine. Getty Images

Know What You Like

“The easiest way to choose a quality cheap wine is to narrow down your preferences,” says Gorham. Do you prefer red or white? Fruity or dry? Bubbles or flat? When you stick with the flavors and styles you like, you’re more likely to hit a home run no matter how much you spend on a bottle.

Transform Your “Two-Buck Chuck”

Trader Joe’s is famous for its Charles Shaw “two-buck Chuck” wines. (Bottles used to cost $1.99 when the brand first debuted, now they’re about $4.) Two-buck Chuck has a great reputation and lots of dedicated fans. But cheap wine is sometimes cheap for a reason, says Gorham, and the flavors can fall flat. One way to make any so-so wine brighter is a hit of citrus. Simply squeeze a lemon slice into your glass or twist the rind of the lemon around the rim to make even ultra cheap wine the best it can be.

Pick Rosè All Day

Who doesn’t love a refreshing rosè? “Rosè is a great example of affordably produced wine that is popular worldwide,” says Gorham. “It’s always a crowd pleaser and you can’t go wrong with a crisp, dry, light-on-its-feet bottle.” Dark Horse Rosé runs $10 per bottle, Exquisite Collection by Côtes de Provence is $8.

Try a Portuguese Wine

Portugal is an affordable all-star hero when it comes to wines. The country has the perfect climate for growing grapes with its mild winters and warm summers, but its wines cost less than better-known Italian or French wines, explains Gorham.“You can pick up a $10 bottle of just about any Portuguese wine and enjoy the easy drinkability of it,” he says.

Go Wine-Tasting at the Grocery Store

A lot of grocery stores offer tasting events these days, and they typically provide a wide range of bottles to fit lots of different tastes and budgets. Take the opportunity to explore what you like with zero financial investment, so you can find your new go-to affordable brand.

Try a New Color!

We’ve all heard of the basic wine color categories: red, white and pink (aka rosé). But there are orange wines, too, and they’re good, says Gorham. In Georgia (the country, not the state), white grapes are fermented along with the skins to produce a unique “orange” wine. It has more body than a typical white and takes on savory, herbaceous notes, Gorham says. Right now, a bottle from your local wine shop will run you $18 or so—not exactly cheap, but an affordable price point for a nice hostess gift or dinner party. And as the trend grows and more vintners enter the market, the price range will expand too.

Hit The Bottle Shop

To get expert recommendations without paying wine-bar prices, head to your local bottle shop and ask the sommelier-on-duty (or just the person behind the counter—they work there because they love wine!) for help picking a bottle that hits your palate and your wallet just right.

Look For Turkish Labels

Areas of France, California, and Spain are famous for their wines. But don’t overlook lesser-known wine regions, like Turkey. The country’s Kalecik Karasi grape varietal produces a medium bodied, dry, slightly spicy wine for about $15 a bottle, says Gorham. “There’s nothing really like that right now outside of Turkey,” says Gorham “It certainly rivals a Coté du Rhône from France and Spain.”

Think Inside The Box

Did you grow up with a nondescript, oversized box of wine standing on its side in the family fridge? Chances are you tried that budget wine at some point in time and swore never to drink it again. But there are some fantastic quality boxed wines out there today, right on your grocery store shelves. Trader Joe’s Block 67 Cabernet Sauvignon rings in at about $12 for a 3 liter box (about three bottles). Bonus: Once opened, boxed wines tend to last longer because the packaging keeps out light and air, preserving the integrity of the wine and preventing oxidation.

Pick a New Pinot

The popular Pinot grape exudes prestige, and is sought out by wine connoisseurs worldwide. But a lesser-known Pinotage varietal from South Africa still flies under many wine enthusiasts’ radar. That means more high quality, highly affordable red wines for you that rival any Pinot Noir. “You might also try a beaujolais if you enjoy Pinot Noir but want a lower price point,” suggests Gorham. “Beaujolais don’t hold the prestige of a Pinot Noir, but it does share similarities, so you can typically get a more affordable wine without sacrificing taste or quality.”

Pour Your Wine into a Pitcher

Cheap reds can sometimes carry an unpleasant acidity straight out of the bottle. Decanting it into an open container can elevate a bottle that might otherwise be unpalatable, Gorham says. Exposing the wine to more air changes the flavor as it “breathes,” mellowing it out and softening some of the sharper notes. You can simply pour your bottle into a pitcher, or pick up a basic wine decanter 

Put It On Ice

Some budget-friendly whites can leave an unpleasant aftertaste in your mouth. But ice helps! “When wine is served very cold, it’s easier to disguise less desirable attributes,” says Gorham. If you don’t enjoy ice in your glass or are worried about watering it down, decant it into a martini shaker with a big handful of ice, and then strain it into a chilled glass.

Make Sangria!

Sangria is a well-kept restaurant secret that transforms cheap wine into refreshing, fun cocktail they can sell by the pitcher. Simply combine your cheap bottle of red wine (pick something that’s fruity) with tart lemon and sweet orange slices, some fruit juice, ice, and a smidge of brandy. (Or try this 

Make a Spritz

Adding some bubbles can immediately upgrade a budget-friendly white. “A spritz is a straightforward way to make a cheap white wine drinkable,” states Gorham. “All you need is white wine, ice, club soda, and a lime slice, then mix to taste.” Easy enough.

Try Cava

As you probably know, true Champagne hails from a specific region of France,and often carries a fancy French price tag. It’s slightly-less-spendy Italian cousin, Prosecco, certainly rivals it—but Prosecco can be extremely dry. If you like things a little bit sweeter, check out Cava sparkling wine from Spain. “Cava is an underdog in the sparkling wine category, but it’s so accessible and affordable that it’s rapidly gaining popularity,” says Gorham. “It’s incredibly easy to drink.” You can pop a bottle for just under $10.