Now in the holiday season, you may be looking for more economical bottles of delicious red wine with firm tannins to go with those crisper days, heavier meals and crackling fires.
But you don’t need to spend a fortune on red wine. It can still taste plenty rich even when you buy it on the cheap. We researched popular wine retailers to find the best cheap red wine, along with some affordable, lesser-known alternatives, and got some help from Nick Elliott, a winemaking expert based in California.
We’ve got some great information about how to select red wine and why prices are what they are. However, if you just want to skip to the list of 13 great red wines , we understand.
Setting the Table for Red Wine: A Brief Q&A
Before we jump into our list of inexpensive red wines, let’s review some common questions that come up when talking about red wine.
Why Are Some Red Wines So Pricey?
Lots of reasons. Here are some typical factors driving the price of red wines.
Age: Red wine is aged, and the longer a bottle sits in storage the more it costs to bring it to market. One rule of thumb? Expect to spend a dollar for every year of aging.
Smaller quantity: Compared to whites, red-wine grapes are often harvested in smaller quantities to encourage more flavor. Smaller quantities mean lower volume, hence high prices.
More labor intensive: Smaller “boutique” vineyards often use more labor-intensive methods versus high-volume producers.
Shorter supply: When a growing season for a particular vintage produces lower yields, the wine can be more flavorful but in shorter supply. That means higher demand and a higher price.
Reputation: Varietals that are in fashion or have a storied reputation can command a higher price.
Labor and taxes: Labor costs vary widely across the globe. Taxes and tariffs, too.
Oak barrels: Wines aged in oak cost more to produce and are often in greater demand.
Looking for cheap white wine? We’ve got you covered there, too. Check out our picks for the top cheap white wines.
Does Expensive Red Wine Always Taste Better?
Not necessarily, but the mind can play tricks on the taste buds. An interesting study found that price can influence our perception of taste. The study found that, in blind tastings, people who were told a wine was more expensive tended to rate it higher — even when it was actually cheap wine.
What Are Some Common Red Wine Myths?
Myth: Red wine should never be chilled. Well … not necessarily. Light- to medium-bodied red wines with low levels of tannins can handle a little cooling. And the recommended serving temperatures for red wines range from 13˚C to 18˚C (55˚F to 64˚F) — a little cooler than you might have guessed.
Myth: Never drink red wine in a box. Don’t be so sure! As long as the packaging protects it from light and air, it can often be perfectly acceptable — and packaged more sustainably.
Myth: Red blends are inferior to single-variety wines. Did you know that Champagne is a blended wine? Case closed.
If you love the bubbly more than red wine, you’re in luck. Here’s our guide to the best cheap Champagne around.
13 of the Best Cheap Red Wines Under $13
Best bottle: Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon 2020
The taste: This South African delicious cabernet sauvignon is a medium- to full-bodied wine with hints of red bell pepper and dark chocolate.
Pair it with: A pizza or pasta night. Or, for more of a splurge, try it with grilled New York strip steak with salsa verde.
Price $7.49 at Marketviewliquor.com
If You Like Cabernet Sauvignon … Try Tannat
Best bottle: Inkarri Estate Red Blend
The taste: Tannat isn’t well known yet — but it should be. This grape originally hails from the Basque country, between France and Spain, but has migrated to other parts of the globe. It’s the primary grape in this blend of all-organic grapes produced in Mendoza, Argentina. You’ll taste notes of herb, oak and spice layered over blueberry, blackberry and elderberry notes.
Pair it with: Bolder dishes with earthy ingredients like eggplant and mushrooms, as well as cheese, beef and roasted lamb. A traditional cassoulet is a great choice
Price: $9.99 at Twin Oaks Wine and Spirits
Best bottle: Bonterra Merlot 2018
The taste: This earthy red wine from California has aromas of spiced plum, licorice and black olive. It’s medium-bodied with smooth tannins and made from organically grown grapes.
Pair it with: Beef, lamb or veal. A traditional French veal blanquette (stew) is a great choice.
