Drinking wine on a budget
When you tell someone that you write about wine for a passion, the first question they ask me: Are you drunk, like, all the time? (Answer: Of course, because that makes for the best cliché.) The second question they always ask is: What are the best wines you can buy on a budget? Do you have a secret to finding good wine deals? The answer isn't always exactly what they want to hear.
While there are certainly still some steals to be found in the world of wine, randomly choosing bottles for $15 will probably lead in disappointment. While you might encounter a few cheap wines that outperform the price, too many are heavy, sweet or strangely tasting chemical, with an edge of straight ethanol or an aftertaste of nail polish remover.
At under $15, it's a matter of getting what you pay for...or, more precisely, not getting what you're not paying for. Grapes cost money, land costs money, labor costs money, winemaking equipment costs money, bottles and corks or caps cost money and marketing costs money. And do not forget the huge tax chunk that the SAQ takes. After you add all of these costs, that does not leave much money to grow quality grapes in quality land.
Choosing to spend a little more on wine is a bit like choosing to spend a little more on, say, bread from artisanal bakeries instead of buying the bagged frozen stuff. Personally, I'd rather have something delicious— even if I can't afford to have it quite as often. But if you can kick your budget more than $15 and under $20 per bottle, you can start drinking quite well if you shop wisely.
Are there any tricks to choosing the best not-too expansible bottles? Sure:
Taste as much wine as you can.
Get a sense of regions and grapes you like, so you can stock up on favorites and communicate with SAQ Staff about what you're looking for.
Importers can markup familiar wine brands; plenty of people will still buy those bottles. But a cheaper price can help sell hard-to-pronounce grapes like Blaufränkisch, so you may find good deals among the shelves stocked with wines from lesserknown grapes and regions.
Find a good SAQ—
one with friendly, knowledgeable staff. I do not have to tell you this but not all the SAQs are made the same. I have 3 SAQs that are among my favorites in Montreal. They are the SAQ Selection in the Atwater Market, SAQ Selection in 440 de Maissoneuve in downtown and the Selection in Rockland. All of them have the largest specialty sections and have very friendly and knowledgeable staff.
Skip the oak:
In many situations, oak barrels drive up the price of wine. Unless you're really craving toasty flavors, consider a unoaked wine or one that has been aged in old oak barrels. They are much cheaper.
Buy at SAQ Depot.
You can get a discounts depending on the quantity of bottles that you buy. For example, if you buy 3 bottles you get 3% off; 10% off with the purchase of 6 bottles; 15% with the purchase of 12 bottles. In addition, you have some wine selections that are not available in other SAQs.
Marco Giovanetti is an ItalianVenezuelan sommelier student in the ITHQ of Montreal, Quebec. He has 15 years of experience tasting wine from Europe and emerging wine regions. His key specialties are the wines of Tuscany, Italy and the wines of Spain. He...