The cost difference between a ten dollar bottle of whiskey and a forty dollar bottle of whiskey can be quite astounding even to people who may not have a highly refined palette. I do not have a particularly refined palette to tell you what makes one wine ever so much more enjoyable than another, but I can tell you that for many purposes cheap wines are the much better option.
If you are doing anything to change the flavor of the wine, such as mulling or making a German “gluewein” then reaching for the lower end of the price range makes quite a bit of sense to me. If you are going to host a large crowd, then ten bottles of two buck chuck is probably the better option than two bottles of premium wine, as using alcohol as “social lubricant” is less about the taste of an individual sip as it is an aid to spur conversation and human to human interaction. If you are cooking, cheap wines are great because their strong notes mellow nicely.
I lamented that getting three pounds of beef cheeks for 9 dollars was a good bargain in today’s market for my area, but needing to buy a 7 dollar bottle of red wine to cook them in destroyed the economy of the cut of meat. A friend recommended I try some of Aldi’s cheap wines, and so the next time I drove by an Aldi, I stopped inside to purchase some cheap hooch. For background purposes, Winking Owl is a Gallo brand, and Gallo has been putting out cheap supermarket wines for as long as I can remember.
Now with that in mind, the $2.89 bottle of “Winking Owl Shiraz” is definitely a cheap wine. Shiraz is a pretty bold red, and when done it cooks like Pinot Noir for braising beef or chicken (and honestly it would take someone with an incredibly refined palette to be able to tell the difference in the end product). Why? Because wine is traditionally used as a braising liquid for tough cuts of meat, like mature rooster in Coque a Vin, or with beef short ribs or cheek meat. The cheapest I can find Pinot Noir is about eleven dollars for a 1.5 liter bottle (of Yellowtail, also a budget friendly brand), which would work out to about $5.50 for a standard 750 ml serving. Bon Apetit magazine simply gives a list of “dry red wines” to use for when a recipe calls for red wine.
So, I’ve now used Winking Owl Shiraz for both cooking and drinking. For cooking, it’s an absolute bargain, and I will be buying it again for beef cheeks.
For drinking, it is an acceptable red wine that you can make better by decanting the bottle into another container the day prior, and then refilling the bottle and replacing the cork. Let it chill overnight in the refrigerator. What this will do is allow the atmospheric oxygen to “pep up” the flavor of the pleasant fruity notes and minimize some of the sour notes. It still won’t taste like an expensive or exquisite wine, but it will taste better than straight from the bottle two buck chuck. Even doing this a few hours before serving will greatly improve the taste for most people. But, if you are going to do this for ten bottles for a large gathering, you are well into the “labor of love for economy” at this point, but you’ll have spent less tan 28 dollars and 90 cents for 42 servings of wine, at a cost of 68 cents per 6 oz serving. That’s a pretty good deal compared to a restaurant like Red Robin where a glass of wine starts at $4 per serving and goes up from there.
Now, for those quiet moments when you want to really enjoy a good glass of wine with a book or some calming music? You should probably treat yourself to something better than Winking Owl. But for a glass of red win with dinner with friends? I’d have no problem serving Winking Owl, especially if I were making anything Italian, Mexican, or “rustic French.” Anything heavy on tomato and herbs would be appropriate.
So in the end, it’s a cheap wine which is simultaneously an amazing value as a cooking wine and great value as a wine to pair with dinner, and yet also not a wine I would recommend for a nightcap or for someone to relax with without food unless they were particularly fond of unpretentious dry red wines .