How to enjoy wine on a budget

A common question thrown around by wine lovers: what is the best wine, for the cheapest price? It seems to be a never ending search – a dangerous game even – seeing how low in price you can go without compromising quality. While high calibre and inexpensive may be a fallacy to some – gems in the rough do exist – you just need to know where to look. 

There are many factors that determine the price of wine, and the list is lengthy. Compromising quality for price is a non negotiable for some wineries, thus rendering their wine unattainable for many. Factors such as new French oak, extended aging time in barrels, restrictive yields, and hiring the best talent in the business – all play into how value is determined. The driving force behind price, however, is cost of land.

The Okanagan commands as much as $100,000 to $250,000 (CAD) per vineyard acre. Labour required to plant vines, plus waiting for viable fruit can make it challenging for wineries to offer inexpensive options. 

With this knowledge in mind, affordable and high quality wine may be a myth to skeptics, especially in BC. However, abundant examples of great wine with low price tags do exist. Certain varieties, regions and production techniques play important roles in crafting high quality, and affordable styles of wine. 

Spain and Portugal are two countries producing fabulous examples of affordable wine. The approachable price of these wines are due to a few reasons: generationally owned wineries, cost of labour, and volume of production. 

Spain’s famed styles of Tempranillo, can be found for as little as $12, with sometimes five or more years aging in oak. Anciano is a widely found producer of this variety, found at most liquor stores. Portugal produces a wide range of their own indigenous varieties, with excellent examples like Alentejano Fonseca de Sousa for $17.99. 

Other options outside of BC include Chile and Argentina. These regions are producing great examples of Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon all at reasonable prices. Crios de Susana Balbo Malbec for $17.99 and Viña Casa Marin Cartagena Sauvignon Blanc for $19.99 are two great places to start. 

Often, red wine is seeing less time in oak, and utilizing a common technique in the wine trade not typically mentioned: oak staves. Rather than spending the money on costly oak barrels that can run upwards of thousands of dollars, wineries opt to insert planks of oak into stainless steel tanks, that impart a similar flavour at a fraction of the cost. 

On the opposing end of the scale, an increasingly popular style garnering traction are unoaked expressions of white and red. This lowers price for many reasons – no pricey oak barrels to purchase, and relatively little time to wait post fermentation for the wine to be ready. Aside from some bottle aging to ensure bottle shock has dissipated – wineries can have product on the shelf as soon as six months from harvest. Think fresh, drink now, fruity styles of wine. These wines benefit the winery in turning a quick profit. They’re affordable and approachable for 95% of the population looking for decent quality, inexpensive styles. 

White wine is a great way to stay on budget without sacrificing quality or feeling like you have to head to the boxed wine aisle at the liquor store. Many aromatic, high acid whites never see oak, as winemakers don’t want to detract from the beautiful aromas these varieties showcase. 

There are plenty of examples of fantastic white wines to try in the Okanagan that cost less than $20. Ciao Bella winery located in West Kelowna, makes a delightful Pinot Grigio produced in a style similar to those found in Italy – bright, friendly and slightly savoury – making it perfect to enjoy with Italian fare. 

Moraine Winery, located on the Naramata Bench, has also become synonymous with high quality and affordable wines. Their Cliffhanger White, for example, is ideal for almost any budget at only $18. A blend of Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris, is great for sipping or pairing with spicy or salty dishes.

A wine that also won’t break the bank, but is often avoided outside of summer, is rosé. The notion that it should only be enjoyed in warmer months is one that promptly needs to be dispelled – rosé is the perfect wine for food. With high acid, plenty of fruit, and little to no tannin, it’s incredibly forgiving when enjoyed with all kinds of dishes.

Rosé can be difficult to track down in the off season in BC, but some wine boutiques do carry great examples throughout the year. Silk Scarf, located in Summerland, makes a white pinot noir for $22.52 that is a favourite among wine enthusiasts. A great bang for your buck international example is Le Vieille Ferme Rosé, from southern France at only $12.99. Rosé is the perfect aperitif for dinner parties, easily enjoyed with charcuterie, cheese, salad, gazpacho or lighter meats like chicken or fish. 

If red is what you’re after, look to light bodied styles. Light bodied reds do well with less oaking, as it can be too powerful and over take the gentle aromatics of the grapes. If they are oaked, typically they see less time than heavier bodied reds. Generally, they are aged in neutral oak – this means the oak has been filled previously with other wine, and won’t impart as aggressive “woodiness” as new oak. 

A final suggestion when sourcing budget friendly wines –  seek out widely planted varieties. Merlot, for example, is the most planted red grape in British Columbia, making it easily accessible at most wineries. Great examples of delicious, and affordable merlot include West Kelowna’s Cedar Creek for $20.99 or Similkameen’s Hugging Tree at $23. 

Discovering great wine at accessible prices can become an addictive sport. Akin to finding a needle in a haystack, or eliciting a feeling like you’ve just overheard a well kept secret. Adopting an open, and creative mind set will results in memorable finds.  Remember – great wine isn’t always expensive, and expensive wine isn’t always great.

Laura Milnes is a Kelowna native and local wine professional, operating her own wine and hospitality consulting company. Laura is WSET certified, and continually expands her wine knowledge through education, research and travel. You can find Laura hosting wine related pop up events, and consulting with wineries throughout the Okanagan with a focus on wine education and training. The rare time Laura is not reading about, or tasting wine, you can find her travelling with her partner, cooking or doing DIY projects for her home. To learn more about wine check out her Instagram page @silkandcoupe.

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