We often get asked why red wine is so much more expensive than white wine. The reasons are many:
Red wine grapes cost more. Last year, a ton of red wine grapes in Washington State cost an average of $1,157 per ton, compared with $883 for white wine grapes.
Red wines typically are aged in oak barrels for a year or more before being released. A French oak barrel costs in excess of $1,000. For some producers, those barrels are used for one year only. White wines are made in used oak or stainless steel tanks that are used repeatedly.
Red wines are seen by consumers as having more cachet, and therefore commanding higher prices.
If it’s a vineyard designated wine, those grapes usually cost more, resulting in higher-priced bottle.
Higher-end producers often buy grapes that are custom-farmed, meaning more labor costs per ton. The payoff is presumably higher quality wine.
It takes longer to make good red. Time in barrel, bottle aging and time to mature means it’s not ready to sell as quickly as white wine. Time, storage space and labor costs are all higher, resulting in a higher price tag.
However, there are still bargains to be found. Here are a dozen examples of red wines from Washington, Oregon and Idaho that retail for $16 or less per bottle. Seek them at your favorite grocery, wine merchant or buy directly from the winery. Buy by the case to earn an additional a discount of 10 percent or more.
Kiona Vineyards and Winery 2013 Cabernet-Merlot, Washington, $15: The Williams family produces one wine that incorporates all five of their Columbia Valley vineyards, and it is this approachable and wide-ranging blend which leads with Cabernet Sauvignon (37 percent) and Merlot (24 percent). Kiona never rushes their bold reds to market, and this is no different. After spending 14 months in 35 percent new oak, there was another year in bottle. Hence, it offers aromas of plum, Brookside Dark Chocolate Acai with Blueberry treats, nutmeg and Graham cracker. Inside, there’s a sweet entry of blueberry jam and boysenberry.
Charles Smith Wines 2014 The Velvet Devil Merlot, Washington, $13: While it’s Cab and Syrah that generate a lot of the red headlines in Washington, it’s Merlot that remains the state’s workhorse grape. Charles Smith’s team sourced from seven sites, including Art denHoed in the northern reaches of the Yakima Valley, Goose Ridge near Richland and Sundance on the Wahluke Slope for this easy drinker. Tones of black currant, Chowards’s Violet candies and toast are wrapped in firm tannins and pulsating Craisin acidity.
Lone Birch 2014 Syrah, Yakima Valley, $13: The flagship Airfield Estates brand for the Miller family already represents value for consumers, and all of the releases under their Lone Birch label also fit within this price range. The latest bottling of Syrah, which spent a year in oak, represents a cool-climate approach with complex aromas of blueberry, elderberry and boysenberry, with touches of vanilla, lilac, graphite and gun metal.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $15: Each year, Bob Bertheau’s team brings another remarkable representation of Cabernet Sauvignon made in Washington. Its 14 in oak make for aromas of plum, blueberry and toast with some smoked game and chalkboard dust. The medium tannin structure allows for full enjoyment of the black cherry and blackcurrant. Each year, the Cab ranks among the most influential wines from Washington.
Laissez Faire 2016 Red Table Wine, Snake River Valley, $16: Krause Family Cellars near Boise spans both Melanie Krause’s acclaimed Cinder brand and this consumer-minded label, which offers bright and approachable blends. She builds it with Sangiovese and blends in Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre from some of Idaho’s top vineyards, including Skyline, Sawtooth and Williamson. Krause, a product of Washington State University and Ste. Michelle, keeps it fresh and young by going with whole-berry fermentation and just six months in neutral oak barrels. That makes for a delightful wine bringing notes of smoky strawberries and cranberry amid a pleasing structure.