Since starting to write about wine in the 1970s as a financial journalist covering the evolution of the California wine industry, as a syndicated weekly wine columnist, and then continuing as a freelancer when I switched to the PR profession, I’ve always searched for values from around the world to share with others.
It’s easy to write about the most expensive wines from around the world – the first-growth wines from Bordeaux, Grand Crus from Burgundy, Grand Reservas from Spain, Super Tuscans from Italy, and cult wines from California, to name a few. The bigger challenge is to find the little gems from smaller producers, discounted wines from the giants looking to clear inventory, or limited editions not selling through the traditional retail channels and find excellent values that titillate the taste buds and are easy on the wallet.
The definition of value varies widely, depending upon the wine, the source, and where it fits within its category. For example, you can find tasty discounted wines at every level, from a $15 California Merlot, to a $20 Oregon Chardonnay or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, $30 Bordeaux, $40 Bourgogne (or Rioja Gran Reserva or Chianti Classico Riserva), $50 Champagne, to $75 Brunello di Montalcino and Super Tuscan.
When I started the quest, the California wine industry was stirring, coming out of a somnambulant era and discovering its essential ingredients for future success (classic Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay). At the time, just two dozen Napa, California, wineries were producing much of value and quality, with a similar number in Sonoma.
I wrote a column in 1974 for San Francisco Magazine on 20 Cabernet Sauvignons under $5. The dependable benchmark was the 1972 Beaulieu Vineyard (BV) Napa Valley Cabernet at $4. The column included a discovery, the first wine from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, its 1972 Cabernet, at $5 (its 1973 made history when it won the 1976 Judgement in Paris against top Bordeaux wines and Chateau Montelena beat the Burgundy Grand Crus!).
From there, the California wine industry grew steadily in reputation and volume. Only a little dribbled through the import channels, and we always questioned the quality and marketing integrity of producers from Spain, France, and Italy. Rightfully so. In one scandal in Italy, authorities seized thousands of barrels that contained alcoholic liquid called ‘wine’ that had no grape juice in it at all. In France, five wine professionals were found guilty of running an elaborate multimillion-dollar fraud involved trucking hundreds of thousands of cases of cheap Spanish bulk wine north to France, changing the official paperwork to reflect a French origin, and bottling it and selling it as more valuable Bordeaux appellations, including Margaux and Médoc.
With increased regulatory scrutiny worldwide and online whistle-blowers poised to go viral with any discovery of miscreants or fraud, we can be more trusting in our search for great values. The following covers my favorite sources and ones I encourage you to explore.
I like to start in person with different Costco warehouses in my region. Their buyers find exceptional deals as distributors move to clear inventories (e.g., a respected California Cabernet marked down from $40 to $25). Grocery store chains are another excellent source. For broader explorations, I searched through the online inventories of the big chains in my region (Total Wine, BevMo,, which offer free or discounted delivery. To expand your horizons and enjoy sorting through many daily offers, subscribe to newsletters and feeds from online direct-to-consumer (DTC) merchants.
The latter are sometimes called Flash Sale sites. They issue hot offers more than once daily, promoting their wines at discount prices. The sales can be driven by a winery or a distributor seeking to unload inventory when new wines are starting to enter the sales pipeline. The offers are compelling (and sometimes grossly over-written). For validity, the pitches often include great tasting notes, ratings by critics, showing how much the wine has been discounted versus the winery and other web sources, free shipping (based on the order size), and an urgent call to buy before the limited supply is gone.
Each DTC site has its favorite array of brands and wineries. Some have access to better values from certain countries, such as Italy and France. Others succeed in finding limited bottlings from quality producers. On a typical day, I’ll see 15 to 20 offers, some customized based on my purchasing habits and clever marketing algorithms. The challenge is to be disciplined and consider needs (personal, family, friends, gifts, parties, gifts), estimated consumption over time, say six months, and wines to save for years.

From Daily to Celebration Wines
One approach is to think about categories, such as daily wines, weekend wines, celebration wines, and collectibles, including interesting wines at lower prices to taste over time and see how they evolve (Mendoza Malbecs, Sonoma Chardonnay, mid-priced California Cabernet or Haut-Medoc from Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Cotes du Rhone, Brunellos, Riojas and more).
Register with several DTC sites to get a feeling for style, array of wines, price ranges, and strengths. What do you like from each, or not? Make a few purchases to validate, starting with three or four-bottle lots. Beware of scoring inflation! Some wine critics are known for being generous in their ratings based on financial or other considerations with wineries and distributors.

If you find something you like, check the site for its history. Some offer the same wine from a different vintage each year (e.g., a Chenin Blanc from South Africa, Rioja Reserva from Spain, Aussie Shiraz, and second label Cabernet Sauvignon from California, a Rosso from Italy).
For validation, go to CellarTracker. Eric LeVine, the former Microsoft database expert, created the program to manage the inventory of his growing collection of wines and to add tasting notes. He shared with friends who loved the program. He launched it for free in 2004, and it has become the world’s largest database of public tasting notes. The crowd-sourced reviews number in the millions and correlate well with the rankings of the most credible wine critics. The CT database is so robust you can start typing part of the producer’s name in the search field, and it begins loading suggestions. This is incredibly valuable when looking for reviews. Using CT to manage your wines, which I do, makes it easy to add a wine to your cellar (or closet) and ensure that you have the correct name, vintage, and other relevant designations (this is critical with wines from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Austria).

Best Value Sites
Here are the sites I use most frequently.
Garagiste. Based in Seattle, Garagiste offers a great array of finds from the U.S. and abroad, with prices from under $10 to over $100. Jon Rimmerman, the founder, writes descriptions to highlight each wine, ranging from pithy paragraphs to what could be the introduction to a book on a favorite producer in France, Washington, or anywhere else.
The emails have easy one-click links to your account to make your request on the current offering (depending on the offer, from a six-pack up to 24 bottles or more). The requests are first-come, first-served, so move fast if you like the offer. Garagiste sends a confirming email in two or three days on your success or not. I’ve purchased bargain reds from them, up to Premier Cru Burgundy and high-end Rhones and Montepulciano. They occasionally offer “mystery wines” from major producers with significant discounts. I’ve been pleased and have bought a few (Oregon Pinot Noir, Chablis Premier Cru, Washington red blend).
Wines Till Sold Out. It sends daily emails on bargains from throughout the world. WTSO gets wine from distributors and wineries trying to clear older wines from inventory to prepare for newer vintages entering the sales channels. Discounts can be 25% to over 50% from original retail costs and other online sales sites. A typical offering is four bottles of featured wine for under $20 each, with free UPS shipping included. They have free shipping on every offer, based on number of bottles and cost. In addition to value wines from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and Chile, WTSO often has excellent finds in $25 to $40 wines from France, Italy, Spain, and Germany (Brunellos, Rioja Reservas, Chablis Premier Crus, Bordeaux classified wines).

Higher-Priced Wines, Imports
Wine Access offers more high-end wines or interesting finds, such as smaller lots from major producers, limited releases from vineyards adjacent to name brands and cult wines, and wines from star winemakers from the cults who also produce under their own labels. In the past year, I’ve had finds from Napa, Germany, Chablis, Bordeaux second labels, Bourgogne bargains, and tasty older California Zinfandels and Pinot Noirs coming out of cellars. It has free shipping on most orders, depending on quantity and price.
Invino has a good range of imports and is distinct from Vivino, which claims to be the largest online retailer and has a robust mobile phone app for ordering wines. Recent Invino purchases included a discounted $100 California Cabernet ($59), Mendoza Malbec, Aussie Riesling, Bourgogne Rouge, Washington Rhone blend, and California bubbly. Free shipping is usually included.
Vivino has extensive offerings, with excellent finds in the $35 to $50 range. You can customize your interest in different wine types, varieties, country of origin, and prices. Its database generates regular offers to match your preferences, with occasional new ideas. Go to the website and explore using the different criteria (e.g., Showing 21,834 wines between $10 – $50 rated above 3.8 stars; Showing 2,587 wines between $20 – $50 rated above 4.2 stars). Recent purchases included a St. Emilion Grand Cru ($59), single-vineyard Oregon Pinot Noir ($39), Chablis Premier Cru ($34), Argentina limited Cabernet ($38), and Brunello de Montalcino from a top producer ($79).
Finally, for validation, before you hit the buy button, check Wine Searcher, where you can search for wines and best prices from merchants everywhere. I use this site to check prices and find a resource for anything from a new release to a rarity from afar, such as a gift.
Examples of Recent Values
The global quest for values continues. I’ll be sharing discoveries in future issues of WDT, ranging from box and canned wines up to discounted stars from the leading regions of the world. I don’t receive any compensation from the industry for my reviews or any commissions on sales. I buy most of the wines and find more candidates for reviews at tastings by distributors, wineries, trade associations, regional and national marketing organizations, and wine clubs. Here are a few recent finds to get started:
$17 Sonoma Coast 2021 Raeburn Chardonnay. Sharp, mid-dark gold, viscous (14.0 alc.); tropical, vanilla, citrus, wine lees nose; low-mid acids; round, fatter style; long semi-lush, tropical finish. w/baked chicken. 16 UC Davis scale, 90 other scales.
$20 Right Bank 2019 Château de la Chapelle Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux. 85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Sharp mid-dark garnet, viscous (14.0 alc.); smokey, cocoa, herbaceous, red fruit and wood nose; mid acids; mid+ tannins; some style; balanced earthy wood and berry finish. w/beef. 16/90.
Mendoza, Argentina, 2020 El Enemigo Chardonnay ($23). Mid-dark gold; viscous (13.5 alc.); tropical, peach, wine lees nose; mid+ acids; mid+ body; fatter style; long semi-hot finish. w/BBQ chicken. 15.5/89.
2021 Alphonse Mellot Sancerre La Moussière ($27, Total Wine). Mid-straw gold, viscous (13.0 alc.); herbaceous, citrus, boxwood Sauvignon Blanc nose; mid+ acids; mid-deep fruit; semi-long, balanced, stylish finish. w/shrimp. 16.5/91.
2021 Morgan Chardonnay Highland Santa Lucia Highlands ($28 Sharp, mid-dark gold, viscous (14.1 alc.); tropical, stone fruit, oak nose; medium acids; medium-full fruit; long semi-lush peach and oak finish. w/roast chicken. 16.5/91.
$29 Aussie Riesling, 2020 Capel Vale Whispering Hill. Sharp mid-green gold; green fruit, apple, petrol, clove nose; mid+acids; mid+body; good structure and style; long semi-lush finish. w/pot stickers, stir fry. 16.5-17/91-92.
$29 Sonoma Coast 2020 CrossBarn (Paul Hobbs) Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast. Mid-ruby, viscous (14.1 alc.); red fruit, ripe grape, stemmy, cherries, and wood nose; mid acids; mid+ tannins; bigger style (almost Syrah-like); long hot, chewy finish. 16-16.5/90-91.
$30 So. Australia beef, rib, and grill wine 2020 Penfolds Shiraz Bin 28. Dark purple, rim variation, viscous (14.5 alc.); ripe grape, prune, black fruit, peppery nose; mid acids; medium-full tannins; deep fruit; long black fruit, berry finish. 16.5/91.