Price: $12.99 at Drizly
If You Like Merlot … Try Chianti
Best bottle: Gancia Chianti 2019
The taste: From Tuscany, this dry, medium-bodied red has a silky texture with floral scents. It’s mildly tannic, which refines over time, with a hint of spice.
Pair it with: Great for an informal gathering with pasta and tomato sauce, antipasto or lasagna .
Price: $9.99 at Wine.com
Best bottle: Mirrasou Winery Pinot Noir 2019
The taste: This fruit-forward pinot noir has essences of black cherry and raspberry with subtle notes of oak and vanilla.
Pair it with: Steak or other red meats, especially something with mushrooms or truffles such as this pan-seared steak with mushrooms.
Price $8.99 at The Barrel Room
If You Like Pinot Noir … Try Beaujolais
Best bottle: Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages
The taste: Like pinot noir, this bold bottle is fruit-forward and juicy, with strawberry flavors, peppercorns, tannins and acidity. It’s considered a great Thanksgiving red wine because it complements the traditional flavors of that feast.
Pair it with: French food such as a charcuterie board or soft cheeses. Or, for something different, pair it with a nutty, semi-sweet dessert such as pecan pie .
Price: $11.99 at Total Wine
Best bottle: Bogle Old Vines Zinfandel 2020
The taste: Black pepper, cranberries and raspberries are some flavors in this robust red wine, which is aged for 14 months in a 2-year-old American oak barrel.
Pair it with: Something strong and spicy like this chipotle BBQ pork dish.
Price: $11.99 at Wine.com
If You Like Zinfandel … Try Garnacha/Grenache
Best bottle: Borsao Garnacha 2020
The taste: Often overshadowed, this is a fabulous alternative to its bolder cousin, the zinfandel. Garnacha was originally from Spain, but today it’s often planted in southern France. (You’ll also see it called grenache). This is a medium-full bodied wine that has medium acidity, medium tannins and high alcohol.
Pair it with: Poultry, pork or barbecue. A good pork suggestion is this roasted pork tenderloin with blackberry sauce.
Price: $12 at Drinkdispatch.com
Best bottle: Alamos Malbec 2019
The taste: This wine from Mendoza, Argentina, has bright cherry and toasty light florals. This is a rich, ripe red with concentrated black raspberry, chocolate and spice.
Pair it with: Steak, pork and lamb. This burger with Creole mustard tomato jam combines all three, along with toppings that will complement your sips.
Price: $8.47 at Total Wine
If you like Malbec … Try Carmenere
Best bottle: Root 1 Carmenere 2019
The taste: Grown in Chile, this medium bodied red is earthy with cedar and hints of spice, leather and tobacco.
Pair it with: Pasta dishes, vegetable soup, spicy entrees and grilled meats. It’s also versatile enough to match with garlic, fresh herbs and eggplant, making eggplant parmesan a nice choice.
Price: $11.99 at Wine.com
Open to either red or white? Game on! Check out our list of fabulous wines under $14.
Best bottle: 19 Crimes Shiraz Durif
The taste: This tasty shiraz includes intense notes of vanilla balanced by ripe raspberry and plum fruits. This is a full-bodied red wine with a subtle sweetness.
Pair it with: Braised beef or roasted leg of lamb .
Price: $10.99 at Drizly
If You Like Shiraz/Syrah … Try Petite Sirah
Best bottle: Bogle Petite Sirah
The taste: Similar to syrah, this petite sirah tastes like ripe plums and blackberries. But it’s more complex, with rich spices.
Pair it with: Roasted pork, barbecued meat or this grilled flank steak with bacon chive butter.
Price: $8.97 at Total Wine
Best Cheap Red Wine Blends
Best bottle: Bodegas Luzon Verde 2020
The taste: This organic red from Jumilla, Spain, has the aroma of black pepper, smoke and ripe plum. It’s full-bodied, rich and lush.
Pair it with: Braised short ribs, sausage and a rich pasta. Try it with this creamy Italian sausage pasta .
Price: $8.99 at Arlingtonwine.net
The Penny Hoarder contributor Danielle Braff is a Chicago writer who specializes in consumer goods and shopping on a budget. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Real Simple and more.
Senior writer Robert Bruce contributed.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder , which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.