The question I am most often asked is where to buy the best discount wines. I have often answered in various ways, and one of the best in recent months has been: buy Spanish.

There are numerous reasons for this. For one thing, the economy of Spain has suffered over the last two years as one of the European Union’s weaker nations. As a result, the Spanish products are more reasonably priced to the United States, although some are not quite as well known.

Among the white wines, there has been a swing toward Chardonnay in the last few years, though the better wines are made from local varieties like Albariño and Verdejo. But it is the red wine of Spain that offers the most reliable value in discount wines.

I attended a trade wine tasting not long ago for 15 producers of wines from the Rioja district, one of Spain’s most prestigious and mature wine regions.


The red wines from Rioja, made largely from the Tempranillo grape, can be among the best red wines consumers can buy. Most do not have the aggressive tannins of other red wines, age nicely, and work well with food.

One great benefit of the wines is that of Rioja’s 650-plus wineries, few make wines with alcohols over 14%, an odious trend in many other areas of the wine world, where alcohols are running 15% and more, and which often result in  a hot, harsh taste.

Of the 80 or so wines available at the trade tasting, I found many that were superb. And I would tell you about them except for one problem: Most of the wines were, for the most part, not imported to the United States.

This tasting was of producers seeking representation.

Since that tasting, I heard from an importers representative and found that many of the producers now do have importers, and more Spanish wines will be among the better discount wines in the coming months.

Wine Opinions, a research group, released a study of wine consumers and members of the U.S. wine trade not long ago that examined shifts in the wine market during the weak economy of the last two years.

“The study confirms the trade-down trend and measures how it occurs as prices transition from $10 to over $20 a bottle,” said the report.

“Over one-third of consumers reported boosting purchases of wines costing from $6 to $15, while over 40% had cut back buying wines over $30 and were not buying wines costing over $50 at all.”

Christian Miller, Director of Research for Wine Opinions, said, “The financial effect is a key part, but not the whole story.”

Among imported wines selling for less than $20, the report showed that the greatest gains were for wines from Argentina, Chile, and Spain. The implication was that sales of wines over $20 were slower.

I wish the Rioja producers well and hope to see their wines here soon.