CheapWineRatings.com, which ought to know, draws the line at $20. Brooklyn Wine Guy says $12, allowing some leeway for inflation and fluctuations in the value of world currencies. Wine marketers categorize any wine over $15 as “super premium,” which would indicated that “cheap” has to be somewhere below $15.
The Wine Curmudgeon started his reviewing of “cheap” wines in the early 1990s, drawing the line at $10, and has not moved the line since, largely because of the worldwide grape glut:
The proliferation of companies focusing on cheap wine, like Bronco, The Wine Group, Three Thieves, etc…have taken advantage of the oversupply of grapes and used modern marketing techniques (something else that didn’t exist in the wine business 20 years ago) to sell wine. Used to be, it was disparaging in the business to sell cheap wine…
Not so much anymore, he says. Still, his reviews have crept up into the $20 range for wines that offer exceptional value.
My 1971 edition of The Signet Book of Wine notes that decent bottles can be had for under a dollar, but acknowledges that there is a quality component involved in calculating cheapness:
You should never buy the cheapest wine in any category, as its taste may discourage you from going on. (The cheapest) wines will always be too expensive.
Easy advice, given that a decent cru bourgeois could then be had for $1.50 and a premier cru for $7. Adjusted for inflation, those same wines should be, respectively, $8 and $37, which would still be pretty cheap if they didn’t actually cost $25 and $500.
In an atempt to bring order to a chaotic universe, a scholarly paper called Segmenting the Wine Market Based on Price: Hedonic Regression when Different Prices mean Different Products uses a 12,000 entry dataset and the following formula to segment the wine market into four distinct categories based on market behavior rather than subjective judgment.
I, personally, draw my own distinction at $17, because for some reason I’m able to say “it’s seventeen bucks a bottle” dismissively, as if it weren’t actual money, but I can’t do it with $18. In my mind, $18 rounds up to $20, and $20 feels more substantial.
My question to the two or three people who regularly read this blog is this: where do you draw the line? To you, where is “cheap,” and why?