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The best wines under $10 this holiday season

Here are recommendations, taste tests and tips for drinking and serving the very best of the cheap wines.

By MSN Money Partner Dec 2, 2013 4:22PM

This post comes from Marilyn Lewis at partner site Money  Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyCheap-wine aficionados, what are you drinking this holiday season?


You can be fickle. Your favorites come and go. One day it's a box of certified organic Yellow+Blue chardonnay. The next it's Alice White cabernet sauvignon.


The holidays are a great time to add new wines to this changing repertoire. Here are recommendations, wine face-offs, and six tips for drinking and serving the very best of the cheap wines.

High angle view of a wine bottle © Glowimages, Glowimages, Getty Images


In the box

If you've been leery of boxed wines, it's time to relax. They can deliver good value. "Boxed wines have come a long way since the el cheapo days," writes Forbes contributor Katie Kelly Bell:

Boxed wine stays fresh a minimum of four weeks, it's shatter-proof, portable, will never have cork taint, and is more environmentally conscious. In fact the total energy used to produce one box is about one-third the energy required to produce a glass bottle, leaving a carbon footprint one-half the size that of a wine bottle.

Bell gathered friends and neighbors for a boxed wine taste-off. Everyone was pleasantly surprised, she says, at the quality of the wines they tried.

Boxed wine is typically found in 1-liter to 3-liter boxes. A 3-liter box has 20 servings of 5 ounces each, according to this wine party planning guide (.pdf file). The standard 750-milliliter bottle contains five servings. So, when you're comparing prices, a 3-liter box of wine is equivalent to four bottles.

Here are the top three reds and top three whites (each contender costs the equivalent of $10 a bottle or less) chosen by Katie Kelly Bell’s group.

Boxed-red favorites:

  1. From the Tank Vin Rouge (3 liters), 2010.
  2. Maipe Malbec (3 liters), 2010.
  3. Black Box Cabernet Sauvignon (3 liters), 2010.

Boxed-white favorites:

  1. French Rabbit Chardonnay (1 liter), 2010.
  2. Three Thieves Bandit Pinot Grigio (1 liter), 2010.
  3. La Petit Frog Picpoul de Pinet (3 liters), 2010.

Tip: After pouring a glass of boxed wine, give it a few minutes to breathe, she recommends.

Chuck vs. the duck vs. the rooster

My current house wines are from Rex-Goliath, the vintner with the strutting rooster on the label. But if you live near a Trader Joe's (a grocery chain on the West Coast, the East Coast and some points in between) you're likely to love the famous Charles Shaw brand, which comes in an array of varietals and was nicknamed "Two-Buck Chuck" because it cost $2 a bottle in California. Until fairly recently, that is. Two-Buck Chuck is priced up to $3.79 in some places ($2.49 in California). But the name's stuck.

YouTube reviewer Harry Constantinescu compares three popular cabernet sauvignons under $10 -- by Rex-Goliath ("a hamburger wine"), Charles Shaw ("a good wine for the value" but "really, really flat") and Smoking Loon ("a little complexity" but "a little tart … a little bitter on the finish").

He preferred the Smoking Loon to my "chicken wine" (as my grocery store clerk fondly calls Rex-Goliath) but only slightly. He says of the big chicken: "Nothing special but I'm telling you, for $7, it's a crowd-pleaser, this wine."

Chuck vs. Three Wishes

Huffington Post reviewer Nile Cappello (he describes himself as "no sommelier" but "quite the expert when it comes to cheap wines") compares Charles Shaw's chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot with their equivalents from Three Wishes, the Whole Foods label. Three Wishes' label is "much, much prettier," and Cappello prefers its cab. But Two-Buck Chuck won the chardonnay and merlot face-offs.

6 more tips

1. Ignore cheap pinot noir. "The bottles I ended up buying on my shopping expeditions were all a waste of money -- insipid, dull, even actively unpleasant," writes Food & Wine’s executive wine editor, Ray Isle.

2. Make malbec your friend. "If full-flavored, capably made, appealing wines that you can buy for a song strike you as interesting, then affordable malbec's great," Isle advises.

3. Go for the volume discounts. Grocery stores and wine merchants often offer a discount when you buy six bottles or more. The typical price break is 10%, but you'll occasionally see special grocery store discounts of 15%.

4. Chat up folks at the wine shop. The folks at your local wine store love good wines, of course. They, and the smart staffers at grocery store wine departments, make it their business to be ready with tips on drinkable, low-cost wines.

"Can you recommend a couple good wines for under $10 (or $15)?" customers ask them every day. Are these salespeople knowledgeable? It varies widely. You'll have to be the judge by sampling their recommendations. Even expert wine tasters often fail to get it right. Once you find a staffer whose taste matches yours, keep going back for more referrals. 

5. Find more great cheap wines. Wine Enthusiast magazine publishes a "Ten Wines Under $10" column each month. Every month brings more wine tips.

