Grocery stores often have the strategic marketing technique of placing their alcohol selection near the check-out registers. On, say, a Monday morning, this would make little difference to me. But I don’t grocery shop on Monday mornings. I grocery shop when I’m out of food and I’m hungry, and for whatever cruel reason that tends to be at the end of a long day, usually a workday—the sort of day when dinner is much better complimented with wine or beer, rather than water.
This was exactly the case last week, and it’s probably why my mouth started watering due to a pavlovian response while pushing my shopping cart down the alcohol aisle, which I could not avoid on the way to the checkout counter. Now, this was a Trader Joe’s, and these guys are deceivingly clever as to how they present their alcoholic beverage options—the wine aisle’s selection is laid out by price, starting with the more expensive finer wines, and descending in cost to the cheaper table wines.
Thankfully, passing down the majority of that aisle I was undeterred and kept moving forward (granted, I found myself browsing with more and more interest, and my salivary glands kicked into overdrive). You see, I’m trying to eat healthier (aka avoid the frozen pre-made dinner options), and there tends to be a positive correlation between healthy eating and higher spending at the grocery store, so I have less budgeted for purchasing alcohol at Trader Joe’s. And anyway, if I’m going to buy a nice wine, it’s going to be from Wine.com, where I can find a much larger selection, and still at competitive prices (shameless plug).
But, Trader Joe’s has of course come up with a solution for buying wine on a small budget, and if you’ve been a college student in the last decade, you likely know what I’m talking about: Two Buck Chuck. It’s Charles Shaw, a brand of bargain-priced wine that was given its own scale of classification: “extreme value.” So here I am at 7:30 PM on a Wednesday night, hungry and annoyed by all-too skinny aisles, with a cart full of foods I don’t even know exactly how to turn into a meal (kale, organic yogurt, free-range chicken), and I want a drink.
Ultimately, it’s curiosity that gets the best of me. I used to drink Two Buck Chuck all the time, when it actually only cost $2 a bottle. It’s more or less how I was introduced to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay – can’t forget white Zinfandel – and I wanted to know if I would still find these to be enjoyable wines. So I bought one of each, took them home, and in the meantime I’ve tasted them all.
Suffice it to say that my taste has changed since the days of using Charles Shaw in red SOLO cups to play “wine pong.” While I’m working on my goal to develop my wine knowledge and have an even deeper appreciation for what makes a quality wine, I honestly never intended to actively dislike cheaply made wine. There’s just no turning back after you expose your palate to some of the better wine out there. Once accustomed to the good stuff, the mouth wants nothing to do with a cheap wine that has little going for it with the possible exception that it has alcohol.
However, it’s flawed thinking to suggest the senses always have to be pitted against the wallet—great wine does not need to also be expensive wine. I’m currently on a mission to find some of the greatest wines out there for under $15. I’ve come across dozens already, and the list is growing. If you’re buying wine on a budget, I suggest you undertake a similar challenge. It’s fun, it’s not terribly expensive, and you get to educate your palate while also learning about the world of wine. You can start by narrowing in on the almost 200 wines we offer at Wine.com that have 90+ ratings and are sold for under $15. If you’re clueless, you can try our Live Chat service and feel free to ask for our favorites at your price point – we have plenty. While it can be hard to pass up the allure of the price of mass-produced super cheap wine, I think you’ll find the few extra dollars spent on a nicer wine make for a much more enjoyable wine drinking experience.
My top picks include: