Cheap wine. No, it’s not a swear word, although it is sometimes used as one in the wine industry. Cheap wine and nostalgia often go hand-in-hand, as one begins to reminisce about “the good old days”. Memories of late nights, good times, bad times, happy times and sad times may come flooding back to mind, and whether these memories make you smile or not, there is one important thing to remember: drinking cheap wine did not kill you!

Inexpensive wine is no new find to us students, we are all quite familiar with Bohemia’s two-for-one box wine specials, and it shouldn’t be an undiscovered treasure to the broader market either. Recently I have had to swallow my pride, and some very cheap wine, only to discover that cheap does not mean low quality, undrinkable nor unpalatable. Can you imagine my shock?

In fact, I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that most of the wines priced under R50 a bottle were of a pleasant and lively character. I know I may sound a bit pompous, but you probably know at least one or two avid wine consumers who also believe that cheaper wines are inferior to pricier wines. Initially I was very weary of my newly developed taste for cheaper wine, I wondered if perhaps it was just a phase that I was going through. Perhaps I had just developed a liking towards the ‘wine-style’. Then began the internal debate and finally a conclusion, “Cheap is not a wine style, Jenna”.

I have been led to believe that quality always trumps quantity and that it is incredibly difficult to achieve a quality wine in a large quantity. Bulk wine, another word us winos dislike, should not automatically be written off as wine of a poorer quality, nor should it readily be associated with cheap wine. Yes, it is true that most bulk wines are cheaper, however the quality cannot be judged unless one has actually taken a walk through the vineyard(s). It is often hard to believe, and easy to forget, that some of our box wines come from the very same block of grapes that various premium wines might.

Taking a glance at wine ranges, many consumers cannot understand why their R200 per bottle 2015  Cabernet Sauvignon is not as easy drinking as the R50 bottle, and here is where the stigma arises. Bulk wines and cheaper wines are not made to be kept on a shelf for 20 years, they are made for consumers to enjoy now. This does not make them poorer wines by any standards, however the winemaking behind these wine styles is a completely different ball game. These wines are made with the aim to sell  as soon as possible, to meet consumer demands and to ensure that you are receiving the same product every time. Wineries would go bankrupt if they only produced 3 to 5-year barrel aged ultra-premium or reserve selection wines at R200+ per bottle.

Being a winemaking student, and telling winemakers as well as lecturers that you prefer a bottle of sweet, pink, carbonated bubbles to the finer, more complexed MCC is a no-no. Should this be something to look down on? NO. Each consumer has their own preferences and this is what makes the wine industry so diverse. It is very easy to forget that ‘expensive taste’ and ‘tasting expensive’ are two very different things.

It doesn’t matter if you enjoy a dryer than the desert white, a sweeter than honey suckle nectar rosè or a mixed berry fruit-salad red, you can almost always find a bottle of whatever tickles your fancy for less. Chances are, if someone had presented me with a very expensive wine and an incredibly cheap one, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between either’s prices based on their taste.

Cheap does not mean nasty, cheap means inexpensive. Wineries know that students, for example,  would rather pay R25 for a beer (x3 or 4) than buy a bottle of wine, so they make various wine styles available to their consumers at a more affordable price. Personally, if I had to choose between paying R50 for a bottle of wine that I am familiar with, that is rock steady throughout the years and almost guaranteed to taste how I’d expect it to, over paying R25 per beer/cider, I’m going to choose the wine.

Another benefit of not turning my nose up to cheaper wine, is realising that paying corkage at a restaurant for a good wine (that I’ve paid much less for than the options on the menu), saves enough money to allow me to order dessert too!

If you find yourself on the fence about the idea of trying out something a little less expensive, grab a bottle or two of something that catches your attention the next time you go shopping and give it a try. Taste is subjective, the same wine won’t get a 10/10 rating from everyone sitting at the table drinking it, but if you enjoy it that’s all that matters. Try different brands too, that way you can build up a list of wines that you enjoy and know that you can readily pop/crack open the next time you’re craving a glass. I am by no means saying that you shouldn’t buy expensive wine, I’d still encourage it, but if you’re going to a braai, a girl’s night or a dinner party, grab a bottle of something cheaper in a similar style to the more expensive bottle you’ve been saving.

Introducing yourself to various wines is always a great idea, don’t get too hung up on how much the bottle costs or what others may think if you’re caught drinking a specific brand of wine. As long as you are enjoying what you are drinking and making more memories as you do, then who are we wine snobs to turn our noses up at a glass of wine merely because it’s cheaper? If it’s good, it’s good!