The Great (Wine) Debate: Quality vs. Affordability


Must we compromise on quality when purchasing an affordable bottle of wine? Are the best wines always going to break the bank? The short answer is no. While there are a number of iconic producers which can be priced way out of most consumer budgets, quality wine without compromise does exist.

Does this mean that there isn’t a correlation between price and quality? Also, in short, no. The nuances of wine quality to cost can be layered and even complex, but knowing where and how to look when purchasing, whether it be by country or wine region, can lead you to finding some of the most prized value wines. Some may even call them “hidden gems.” Not only are some of these wines great value, but they’re also great introduction wines for the beginner enthusiast, but can be enjoyed by all, from novice to expert!

Wine Folly provides an insightful infographic that shows why expensive wines cost more and what consumers are paying for. Some of the key differences from Wine Folly are listed below:

Cheap Wine:

  • small production is not possible
  • less or no time in oak
  • machine harvested grapes
  • from a generalized region (e.g. “California”)
  • A blend of wine grapes
  • often contains residual sugar to add richness

Expensive Wine:

  • small production is possible
  • extended time in French oak barrels
  • hand harvested
  • from a specific region (e.g. “Napa Valley”)
  • made with premium single-varietal grapes
  • little or no residual sugar

The options for more affordable wine alternatives are endless. Many times, it just means opening your mind to imported wines rather than domestic, or expanding your palate beyond popular, iconic wine regions. For instance, instead of Napa Valley, consider Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile and Chardonnay from South Africa. Looking for a crisp, yet complex, white wine similar to Sauvignon Blanc? Look no further than Portugal’s Vinho Verde region, producing beautiful and affordable Alvarinho. You can even find quality Bordeaux that is accessible and of great value, whether it be under the Crus Bourgeois classification or a bottle of Mouton Cadet. Interested in trying something new? Look to Spain, whether it be Rioja, Ribera del Duero, or the Penedès region. There are countless affordable options, like Cava for instance, which is produced the same way as Champagne (using the traditional method) making it the perfect cost-friendly alternative sparkling wine option.

Though searching for some of these value wines can sometimes feel like a “diamond in rough,” it encourages me to continue to try new wine regions and even new grapes that are less familiar to me, and I encourage you to do the same. Who knows what you’ll discover!