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Value Wines: Consumers' Opinions, Uncorked

California’s Central Coast, Bordeaux and Spain top our readers’ wish list for values, plus other surprising results from our survey

Tim Fish
Posted: September 13, 2010

Wine lovers continue to buy cautiously and are interested in good value more than ever, according to the results of a recent survey conducted on WineSpectator.com.

"So many great values exist because of an oversupply of wine, that I am spending the same as last year but buying a lot more high quality wine for the dollar," wrote a male consumer over 50 from the western United States.

Spending patterns have stabilized a bit—and even geared up somewhat—since last year's dramatic decline in the wake of the 2008 financial panic and ensuing recession. About 40 percent of respondents said they are spending about the same as a year ago. (About 29 percent reported the same thing in a similar survey in 2009.)

Thirty-eight percent said they were now spending less on wine compared with a year ago (24 percent are spending a little less; 14 percent are spending a lot less).

By contrast, in the 2009 survey, 61 percent of respondents said they were spending less than they did the previous year. And while last year's survey found only 10 percent of respondents spending more on wine, that number more than doubled this year, with 22 percent of respondents reporting increased spending.

Younger wine drinkers are even more enthusiastic. About 48 percent report they are spending more money than a year ago. That's a good sign for those watching the drinking habits of this new generation of wine lovers. "I'm still learning about wine, and the more I learn, the more I spend," wrote a man in his 20s.

Since everyone appreciates advice on a good bargain, we asked readers from which regions they would most like to have value recommendations (respondents could choose up to three regions.) Leading the pack in the New World, with 39 percent of the vote, was California's Central Coast, which includes wines from Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. In looking for advice on Old World values, there was a three-way tie among Spain, Bordeaux and Tuscany, each with a preference level of 41 percent.

To help you uncover some of the well-priced treasures these regions have to offer, the Oct. 15 issue of Wine Spectator features a selection of our favorite bottlings from recent tastings, with a focus on the Central Coast, Bordeaux and Spain. (Look to our Oct. 31 issue for the best values on the market from Tuscany.)

In searching for your next values discovery, many of you said you look to the New World. When asked to identify the state or country viewed as the most reliable source of values, South America came on especially strong, with 43 percent of respondents choosing Chile, followed in short order by neighboring Argentina, at 40 percent. (Respondents were asked to identify their top three destinations for reliable value.)

"South America is awesome in the value category," wrote a 30-something male from the Midwest. Other New World regions identified included California, chosen by 36 percent; Australia, preferred by 34 percent; and Washington, at 29 percent. Among Old World regions, Spain led the way with 36 percent, while France and Italy tied at 22 percent each.

While values are in demand, that doesn't always mean the cheaper the better. Only 2 percent of respondents said they're looking for wines priced less than $8. About 30 percent said they believe the $15-and-under category holds the best values overall, while slightly more than 29 percent favored the $15 to $20 range. "Value varies with the varietal," wrote a Midwestern male consumer over 50. "To me, a great $40 Cabernet or Bordeaux is a value, as is a great $25 Pinot Noir and a great $20 Chardonnay."

The fact that high quality, low-priced wines can be made at all—given the costs involved from vineyard to table—is still a source of wonder for some. "I am always amazed that so many values come from faraway places. How much profit can be generated after shipping and distributor costs?" wrote one respondent.

There was widespread agreement among respondents about how they most frequently consume value wines, with 72 percent saying they choose them to accompany casual, weeknight meals. Sharing values at parties was the second most popular response, with 54 percent. (The survey allowed readers to choose up to three answers among six possible values occasions.)

Drinking wine as an aperitif or as a stand-alone pleasure was reported by 52 percent of respondents, while 32 percent consume wine for purposes of education or exploration. In contrast, only 15 percent said they purchased value wines for (short-term) aging. One man over 50 from the Northeast, who often serves value wines for educational and exploratory reasons, wrote, "There is a certain satisfaction in serving a delicious $10 wine."

No matter what the price, red wine was the drink of choice among respondents, with 82 percent saying that at least half of the wine they consume is red. Only 13 percent said that for white. "I don't drink whites," was a common refrain echoed by a female consumer over 50 who lives in the West. For every 10 bottles consumed, 55 percent of respondents would include a single bottle of sparkling wine, but 28 percent would include none at all. Rosé fared the worst, with 44 percent not drinking a single bottle out of 10, and 42 percent drinking only one bottle of pink.

As for which wines you consume most often, bottlings from North America dominate. Of every 10 bottles consumed, 62 percent of respondents said that four or more are from California, the Pacific Northwest and other regions in the United States and Canada. Sixty-eight percent said they drink one or two wines from Australia and New Zealand out of every 10 bottles; 69 percent said the same for South America and 45 percent reported that consumption level for Europe.

Among female survey-takers, the numbers were a bit different. Just more than half said that five or more of every 10 bottles consumed came from North America. About 46 percent said one or two bottles were from Europe, while 43 percent choose a single wine from South America and 37 percent a single wine from Australia and New Zealand. Only a third of women said they are buying less wine than a year ago, while two-thirds were buying the same amount or more. In addition, while red was still the color of choice, almost 60 percent said that one of every 10 bottles purchased was a sparkling wine, and 40 percent said that one in 10 was a bottle of rosé.

Finding high quality values that offer plenty of room for exploration in terms of flavor, type and style can be challenging, given the vagaries of production and distribution. But consult Wine Spectator's Oct. 15, 2010, value charts or the Value Wines section of WineSpectator.com, where we include only wines that are made in good quantities, adhere to quality and price criteria and were tasted by Wine Spectator editors over the past six months, so many should be available at your local wineshop or grocery.

If you are interested in finding the best values from California, Spain, Bordeaux and beyond, here's your chance. You made the call, and these wines deliver the goods.

View charts of our Value Wines Survey results (in PDF Format)

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