Do your own research using Wine Enthusiast's huge database of reviews. Here's how:

  • Click on the Buying Guide.
  • Directly under "Buying Guide" you'll see "search" and "advanced." Click "advanced."
  • You'll find 11 filters, like "types," "regions" and "varietals." Use filters for "types," "Wine Enthusiast rating" and "price."
  • Click "types," choose "all wines" and click "apply filter."
  • Next, click "price" and set the sliding bar to $10. Click "apply filter."
  • Finally, click "Wine Enthusiast rating" and set the sliding bar to 100 (100 points, the top rating). Click "apply filter." This delivered a whole lot of results -- 12,259, in fact. Fun for browsing but impossible to handle. To narrow the search, also use other filters like "varietals" and "vintage."

6. Compare prices online. Many sites, such as and, are available to help you. Use your favorite search engine to find them.

What are your favorite cheap wines? Share your recommendations below

More on Money Talks News:

Dec 8, 2013 11:47AM
If you're into red wines like I am, try this one: Mouton Cadet! It's a bordeaux and it's priced from $7.99 to $9.99 depending on the store. It is one of the best "cheap" wines I have ever tasted!!
Dec 8, 2013 9:35AM
We're fortunate to live near enough to New York to be able to get wines from the Fingerlakes Region.. Wonderful dry reds and whites for around $10.00 and up. Glenora near Watkins Glen and Bully Hill in Hammondsport come to mind, they produce excellent wines at reasonable cost.
Dec 8, 2013 9:38PM
If you want some decent enough tasting wine, Walmart has been selling Oak Leaf wines for years now.  Their 750ML bottles started out at $1.99 for some years before they were raised to $2.49 and now go for $2.97.  Depending on your tastes, there are several red wines as well as white.  My favorite are merlot and chardonnay.  The pinoir grigio is not bad either, along with the white zifandel.  If you like more of a sweeter taste, the moscato is pleasant too.  Also  available are sweet red, cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc and shiraz.  They may not be the greatest upscale wines, but for just under $3.00 a bottle and most pleasant enough to serve with dinner, you can't go wrong.  Even used as a cooking wine is just as good!
Dec 3, 2013 2:52PM
We tend to like Barefoot a bit better than Rex in my household as the go to less than $6 wine. Walgreen's house wines are also a good value, but the sweet red is undrinkable and is the only bottle I think I actually dumped.
Dec 9, 2013 12:17AM
 And the millions of free bottles you bought for the millions of still unemployed Obozo voters. Perhaps the government workers but of course they have expensive taste and leave the cheapo's for the peasant working class.
Dec 11, 2013 12:15AM
Are the boxed white recommendations really 2010?

Another great little piece on box wine:

And to know: Charles Shaw, and all the other store labels from Trader Joe's are constantly changing. They buy bulk wine off of large producers and sell it under their own name. This means the Two Buck of January might be very different from the one in May; you might love one and hate the other. Best bet is to buy a bottle, crack it open in the parking lot, try a few sips. If you like it, go back and buy it case.
Dec 8, 2013 10:23PM
The last time I tried the box wine the 5 litre was the same price as a 750ml bottle. A few sips and I was convinced.. never again. It took quite a while to go through that stuff because the mix is 3 to 1 for wine coolers. All of this was not that long ago.. I cannot imagine a profound leap in technology or quality for this product. Of course my taste is my own.. I would not dream of telling anyone else what they would like or not like. just don't spill it over the side of my dish
Dec 8, 2013 4:54PM
Keep in mind that all alcoholic beverages are regulated state by state. Of the box wines mentioned above, I have heard of three, and my 4000 SKU wine area has one. If there is not a distributor in my state that carries the other 5 I cannot get them. Instead of looking for what a couple of "experts" think is the best tasting wine for under $10, just go to the liquor store and ask which ones are most popular. Two or three "experts'" recommendations don't compare to dozens or possibly hundreds of actual consumers in your area who probably have similar food and beverage tastes to you. Even then, taste is completely subjective. If I absolutely love a particular label of cabernet, doesn't mean you will like it. Also, what you eat will alter the taste of that recommended wine and may not be the best choice for the meal. My customers ask me all the time "What your favorite wine?". The truth is, there isn't one. I have had some great wine experiences, but no one experience can be fairly compared to another. Under $10 there isn't  a noticeable difference between wines of the same region and vintage, to the novice wine consumer.
Dec 8, 2013 12:59PM
Best wine is to have people to share with you. BYE
Dec 2, 2013 5:31PM

I order from FREY WINERY--There wine is ORGANIC--no sulfides added--I am allergic to Sulphur.

Really good tasting win and not to expensive.



Dec 8, 2013 8:12PM
This is not an article for wine snobs.  They wouldn't get near a $10 bottle of wine.

If you like cheap wine,  why not try grain alcohol mixed with grape Kool Aid? 
That's what's colloquially referred to in the trailer parks as 'skip and go naked'.  It's fun.  It's cheap.  Invite the neighborhood and see what happens:  yep,  another episode of Cops.

Dec 8, 2013 7:24AM
Reading this is a waste of time.  Try to find the #1 wine or the other wines mentioned.

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