There are millions of Americans who’d like to believe there is no difference between quality bottles of wine and the $5 bulk wine they find at the supermarket other than the marketing and packaging. However, as it is with most areas of life, you get what you pay for when it comes to buying and drinking wine. Though there may not be a huge difference between a $25 and $35 bottle of wine when it comes to quality, there is certainly a difference between a bottle of wine from a reputable winery and a mass-produced bottle of bulk wine. Before you grab that $3 bottle off the shelf to serve with dinner tonight, consider the following:
How Bulk Wines Are Made
There’s a reason why bulk wines can be sold at such little cost. As opposed to smaller vineyards that use freshly-picked fruit from their nearby vines and watch over the entire production from start to finish, bulk wine-making operations import fruit or already pressed juice from around the country and create their wine in huge automated vats. This means that while a family-owned winery on the smaller side tends to produce around 60,000 bottles of wine per year, a bulk wine-making factory can pump out 137,000 bottles per day.
While large winemaking operations will tell you they keep a close eye on taste and cleanliness of their wine, this can actually be a drawback as it sanitizes the taste and creates a bland profile with no personality. Wines from a smaller winery, on the other hand, ensure their wines embrace the flavor profile of the land where the grapes were raised and each varietal has its own unique character.
And let’s not forget the additives. As alcohol is not regulated under the Food and Drug Administration, winemakers can add any preservatives or chemicals they want to create the taste they believe their customers will buy. This means including everything from arsenic to sulfites in order to achieve the consistency, color, and taste that will result in the most sales. In fact, those who make wine can choose from a list of over 60 additives that are approved by the government to achieve the exact result they are looking for. Winemakers are not required to print on their labels what is added to their wines other than certain food coloring additives and whether or not is has sulfites, so it can be difficult to tell what exactly you’re getting in that bottle of cheap red.
The Secret Behind Bulk Wine Clubs
Wine lovers around the country love the emergence of hundreds of new wine clubs that offer curated selections based on a certain region, their customers’ preferences, or on specific wine producers. While these can be a fantastic way to easily discover new wines, you need to be careful about which club you join. Mark down wine clubs that offer supposedly quality wine at bargain basement prices can do so for a reason. Instead of curating quality wine from reputable wineries around the world, they instead buy and bottle bulk juice and put a private label on it, making it appear to be from a boutique winery. These bottles are called “shiners” and they can be difficult to identify other than their low price. If you see a club that offers a deal such as a $300 bottle of wine for $69.99 or six bottles of wine for under $50, you’ve probably stumbled upon one of these “shiner” clubs.
That’s not to say there aren’t some fantastic wine clubs available for the discerning wine drinker who wants to experiment with new types, regions, or winemakers. These clubs, however, will be higher priced and you likely will not save money by subscribing. Instead, you’ll benefit from the convenience of having the wine shipped to your home and by the opportunity to try out wines you may not have picked for yourself.
The Difference with Quality Wine
The difference between quality wine made by wineries who have often been in the family business for generations and wine made by mass-produced factories is huge. Just as you would pay more for a wheel of brie cheese imported from France than you would a block of Velveeta, you should be willing to pay more for a wine that embodies the passion and expertise of those who love the process of making wine. Not only will you get wines that tell the story of the region where the grapes were grown, but you’ll also get the nuances that come from small batch fermenting and the overview of experts who watch over every step of the process. Small wineries want their wine to speak for itself and are not interested in adding chemicals to create mass appeal. This means that quality wine is healthier, more unique, and provides a way for you to develop you wine palate and learn what truly speaks to your tastes.
How to Choose Your Wine Wisely
So how can you tell if that bottle of wine you’re buying is of value? One of the best ways is to develop a relationship with a local store that specializes in quality wine. If they have a sommelier on staff, they’ve already done all the work for you. Once they get to know you, your taste preferences, and your budget, they can make excellent recommendations for wines that won’t break the bank and will still provide a pleasurable wine-drinking experience.
Another option is to learn more about tasting wine. Depending on where you live, there are anywhere from a few to hundreds of wine tastings a month you can attend to learn about different types of wines and how to identify your favorites. You can also learn more about wine through books or educational videos on sites such as YouTube. Once you learn how to identify aspects of wine such as acidity, tannins, sweetness, and texture, you’ll be able to be more discerning about your wine choices.
Finally, look at the labels. In most cases, if you can find a wine that is grown in a specific region and information is given about the winery, you will have found a good quality of wine. Watch out for wines that simply state, “Grown in California” or for those that are skimpy on background information. You could be looking at a “shiner” or at a bottle of wine that was mass-produced.
The love and appreciation for wine is something to be cultivated and enjoyed. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying a good wine at a low cost, knowing what you get with a cheap wine is information that every wine drinker should be aware of.