Grape Sense: Great wines for less than $25

Published 8:00 am Sunday, September 23, 2012

Notice the expanding wine section in grocery stores?

United States wine sales have grown at a dramatic rate in recent years, spurred in part by young people and nontraditional wine drinkers. Whether it’s the allure of a so-called sophisticated adult beverage, red wine’s widely reported health benefits or just curiosity, wine is finding its way into more homes than ever before.

Today is the first of what will become a regular Off the Water column about wine.  It’s great to add Off the Water to 19 other Midwest publications carrying “Grape Sense.”

First, I am no sommelier or connoisseur. I’m not an expert. But I have spent considerable time the past several years learning a lot about wine. I’ve found over those years friends turning to me with wine questions, which furthers my interest in learning more and more about wine. I’ve traveled to Sonoma and Napa Valley, Paso Robles and Mendocino in California, and the Willamette Valley in Oregon a number of times. I’ve also visited wine regions in Italy and two visits this year to France.

My qualifications? I like a nice bottle of wine in the price range of $10 to $25. I read, shop and spend a lot of time looking for good wines in that range. And, interestingly enough, value wine is the niche market growing the wine industry.

Total wine sales have grown significantly over the past 15 years. The U.S. wine market is in the midst of one of the biggest business booms in history, increasing 66 percent in volume from 1993 to 2007, according to the U.S. Wine Institute and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

I hope to offer a little wine education to those who may drink some wine and would like to take a step up without paying the big bucks. I will write about types of wine and specific wines.

There are many great wines in the $10 to $15 range that are substantially better wine than you can buy in most groceries. Before local grocers complain, there are some drinkable mass production wines. Bogle, Smoking Loon, Mondavi Private Selection and Mirrasou immediately come to mind as palatable wines. What I’ve found with those wines are some varietals are decent bottles, but others are not-so-nice.

So how does a little more money make a difference? Think of it this way: Choose one of those supermarket wines with a familiar name. Odds are, they are making thousands and thousands of cases of that Chardonnay you just picked up for dinner. If you go to a wine shop and get assistance picking a Chardonnay for just a couple dollars more, I’m betting (and writing this column to suggest) you’re going to find a substantially better wine.

And that’s what this column is all about. I also visit Midwest wineries on occasion and will write about those as fun places for a one-tank trip.

I have an electronic companion for this column. Each time I enjoy a new wine at home, I write about it on my blog, “Grape Sense — A Glass Half Full.”  I also write about wine news and education. You can find it at

And please write me with questions, comments or wine suggestions at I’ll try to answer either through the column or personally as promptly as possible.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, is a former Indiana newspaper editor and publisher. He writes “Grape Sense” every other week for 19 Midwest newspapers.