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Tips & Tricks

The Secret to Finding Good Cheap Red Wine

Drink wine on a regular basis? It doesn’t matter if your weekly wine budget is ten dollars or fifty dollars, everyone wants to find wines that over perform for the price. In fact, the English use an acronym for this, they call it a great ‘QPR’ wine (quality price ratio).

Oddly enough, wine ratings don’t consider cost, which is dumb because a study by Merril Partners in 2012 pointed out how the second most important factor in purchasing wine was price! The first, in case you are wondering is type of wine. So, how do we go about finding good cheap wine?

How to Find Good Cheap Red Wine

After looking at price averages for quality on some of the most popular varieties in the world, we’ve created a list of where to look for different types of red wines.

NOW IS THE TIME: 2012 is an outstanding vintage for red wine from California, Oregon and Washington.


  • $10-15: Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina
  • Look For: 2012 and 2009 vintages

Over 75% of the world’s Malbec vineyards are in Mendoza, Argentina so this is where you’re going to find the best (and also the worst) Malbec in the world.

Since 2010, the value of Argentina’s peso has dropped by nearly half of what it was, which means the cost of wine should have decreased for importers. Hopefully, we’ll see these savings soon. If you love a smooth and lush style of Malbec, I recommend looking for wines with moderate oak aging with about 12+ months in oak.

Cabernet Sauvignon

  • $15: Cabernet from Lodi, Lake County & Paso Robles, California and Columbia Valley, Washington
  • $18–20: Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina, Chile & Australia
  • Look For: 2012 and 2009 vintages

Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted variety in the world. The total vineyard area is over 2 times the size of New York City! Despite Cab’s plentiful plantings, it’s still hard to find great QPRs. Fortunately, the United States makes some of the best Cabernet in the world and, at this moment, there are 4 undervalued regions outside of Napa where you can find value.

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The lion’s share of Syrah/Shiraz comes from three places: France, Australia and Spain. If you’re seeking Aussie Shiraz, and you spend $10, the wine will most likely be from massive commercial farms in the inland appellations of Riverina, Riverland or Murray Darling. Not that this is bad, Australia has one of the most advanced and efficient commercial wine operations in the world. However, parting with a twenty will get you into a range of much better quality. Spanish Syrah has all lush fruit of an Aussie Shiraz as well as a distinct leathery flavor typical of Old World wine.


  • $10–15: Sonoma, Lodi and the Sierra Foothills, California & Primitivo from Puglia, Italy
  • Look For: 2012

Zinfandel is one of the most undervalued reds. It has the same burst of fruit as Syrah, but with a little more red fruit flavors and spiciness. There are a surprising number of very old vineyards of Zinfandel scattered throughout California. Some vines are 80-100 years old. If you spend a little more and get a Zinfandel from a hillside estate in Napa or Sonoma, you’ll be surprised at the amazing quality for the money.

TIP: If you prefer bold red wines, look for a Zinfandel with around 15% ABV –a characteristic of full-bodied Zin.

Pinot Noir

  • $10: 2010–2013 Pinot Noir from Victoria, Australia
  • $10–15: 2012 Pinot Noir from Languedoc Roussillon, France & Patagonia, Argentina
  • $15-20: 2012 Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara, Sonoma, Central Coast, & San Luis Obispo, California
  • $18-25: 2012 Pinot Noir from Oregon; Ahr & Baden Germany; Central Otago, New Zealand; & Lombardy, Italy
  • $20-30: 2012 Pinot Noir from Burgundy in Marsannay, Santenay, Mercurey & Givry
  • Look For: 2012
  • There are several reasons why Pinot Noir is so expensive. One reason is that the demand for high quality red Pinot Noir far exceeds the vineyards planted. Another reason is, of all the popular grape varieties (save for Zin), Pinot Noir is one of the most difficult vines to grow well. Surprisingly enough, gobs of great Pinot Noir can be found in California and Victoria, Australia.

    TIP: German Pinot Noir tastes similar to Burgundy and is a great alternative.

    TIP! Always Try New Wines

    Now that you know where to look for all your favorite and familiar red wines. Here are a few articles that will suggest a few great ways to drink wines made from anything but the 18 Noble Grapes.


    Different Types of Wine - Updated

    Explore Wine By Flavor on a Poster

    This wine poster identifies over 200 different types of wine based on flavor. It’s our most popular wine print.

    View Wine Poster

    Merrill Partners 2012 study on factors determining how Americans choose wine.

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Get the Wine 101 Course ($50 value) FREE with the purchase of Wine Folly: Magnum Edition.

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AboutMadeline Puckette

James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly