Opportunities abound to pay too much for a wine (Burgundies of both colors, Napa Cabernets and off-vintage Bordeaux are three that come immediately to mind for frequently poor price-to-quality ratios). But what about wines that might be underpriced? That are not just good values but downright cheap? How low is it possible to go and still get a good wine?
The time for a search seemed to be right. Importers have assumed smaller profit margins in the wake of the dollar's decline, while traditional wine retailers have been forced to compete with supermarkets and Internet sites. And then there's the wine glut occurring in just about every part of the world. In Australia, the story is excess Cabernet Sauvignon; in New Zealand, they're soon to be awash in Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. In France, there's too much of everything, including several vintages' worth of unsold Bordeaux. In fact, some French vintners are stuck with such an oversupply they're thinking of turning their wines into industrial-use alcohol.
Before starting my bargain hunt, I decided to set some parameters: I'd only buy wines in regular bottlesno boxes or jugs. Nor would I buy wines with fruit additives or geographically incorrect names (i.e., California Chablis). I wanted wines that both tasted and looked like their pricier alternatives. I focused primarily on bottles that cost $10 or less, although I did go as high as $15 at times. I shopped in New York City and its suburbs, at places known for their selection of value wines. I bought some wines online, had samples sent to me from a few producers and found other wines in stores like Stew Leonard's, a small grocery chain in Connecticut and New York.