Less expensive but well-made wines reveal a winery’s style.

Let’s talk about an important category of wine that is often overlooked and misunderstood. These wines serve an essential function in the wine world, and your ability to enjoy the many facets of wine will be enhanced if you know more about the category. It’s called, quite simply, entry-level.

When I recommend a wine in this category to people seeking suggestions for what to drink with dinner I’m often met with a polite-ish sneer that seems to communicate, “Oh! My tastes are much more evolved than that.”

Folks often seem to equate entry-level with swill, so basic that it’s beneath them and couldn’t possibly be worth purchasing. Frequently and unfortunately, this is merely wine hubris.

What is an entry-level wine? By definition, it is an entrance to something. You might ask, what is it an entrance to? Since entry-level wines are simple (by implication), and cheap, why would anyone in their right mind buy one? Shouldn’t we all be gunning for complex wines that aren’t cheap?

Two facets distinguish entry-level wines. First, they are made with an eye towards mass appeal. They are inexpensive enough that people in many economic brackets can buy them. Moreover, they are fruity and cute – simple and uncomplicated – enough that most people who buy them won’t hate them. Entry-level wines tend to be young and fresh, crafted to be enjoyed right now, not saved for years to come.


The second facet is less obvious and more abstract. Entry-level wines are an entrance to the overall winemaking style of a winery. A given winery might make a dozen different wines that range from fairly inexpensive to fairly expensive. If you know nothing about how the winery makes their wine and you would like to figure it out, which end of the expense spectrum should you select?

I will always select from a winery’s inexpensive entry-level offerings first. Obviously. Why would I risk starting with an expensive bottle? What if I hated the house’s style? I’d rather spend $15 to figure it out than $150. It’s common sense. If you enjoy the entry-level stuff, if you understand and appreciate the winery’s style, you might be ready for their top-tier offerings.

What are some of these entry-level wines that I would suggest? I’m glad you asked. Here are a couple I’ve really enjoyed. Maybe you will too.

The winery of St. Cosme has been noted in historical documents as far back as 1417. The Barruol family acquired the property in 1570 and remain its stewards still. They produce a slew of fantastic single-vineyard Gigondas – a grenache-based, Southern Rhone red wine, as well as one of my favorite Chateauneuf-du-Papes.

Their entry-level offerings go by the name of Little James Basket Press Blanc and Rouge, a nod to the traditional method of pressing grapes, which they employ. The red is 100 percent grenache, fermented in concrete tanks and juicy in the way that only grenache can be. The blanc has possessed me for a while. It’s a 50/50 blend of sauvignon blanc and viognier. It tastes like flowers and gooseberries and apricots fell into the same bottle of wine. Really good. National Distributors brings in the St. Cosme wines.

Another great entry-level style wine is the La Vieille Ferme Blanc. Now, I do not usually recommend wines with cute animals on the labels, but this one is different. The Perrin family has been making wines in the Rhone valley since 1909. They have become famous for their Chateauneuf-du-Papes, both white and red. Their entry-level wines, the La Vieille Ferme series, are fantastic, and, when you consider the price, they get even better.

The La Vieille Ferme Blanc is my favorite. You can buy a magnum for under $15 and you get a wine that punches well above its weight. I often compare drinking wines to the seasonal produce and flowers they conjure up. This bottle is floral without smelling like your grandmother’s bathroom. The fruit is clean and not sweet. Nappi Distributors brings in this inexpensive, but well worth it wine.

Entry-level wines are a great way to get a handle on a winery’s style. You don’t have to spend half your paycheck to figure out if a particular winery makes wines you’ll enjoy. You can do it on the cheap. And, in some cases, they’re a great way to drink wine made by experts at a price that almost anyone can afford. It would be foolish to overlook entry-level wines: They might just have something to teach you.

Bryan Flewelling is the wine director for Big Tree Hospitality, which owns three restaurants in Portland: Hugo’s, Eventide Oyster Co. and The Honey Paw.

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: