How NOT to get swindled by cheap wine

As you may know, we are suckers for some great wine deals here at Shoestring Austin. And we’ve found a lot of inexpensive wines that actually—gasp!—taste good, for about $5. But what about the ones that can trick you into thinking they’re a great deal?

Basically: how can a frugal foodie avoid getting hoodwinked by some cheaply-priced—and cheap-tasting—wine that isn’t worth its weight in pennies?

A few tips:

  • Judge the labels. This may sound like the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to be doing in life, making snap judgements based on how pretty or ugly a thing is, but hey, it’s not like we’re talking about someone you’re out on a date with. It’s just wine, and we’ve found that bottles with inordinately overdone graphics (or particularly underdone ones—think stick figure drawings or Comic Sans types of fonts) are usually trying to make up for the fact that the wine inside ain’t all that great. You don’t need to be a design snob to pick a winner but, in general, those with more “traditional” fonts (Times, Arial and the like) tend to taste better. Follow the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep It Simple, Sweetie!) and you’ll be able to spot a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
  • Priced to move? AVOID! Here’s how we got taken in at a recent trip to the H-E-B: Beaulieu Vineyard Coastal Estates 2008 Chardonnay was on sale for only $3 (down from an original price of $9), and there were 2 bottles left. It was a steal of a deal, and I believe I even commented to Celebrity Intern “How low can you go?” Now, please remember that we previously purchased both the delightful Gato Negro Malbec and Sea Ridge Chardonnay for only $3.99 a bottle, so we knew good prices could be had for decent wine. Taking a chance on this one, we snapped up the last 2 bottles. BIG MISTAKE! While this tip depends on the retailer, to some extent, if you’re at the grocery store pondering a bottle that costs less than $3.99, we’d advise jumping up just a buck or two in order to avoid this particular brand of heartache.

bad wine


  • What’s hot? Who cares? Celebrity Intern and I were recently browsing the aisles at the “upscale” H-E-B in our neighborhood (y’know, the one that caters to the hipsters?), and there was a guy stocking the shelves who asked if we needed any assistance. We said we were just trying to decide, and he remarked that Zinfandels were on sale. Celebrity Intern rather cuttingly replied, “Yeah, we’re not old ladies,” to which the stocker replied, “Touché!” After we’d made our selections and moved on, I asked Celebrity Intern “Didn’t you read the Chronique this week? Apparently Zinfandels are all the rage!” To this, I believe he snorted, implying that the masses don’t know jack, and that the authors of the Chronicle’s food section are just pulling the wool over the herd’s eyes. While Food & Wine may know its shit, and you may want to start exploring wine guides if you’re serious about your vintages, it’s doubtful that the local paper has much to offer in the way of expertise. Follow your nose, your wallet and your eye for design no-no’s instead. After all, it’s what YOU like to drink, not what some “critic” thinks, that matters.

In the end, we did manage to snag an almost-as-cheap wine that was loads better than our Coastal Estates mistake. For $4, pick up a bottle of Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2009 from New Zealand and consume with a nice pork loin. Your taste buds will thank you.