Thrifty ... avoid fads and opt for less trendy, but still entirely drinkable, drops. Photo: iStockphoto/ Albert Wingler
Cheapskates, cheap dates and economists take note, there is such a thing as a decent bottle of wine for less than $20. Even significantly less than $20. What you do need to keep in mind, says Dan Sims, a project manager from wine consultancy and training company The Wine Guide, is value. Oh, and "drinkability".
"You have to remember that 'cheap' and 'value' are two very different things. Cheap can be bad value, a wine at $50 can be great value. It is all relative to our own perceptions of what it is ... I would say the most important thing is knowing what you like and why first, then worry about price. Sometime people think price is related to the richness and power of a wine (which is partially true) though this is less and less the case. More drinkability is key," says Sims.
Ralph Kyte-Powell, a veteran wine writer, author and wine judge with more than 30 years experience is a big believer in the possiblity of good wines that leave change from a $20 note. A good way of getting "more bang for your buck" , says Kyte-Powell, is to studiously avoid the hot new trends.
"Be a bit mistrustful of the super groovy and fashionable, the new grape varieties from Italy and such ... it's best to be a little skeptical," he says.
"They might be cool, but are they any good? The two don’t necessarily go hand in hand."
Instead Kyte-Powell advocates looking to the bigger wine producers who have the "economies of scale" to produce reasonably priced drops, without forsaking drinkability. Labels such as Yalumba and Jacobs Creek as two good examples of such outfits, says Kyte-Powell.
"People tend to get excited and fussed over groovy boutique places ... but the big makers have enormous economies and can over deliver all along the track."
In keeping with the theme of value and good drinking over fashion statements, Kyte-Powell suggests looking to less trendy grape varieties such as the oft- maligned reisling and the less popular cabernet savignon.
According To David Lawler, the beverage director of Rockpool Bar & Grill Melbourne, Spice Temple Melbourne and The Waiting Room, there are several regions that we should be looking at for good value in wines.
"There is a necessary matrix here that matches grape variety with region. Riesling from Clare or Eden Valley, Grenache from Barossa or McLaren, Cabernet from Yarra Valley or Margaret River, Pinot Noir from Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley or Tassie," says Lawler.
As more people learn about wine, our attitudes toward it - including price point - are changing. But that doesn't mean there is one wine to suit all. As Lawler notes,
"Wine is very complex, and just because a particular wine might be the most expensive, for a myriad of reasons it may not be the best. Menu, occasion, stage of evolution of the wine, what mood you are in, all these things contribute to the value of the experience. Most people have realised they do not need to spend a fortune to get a decent drink."
Though the increased wine knowledge, and the strength of the Australian dollar is likely to continue to grow the sub $20 category grow, it's worth keeping in mind the impact that this has on the local growers.
"With the strength of the Aussie dollar it has put pressure on exports which means more wine on the domestic market. Whilst this is good for consumers, it's not great for growers. A strong Aussie dollar also means cheaper, better value imports which is again, great for consumers, though hard on local growers. We need to remember that," says Dan Sims.
Ultimately, choosing a good bottle of wine - be it under $20 or not - comes down to knowing what you like. And if you don't know, asking experts, reading as many reviews as you can and keeping your mind, and palate, open.
As Dan Sims says, making the most of your local wine seller is paramount.
"Before you walk in [to a bottle shop], ask yourself 'why am I here and what am I buying this wine for?'. Ask yourself what style of wine you want; either light, medium or full bodied/flavoured. From there, ask for advice from your retailer; that is what they are there for. Getting on with your local wine merchant is only going to benefit you."