Cheap wine

You go to a store and see wine selling for less than $5. How is that possible?

You get what you pay for. Idiotic U.S. alcohol laws typically require a three-tier system: winery sells to a distributor, who sells to a retailer, who sells to you. It is a legacy of the corruption of Prohibition, but it is what it is.

So how do stores sell a bottle of wine for less than $5 after it has been stepped on three times?

Bottles, closures, labels, packaging, and transport go into the price, but it all starts with grape farming. Super cheap wines come from super cheap grapes grown in hot regions with fertile soils where wine vines floridly flourish. In the U.S., that usually means California’s Central Valley.

Those acres can exuberantly pump out grapes. Trouble is, when you emphasize quantity you forgo quality. The Bronco Wine Company of Two Buck Chuck fame farms more than 35,000 acres of the southern part of the valley drained by the San Joaquin River. Expanses of flat vineyards are farmed and harvested mechanically, which is far cheaper than manual harvesting but far less selective about grape quality. Bronco acres produce multiple tons more grapes than acres in quality regions farmed manually.

You get cheap grapes, but that doesn’t get you to a product people rush to buy. Solution: winery legerdemain. There are some 70 additives legally allowed in wine. If the wine needs acidity, toss in tartic acid. If taste needs a boost, dump in oak sawdust. Need tannin? Tannin powder to the rescue. Too much alcohol? Add water. Need color? Mega Purple grape concentrate adds both color and sweetness, a twofer when you conjure Frankenwine.

We are not done yet. Super value wine may require large amounts of sulfur to stabilize and make it taste the same bottle after bottle. Sulfite typically isn’t a problem in wine, until you get into the super value tier, and then maybe it could be.

Bottom line: You get what you pay for when you get change back from your $5 bill.

Last round: When someone annoys you, note that it takes 42 muscles in your face to make a frown, but it only takes four muscles to pick up your glass of wine and ignore that idiot.