What does a lazy $20 buy?

Chardonnay Red Blends Red Wine Semillon Shiraz White Wine Wine

There is a type of wine that is in every wine drinker’s home, but there’s no real formal name for them, some call them “quaffers”, others call them their “go to wine”, I’ve even heard of them called “soldiers”, the dependable bottles that do all the ground work. These are those mid-week bottles that you have with pizza, or the ones that you take to a mates place on Saturday night for the BBQ. They are the ones that you roll out with the spaghetti on Tuesday, where you’ve added a big splash to the pan. I, quite boringly, call them our “mid-week drinkers”.

But what’s the right price point for that mid-week bottle? It’s one of life’s more vexing questions, how much should you spend on a good weeknight wine?

I think it’s somewhere between $14 and $20, when you grab anything over $15 you notice a step up in quality, that ratio of quality to price hits its sweet spot in that $15 to $20. Yes there are good wines at $11, just as there are good wines at $25 or $80. We get to taste a lot of wine around the tasting table, but we find far less disappointing wine at that $18 to $20.

And I think I’ve worked out why. It’s because at that price, there is less room for “marketing spin”. Let me explain: in the current market, no winery is ever going to fill their trophy cabinet at that sub $20 price point; medals, awards and reputations are won or lost with wines that are $30 and above.

That same winery needs those regular, reliable go to $20 labels that will keep selling time and again as their solid performing cash cows.

At the other end of the spectrum, in that $5 to $13 zone, there is a heap of spin. For example, that new oak that is sprouted about on the back of the label is often in the form of oak chips that have been thrown into the fermentation tank rather than spending time in oak barrels.

But we all love finding a bargain, so how do you go about finding one in that sub-$20 market. Here’s a few tips that we’ve learned, generally the hard way, over the years.

  • Stick with newer vintages: every day quaffers, especially those white varieties, generally don’t age well, they are created as wines that are meant to be drunk young and fresh, with the reds holding only a few years with careful cellaring.
  • Be careful of the alcohol content: it probably doesn’t take a genius to work this out, but if you are having a couple of glasses mid-week then try and stick to a lower alcohol wine.
  • If you find a great bargain, BUY IT while you can: a great value, great drinking sub $20 wine can disappear faster than a line of cocaine at Charlie Sheen’s house. Many times I’ve gone to grab more of a wine that has been superb value, only to find it’s all gone. Buy now or cry later.
  • Variety and region: at this price point there is a direct correlation to growing region and quality, for example: try Rieslings from cool inland sites, Semillon from the Hunter, Shiraz from Australia’s classic areas of SA and Victoria, along with those “newer” areas of WA, chardy from Yarra and WA or Pinot from Tassie.
  • Don’t be afraid to buy online: places like Winestar often have great value wines that aren’t readily available at your local bottleshop, or do mystery labels that are often 20 – 50% cheaper than your local bottleshop and it doesn’t take a wine genius to work out what the wines are.

Here is a short, ever growing, list that we’ve tried recently that hit that magic price point.

Bad Henry Shiraz 2014 – a blend of Shiraz from some of Australia’s best growing areas. It’s quite dark in the glass, aniseed and dark fruits with some toasty vanilla from the oak work and some late spice notes. Its savoury, has a supple mouthfeel, toasty oak and spice combine with the velvety smooth tannins.

MadFish Gold Turtle Chardonnay 2016 – A wine with a $20RRP that is actually sold so low that it will give you enough change out of that $20 to grab a take away noodles on the way home to enjoy with it. Typical WA fruit purity, white peach and nectarine, almond meal and subtle oak from time in the barrel. The acidity gives it great length and a shape in the mouth.

De Iuliis Semillon – the Hunter Valley is synonymous with great Semillon, they get it right time after time, and these guys do more of a modern twist on it; citrus, grapefruit and lemongrass on the nose, lime dominate on the tongue and a crisp finish due to the bright acidity. It’s hard to believe you can pick this up for less than $20.

Paxton AAA Shiraz Grenache  2015 – a great example of where shopping around can save, $21 at a major outlet, $16.99 online at Winestar. This is one of those wines that helps you understand the wine term “layered”, you can literally taste the layers of fruit as it shifts across your tongue, from dark fruits to bright red fruits. Oak and tannin work is superb, creating a spice driven finish.

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