Wine is just fermented grape juice, but the wide variety of grape types on top of regional climate differences and even winemaking skill creates a lot of different flavors. Choosing the right wine isn’t as easy as it looks on TV. Both reds and whites (and now blushes) can be sweet or woody, and if you don’t understand what you’re ordering, you can have a bad experience. It’s not made easier by prices that range from $2 to $200,000 for a bottle.
Not everyone is a sommelier, and even that career path is a misunderstood fallacy. A professional sommelier’s job isn’t to go table to table acting snooty and making a show of wine tasting. Their job is more to order inventory, determine which wines to sell at all, and hire/train staff to upsell. Wine and alcohol have massive markups at restaurants, and it behooves them to convince you to order some.
But if you’re just starting out, there’s no need to be intimidated. There are cheap, accessible ways to expand your wine palate. All you need is a few store-bought cheeses, fruits, and crackers/breads. From there, try one of these methods of getting cheap wine.
1. Winc Subscriptions
Winc is one of my favorite subscription boxes. Every month, you can have a selection of wines sent straight to your door. While you do get to choose your preferences, this is a great way to explore new wines you may not pick up in stores (if they’re even available in your region). Winc’s bottle prices are affordable too, with many bottles in the $10-$30 range to choose from. This is a great place to start learning about wines.
Check out these other great subscription boxes.
2. Coupon Apps
Couponing apps are one of the best places to save money on wine. Discounts on Ibotta, for example, are typically minimal – $0.10-$0.75 for most. But with wines, you can save $3-$5 or even more. The alcohol industry is a major marketing play, and these apps represent a great opportunity to pull in buyers. Even Groupon will occasionally have decent wine discounts. Check those coupons before tossing them.
3. Secret Shopping
Secret shopping will not only get you free wine, but you’ll be paid for the experience. Companies like Coyle Shopmetrics have been providing secret shoppers to businesses around the country for over 20 years. You’ll find surveys for popular and upscale restaurants, bars, hotels, and resorts. And you’re often asked to order a drink at the bar and with your meal to complete your assignment. You then get reimbursed for what you spent (plus tip) and earn an easy $15-$30.
4. Tour Your Local Winery
If you want cheap wine, the best place to get it is at the source. Wineries have wine everywhere, and whatever they own that’s not wine is meant to make wine. Most wineries offer tours, and no matter what you may think, California’s Napa Valley isn’t the only place to grow grapes and make wine in the U.S. Even the deserts of Arizona have wineries, and we have good ones too. Visit your local winery, learn about local winemaking, and spend however much you want knowing that you’re supporting a local business.
5. Costco and Trader Joes
Costco and Trader Joes are infamous for their cheap wine selections and for two very different reasons. Costco’s membership gives you discounts on bulk wine, liquor, and other alcohol. And because prohibition-era laws still existing in certain states (which includes my home state of Arizona) criminalize selling alcohol in paid clubs, you can walk into many Costcos to buy cheap wine without a membership card. Of course, you’re going to have to explain this to the person up front checking ID (and the checkout clerk). If you don’t want to go through the trouble, Trader Joes has Two Buck Chuck and assorted wines under $10.