Want to enjoy a bottle without breaking the bank?
With Battle of the Vines putting wines in three price brackets head-to-head in blind tastings, we figured the hosts – who tasted hundreds of wines in the lead-up to the show – would have some hot tips for finding budget-friendly wines. So we hit them up for their hottest tips:
Buy at the cellar door
Battle of the Vines host Arthur Robert came to Australia from France in 2014. While doing hospitality and wine business studies he did an internship with a group of biodynamic winemakers. “My boss became kind of a mentor to me and he told me to go to Australia. He said ‘You need to explore the world and taste different wines.’ So for once in my life I listened to someone!”
Robert worked at Gertrude Street Enoteca in Melbourne for seven months, and then bought a car and travelled from Melbourne to Perth, visiting a lot of vineyards along the way. Filming for Battle of The Vines, too, saw him on the road and visiting vineyards all over Australia, and that’s one of his top tips for finding good-value wines.
“If you want to buy a cheap wine, let’s say under $20, the best is to buy it from the cellar door,” Robert tells Food Network when we chat to him ahead of the show’s start. “Speak with the winemaker and make sure that the guy is passionate about what he is doing.”
Try these lesser-known regions
Can’t head off to a cellar door? Robert’s other top tip is to seek out labels from “obscure yet fantastic” wine regions, such as Mount Gambier in South Australia, or Mount Macedon in Victoria. “These regions are outstanding, they create beautiful crafted wines, but it’s not too famous, it’s not out of the box. Price is very reasonable.”
His hot tips right now? The Otway Ranges, Victoria (look for winemaker Jordy Kay of Chevre Wines); Basket Range, SA (Lucy Margaux); the Peel region, WA (Stakehill Estate); Swan Valley, WA (Faber Vineyard); Robe, SA (Karatta Wines); Central Victoria and Macedon Ranges (Bertrand Bespoke); Ballarat, Vic (Latta); and Henty, NSW (Hochkirch wines).
And you can add Queensland to that list. Robert says that was one of the biggest surprises in making the show. “I learned that Queensland was making beautiful wines. I was not expecting Queensland to make these kind of wines!
“They make beautiful white wines … Some of these soils in Queensland are pretty similar to the ones we have in northern Rhone Valley, and sometimes the shiraz is pretty close in style. Because I spend my life in Lyon, I was very surprised!”
Build a relationship at your local wine shop
“Never under estimate the knowledge of your local wine shop. They live and breathe wine and are always looking for the best value wine for their customer,” says Frank Moylan, a musician, food lover and co-owner of an interiors store in Kyneton, Victoria, who pits his wine choices against those of Robert and Liinaa Berry in the Battle of the Vines tasting battles.
He also recommends looking out for good cleanskins. “Every now and then, there’s a gem in the cleanskins section. Again, ask the person running the bottle shop. They’ll be able to tell you much more than the region and year.”
His other tip is to drink adventurously. “Drink outside of the box. If you always drink shiraz, try another varietal. I reckon wine makers make bread and butter wines to make their money and then spend more time – and maybe love – on their pet projects. The pet projects will often come in at a much more attractive price.”
Get some insider knowledge
When we asked sommelier Liinaa Berry for her top tip for people looking to enjoy wine on a budget, she suggested starting with the wines featured in the “Under $20” section of Battle Of The Vines. Berry, Moylan and Robert take turns in the show putting up a favourite wine in three “battles” at different price points. The wines are judged in blind tastings by the “Mixed Dozens” – panels of 12 everyday Australians mixed in with a few passionate wine lovers. Each wine-producing state is represented by a different Mixed Dozen, making the show a series of fascinating State of Origin-style contests.
Robert describes the wines in the show as “top notch” at all price points. “When we decided to start Battle of the Vines, my condition was 'OK, I want to make sure I am able to choose any vineyard I want'. Sometimes I wanted to work with vineyards but they didn’t have enough production to feature in the show, like Cobaw Ridge in the Macedon ranges, for example … but I’m really, really happy with the wine selection. I think the selection of the wines, between Frank, Liinaa and I, is top notch … We’re talking about some of the best wines in Australia.”
Berry also jokingly suggested “date a sommelier” as a fast-track to insider info on bargains. But you don’t have to date a wine expert to pick up that sort of go-to industry knowledge. If you’re at a restaurant, and trying to decide which of the more affordable bottles to buy, maximise your chances of getting a great wine for your budget, and one that will match your tastes and your meal, by talking to your waiter.