With summer now behind us (*weep*), you may be looking for more economical bottles of delicious red wine with firm tannins to go with those crispier days, heavier meals and crackling fires.
But you don’t need to spend a fortune on red wine. It can still taste plenty rich even when you buy it on the cheap. We researched popular wine retailers to find the best cheap red wine, and got some help from Nick Elliott, a winemaking expert based in San Diego.
Setting the Table for Red Wine: A Brief Q&A
Before we take our first sip, let’s review some common questions that come up when talking about reds.
Why Are Some Red Wines So Pricey?
Answer: Lots of reasons. Here are some typical factors driving the price of red wines.
- Red wine is aged, and the longer a bottle sits in storage the more it costs to bring it to market. One rule of thumb: expect to spend a dollar for every year of aging.
- Compared to whites, red-wine grapes are often harvested in smaller quantities to encourage more flavor. Smaller quantities mean lower volume, hence high prices.
- Smaller “boutique” vineyards often use more labor-intensive methods versus high-volume producers.
- When a growing season for a particular vintage produces lower yields, the wine can be more flavorful but in shorter supply. That means higher demand and a higher price.
- Varietals that are in fashion or have a storied reputation can command a higher price.
- Labor costs vary widely across the globe. Taxes and tariffs, too.
- Wines aged in oak cost more to produce and are often in greater demand.
Does Expensive Red Wine Always Taste Better?
Answer: Not necessarily, but the mind can play tricks on the taste buds. An interesting study found that price can influence our perception of taste. The study found that, in blind tastings, people who were told a wine was more expensive tended to rate it higher – even when it was actually cheap wine.
What Are Some Common Red Wine Myths?
Myth: Red wine should never be chilled. Well … not necessarily. Light- to medium-bodied red wines with low levels of tannins can handle a little cooling. And the recommended serving temperatures for red wines range from 13˚C-18˚C (55˚F-64˚F) – a little cooler than you might have guessed.
Myth: Never drink red wine in a box. Don’t be so sure! As long as the packaging protects it from light and air, it can often be perfectly acceptable — and packaged more sustainably.
Myth: Red blends are inferior to single-variety wines. Did you know that Champagne is a blended wine? Case closed.
Best bottle: Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon 2019
The taste: This South African cabernet sauvignon is a medium- to full-bodied wine with hints of red bell pepper and dark chocolate.
Pair it with: A pizza or pasta night. Or, for more of a splurge, try it with grilled New York strip steak with salsa verde.
Price $6.99 at Marketviewliquor.com
If You Like Cabernet Sauvignon …
Best bottle: Inkarri Estate Red Blend
The taste: Tannat isn’t well known yet — but it should be. This grape originally hails from the Basque country, between France and Spain, but has migrated to other parts of the globe. It’s the primary grape in this blend of all-organic grapes produced in Mendoza, Argentina. You’ll taste notes of herb, oak, and spice layered over blueberry, blackberry and elderberry notes.
Pair it with: Bolder dishes with earthy ingredients like eggplant and mushrooms, as well as cheese, beef and roasted lamb. A traditional cassoulet is a great choice
Price: $10.49 at PlantX.com.
Best bottle: Bonterra Merlot 2018
The taste: This earthy red wine from California has aromas of spiced plum, licorice and black olive. It’s medium-bodied with smooth tannins and made from organically grown grapes.
Pair it with: Beef, lamb or veal. A traditional French veal blanquette (stew) is a great choice.
Price: $11.97 at Total Wine.
If You Like Merlot …
Best bottle: Gancia Chianti 2019
The taste: From Tuscany, this dry, medium-bodied red has a silky texture with floral scents. It’s mildly tannic, which refines over time, with a hint of spice.
Pair it with: Great for an informal gathering with pasta and tomato sauce, antipasto or lasagna.
Price: $9.99 at Wine.com
Best bottle: Chop House Pinot Noir
The taste: This complex Santa Barbara, Calif., pinot noir is big, bold and rich. It’s fruity with earthy tones, high acids and tannins.
Pair it with: Steak or other red meats, especially something with mushrooms or truffles such as this pan-seared steak with mushrooms.
Price $9.99 at Wliquors.com
If You Like Pinot Noir …
Best bottle: Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages
The taste: Like pinot noir, this bold bottle is fruit-forward and juicy, with strawberry flavors, peppercorns, tannins and acidity. It’s considered a great Thanksgiving red wine because it complements the traditional flavors of that feast.
Pair it with: French food such as a charcuterie board or soft cheeses. Or, for something different, pair it with a nutty, semi-sweet dessert such as pecan pie.
Price: $7.99 at Budgetbottle.com
Best bottle: Bogle Old Vines Zinfandel 2018
The taste: Black pepper, cranberries and raspberries are some flavors in this robust red wine, which is aged for 14 months in a two-year-old American oak barrel.
Pair it with: Something strong and spicy like this chipotle BBQ pork dish.
Price: $11 at Wine.com
If You Like Zinfandel …
Best bottle: Borsao Garnacha
The taste: Often overshadowed, this is a fabulous alternative to its bolder cousin, the Zinfandel. Garnacha was originally from Spain, but today it’s often planted in southern France (you’ll also see it called grenache). This is a medium-full bodied wine that has medium acidity, medium tannins and high alcohol.
Pair it with: Poultry, pork or barbecue. A good pork suggestion is this roasted pork tenderloin with blackberry sauce.
Price: $10 at Drinkdispatch.com
Best bottle: Alamos Malbec 2019
The taste: This wine from Mendoza, Argentina, has bright cherry and toasty light florals. This is a rich, ripe red with concentrated black raspberry, chocolate and spice.
Pair it with: Steak, pork and lamb. This burger with Creole mustard tomato jam combines all three, along with toppings that will complement your sips.
Price: $7.67 at Totalwine.com
If you like Malbec …
Best bottle: Root 1 Carmenere 2018
The taste: Grown in Chile, this medium bodied red is earthy with cedar and hints of spice, leather and tobacco.
Pair it with: Pasta dishes, vegetable soup, spicy entrees, and grilled meats. It’s also versatile enough to match with garlic, fresh herbs and eggplant, making eggplant parmesan a nice choice.
Price: $10.99 at Wine.com
Best bottle: Beelgara Winery Estate Shiraz 2017
The taste: Plums, black pepper and soft tannins. This is a lovely full-bodied red from New South Wales, Australia.
Pair it with: Braised beef or roasted leg of lamb.
Price: $10.99 at Wine.com
If You Like Syrah/Shiraz …
Try Petite Sirah
Best bottle: Bogle Petite Sirah
The taste: Similar to syrah, this petite sirah tastes like ripe plums and blackberries. But it’s more complex, with rich spices.
Pair it with: Roasted pork or barbecued meat. The Bogle folks recommend this grilled flank steak with bacon chive butter.
Price: $8.97 at Totalwine.com
Red Wine Blend
Best bottle: Bodegas Luzon Verde
The taste: This organic red from Jumilla, Spain, has the aroma of black pepper, smoke and ripe plum. It’s full-bodied, rich and lush.
Pair it with: Braised short ribs, sausage and a rich pasta. Try it with this cheesy sausage pasta.
Price: $9.99 at Arlingtonwine.net
The MM7 contributor Danielle Braff is a Chicago writer who specializes in consumer goods and shopping on a budget. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Real Simple and more. Contributor Diane Bacha contributed to this report.