The first wine tour Paolo and I took together was at Duckhorn vineyard. We were given tickets as a gift only to realize later, they were $85 each. Being American I assumed paying for tours and tastings was the norm. Being Italian Paolo nearly spit out his wine when he found out. After going on several winery tours in both America and Italy, I now see why.
Italian Wine vs American Wine
Looking at wine in Italy vs wine in America purely as a wine lover, one of the biggest differences I see is in marketing. As part of marketing wine brands in America wine clubs, winery tours, and wine tastings rooms are professionally staffed, organized, promoted, and conducted accordingly.
In Napa, California winery tours and wine tastings go from $5 to $50 per person with special tours or food pairings for $60 to $150 per person. While tipping is not required it is considered a standard part of proper wine tasting etiquette in America.
In contrast in Italy, our last three wine tours went more like this. We called Cadia to make sure they would be open. When we arrived, the Owners wife Mariella met us, gave us a winery tour and wine tasting before helping us load up the trunk. Same thing at Abbona where Marziano Abbona gave us a tasting, complete with wine stained-hands and scarf before loading cases into the trunk of our car. Sottimano, same. No fees and no tipping.
11 Ways to Save Money on Wine
Seeing the difference between Italian wine culture and American wine culture, helped me understand how marketing impacts the cost of wine in America. What’s exciting and why I wanted to write this post is you don’t have to move to Italy to save money on wine. I mean… who would do that! 😉
1. Avoid Spending Extra at Wineries
While in Italy the cheapest place to buy good wine is at the winery, the exact opposite is sometimes true in America. I won’t name names but there are wineries where the wine is more expensive at the winery or through a club than it is in a wine store or supermarket. Before taking a winery tour, check prices at local supermarkets or wine stores. Without that knowledge before hand, it’s all too easy to overspend or sign up for a winery club after a wine tasting at the vineyard.
2. Skip Direct-to-Home Wine Clubs
For the winemaker, direct-to-home wine clubs are about guaranteed sales and moving inventory. For the wine drinker, they are a risk. Wine club shipments are a balance between a few good bottles and a few that won’t move without the help of mixed cases moved through clubs. So while you might spend less per bottle, there’s a good chance you’ll be less than delighted with more bottles than you would like.
3. Don’t Save the Best Bottle for Last
No matter where you are in the world, there is one thing you cannot avoid and that’s palate fatigue. While the wine tour hosts I interviewed for wine tasting tips noted not everyone fatigues at the same rate, they unanimously agreed when you hit palate fatigue the ability to detect distinctions between wines is lost. Palate fatigue is basically the point of no return. Opening the best, most expensive bottle at the end of the night means there is a greater chance you won’t be able to taste the difference from a cheaper bottle.
4. Learn How to Tell if Wine is Corked
While in Italy taking a corked bottle back is practically unheard of, the exact opposite is once again true in America. Knowing how to tell when a bottle is corked can save you from spending money on bad wine in restaurants, liquor stores, supermarkets, big box stores, and specialty wine stores across America. Learn how to tell if wine is corked and take or send bad bottles back.
5. Try Malbecs
There’s a reason Malbecs comprise half of my favorite wines for under $10 a bottle in America list. Argentina wine producers have Malbec down to a science. While that won’t give you much in the way of a surprising new find, it will give you a reliably good red. Typically, you’re looking at a drinkable red that still claims character. Drier, fuller-bodied, great with steak.
6. Save Money on Wine While Traveling
Restaurants in America mark up wine two or three times. That makes an inexpensive $10 bottle more like $20 to $30. The real problem is then how to save money on wine while traveling when a vacation typically includes dinner out each night. Don’t skip that romantic toast, just google “where is the nearest wine store?” and pick up a bottle of delayed gratification for later that night in the hotel.
7. Boxed Wine
Don’t discount boxed wine for everyday drinking. In a previous post, I shared 5 reasons I secretly love boxed wine. Among them, boxed wine helps balance the budget and makes solo drinking or cooking with wine guilt-free.
8. Like Expensive Wines? Try Second Labels
Many wineries bottle lower-priced wines under a second label. A bottle of 2017 Duckhorn Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon goes for $78. While a 2017 Decoy Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon goes for $25. Decanter recently published a list of the 30 Second Bordeaux Wines to Try for French wine fans which is definitely worth a read.
9. Drink Expensive Wines Without Opening the Bottle
Trying to get the most out of one bottle is something tasting room staff know a little something about. Enter the Coravin a staple in high end tasting rooms across America. The Coravin clamps on a wine bottle to push a needle through the cork. As wine pours out argon, a gas that doesn’t react with the wine, gets pumped in. Since cork naturally reseal itself you can pour out a little bit of wine without taking the cork out of the bottle. PS: perfect gift for wine lovers.
10. Love White or Rosé Wine? Try a Wine Spritzer
Perfect in summer, the classic wine spritz is an easy way to make a bottle of wine last longer for backyard parties. Start with a three to one ratio of wine to cold club soda and take it from there.
11. Buy Wine by the Case
Not the shy type? Don’t be afraid to ask if case discounts or end of vintage sales are available. Most big box stores and supermarkets across America offer case discounts of 10 – 15%. Thankfully in Italy, winery owners gift loyal customers discounts on cases of wine. Or in our case, trunk-fulls.
Unpopular opinions? Maybe. Feel free to share your thoughts or tips to save on wine in the comments below.
Wine in Italy is not Better than Wine in America
Now, this isn’t to say wine is always more expensive in America. It also doesn’t mean Italian wine is better than American wine. Or that the Italian wine experience is better than the American wine experience. It’s not. It’s just different.
While Italian winemakers thrive on tradition, America winemakers are more free creativity, less bound by hundreds of years of tradition. Plus, as I’m always quick to point out in defense of American wine culture, wine lovers in America have easy access to wine from all around the world. The opposite is true in Italy where the only wine available is most often, local Italian wines.
Deciding if a wine is “better” is subjective because it always comes down to feelings. Pricing however is objective. Across the board in Italy finding quality wines at low prices is consistently easier. So while we didn’t move to Italy for the wine per se, reducing our cost of living on one of our top five expenses without giving up the quality wine we love is most certainly a perk.
For me, old-world wines give me all the feels. How about you? What’s your favorite varietal?