Last week I attended my very first meeting of a book club set up by a friend. We’re all in our 20s and pretty universally broke, so when my friend suggested everyone bring $5 to cover the cost of wine and cheese, I jumped at the opportunity to get the wines. There’s nothing worse than facing a table of bad cheap wine after a long day at work (except maybe the hangover the next day).
When it comes to cheap wine (here defined as under $10), my general rule is to always avoid the familiar grapes. There is NOTHING worse than cheap Pinot Noir. I, for example, spent $55 (including tax!) on a Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Barbera, Zweigelt and Minervois. Sometimes knowing about wine is associated with snobbishness – the more you know the better you are at spotting the gems among the cheap stuff. Knowing what wines can be both affordable and drinkable takes some serious wine skillz.
Inevitably, a couple of girls decided to bring wine with them. There were a few cheap bottles of Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Sauvignon (let’s keep them anonymous for now). The ladies went for these name-brand-recognition wines first and left my sad, better bottles behind. Why would they take a chance on something they couldn’t pronounce when there was Pinot Grigio on the table?! Because it’s what they know – it was familiar, if not better.
Later, I introduced myself and offered up my wine-sourcing talents for future gatherings. I revealed that I was a total wine nerd (not snob!) and that I’d paid only $55 for all the wine I brought (!). I was vindicated when the collective eyes of the group lit up and a couple of tipsy book clubbers even exclaimed that, “Oh! That’s why the wine was actually good!” It’s been settled, then, that I’ll be bringing the wine from here on out.
This little anecdote has a few takeaways:
- Don’t be afraid to know your wine! It doesn’t make you a snob, but it will help you to drink better wine.
- Be adventurous! Don’t be afraid to try wines you’ve never heard of! Get off the beaten track and try new things.
- You don’t have to drink expensive wine to drink good wine! You can drink good wine on a budget – you just have to do a little homework.
- Be the person who knows how to pick good wine without breaking the bank. It will only garner you more invitations to book clubs, dinner parties and other grown-up activities.
If you’ve never heard of the wines listed above, go out and grab a bottle and see what you think. Wine education is everywhere these days – even Eric Asimov at The New York Times has started a virtual wine school to help readers learn the basics. These days, there’s no excuse for bringing the cheap stuff that tastes cheap. Consumers have too many options and too much access to good information to be drinking the bad stuff.