Drink

The Best Cheap Wines That Taste Expensive (A Sommelier's Cheat Sheet)

M Dining’s Gigi Varua shares locally available options that we, peasants, can afford but are also good enough for connoisseurs to drink.
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If you know how to look and you know where to go, then you know that even the best cheap wines can taste like tens of thousands of pesos. In the Philippines, that resource for all things wine is Gigi Varua.

Varua’s spritely build and impish smile has been a common fixture in M Dining’s dimly lit space, but newcomers may be oblivious of the important role she plays. As head sommelier of the popular fine dining spot, she is in charge of overseeing the restaurant’s wine program as well as making sure guests who choose to have wine with their dinner (and many do at M Dining) enjoy their bottle in optimal conditions. Though M Dining is known for its high-minded menu, Varua understands the potential for cheaper wine options.

The Culinary Institute of America (CIA)-trained Varua was preparing for life in the kitchen, but her mentor had other plans. “It was my wine professor at CIA that told me I should be a sommelier," Varua shares, “but I was not convinced thinking that I would have a hard time finding a job when I go home.” However, when a job in Singapore was suddenly unavailable after her work visa was denied, an opening for a sommelier position at one of Chef Jessie Sincioco’s restaurants was on offer. “That’s how I got my start,” Varua narrates. “I never looked back.” 

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Her stints working in some of the fanciest dining rooms in Manila exposed her to the best cheap and expensive wines available and this training also further developed her palate. She says about working, drinking, and eating at M Dining: “The type of wines I can get here is truly top-notch. Plus, the food is awesomeboth staff meal and menu offered to customers. I’m never hungry here. Or thirsty, for that matter.”

She even humbly admits that what she enjoys drinking in the workplace is not always what she can afford to imbibe at home. This really does make her the perfect candidate to share a list of cheap wines that taste likeif not better thantheir pricier counterparts.

Best Red Wine Under P1,000

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  • Grupo Alvaro Palacios La Vendimia at P785
  • Distributors: Terry’s Selection and Happy Living
  • Sommelier’s notes: “My sweet spot for wines when I buy is around P1,200 to P2,000. However, I found this bottle very enjoyable and bought a few of these for my house for everyday meal pairing. It’s fruit forward and earthy at the same time, oak is not too pronounced, and very good value.”

Best White Wine Under P1,000


  • Bodegas Nora Albarino at P920
  • Distributor: AWC
  • Sommelier’s notes: “This is one of my favorites for that price range. It’s refreshing, bright, floral, and citrusy at the same time. I also drink Rieslings and they are under that sweet spot. I drink Donhoff, Riesling, Trocken, Nahe, Germany 2016 (from Premium Wine Exchange).”

Best Cheap Red Wine with Barbecue

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  • Syrah. M Chapoutier Les Meysonniers 2015, Ferraton La Source Saint Joseph at P1,270, or Les Murailles from Gigondas at P1,210
  • Distributors: Premium Wine Exchange (Syrah only) and AWC
  • Sommelier’s notes: “I always drink a Syrah for barbecues. I like how the smoke, peppery, and dark flavors of Syrah match with barbecued meat. I also really love Malbecs from Argentina from Bodegas Catena Zapata. They are complex Malbecs and go well with a lot of food in a barbecue party.”

Best Cheap White Wine for the Beach

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  • Livio Felluga Pinot Grigio 2016 at P1,600
  • Distributor: Premium Wine Exchange
  • Sommelier’s Notes: “This is from Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and is one of my top favorites. It’s crisp, really refreshing, and goes great with any food you may be eating at the beach, including junk food. Ha. I also like Pichler Gruner Veltliner (PWX) if you can still find this. I think I drank it all. Not sorry about this at all.”

Best Cheap Rosé Wine

  • R De Roubine Rose 2016 at P740
  • Distributor: AWC
  • Sommelier’s Notes: “This rosé is a more affordable option from Côtes de Provence. It’s fruity and not too dry, which is what you want from a rosé you just want to down on a hot summer day. Of course, I’m a big fan of Tempier Rosé from Bandol (distributed by Sommelier Selection) but they cost me a bit more so I tend to drink this at meals with food."

Best Cheap Red Wine with Steak

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  • Chateau Simard Saint Emilion 2011 at P1,300
  • Distributor: AWC
  • Sommelier’s Notes: "Good value as this is Merlot-based and not too tannic but earthy enough to stand up to the rich flavors of steak. I also really like Bodegas Emilio Moro Malleolus (P2,400) for its powerful tempranillos, almost coffee and chocolate like. From Rioja, I drink Roda I Reserva (P2,630) as it never disappoints. If I’m not paying, I love Barolos and Barbarescos from Conterno, Gaja, and Pio Cesare."

Best Cheap All-Around Red Wine

  • Gramercy Cellars Walla Walla Syrah at P1,800
  • Distributor: Premium Wine Exchange
  • Sommelier’s Notes: “One of the best all-arounds. It’s from Washington and a Syrah so it’s not as peppery and gamey as a Northern Rhone but not as jammy as an Australian Shiraz. I would drink this every day.”

Best Cheap White Wine with Seafood

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  • Alphonse Mellot Sancerre La Moussiere Blanc at P1,800 or Dampt Chablis Villages 2016 at P1,200
  • Distributor: Premium Wine Exchange
  • Sommelier’s Notes: “You can’t go wrong with a Chablis, Sancerre, or Albarino with seafood. If you see those three labels on the wine bottle and you are having seafood, buy them.”

Best Cheap Wine with Japanese Food

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  • La Guita Manzanilla at P780 or any Champagne-like Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV at P2,360.
  • Distributor: Happy Living and AWC, respectively
  • Sommelier’s Notes: “I would do the Fino to pair with the sushi and sashimi as well as the tempura. Of course, you can’t go wrong with my favorite (Austrian varietal) Grüner Veltliner. I drink Pichler, Laurenz V, Loimer, or Schloss Gobelsburg.”

Best Cheap Wine with Southeast Asian Food

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  • Domaine Huet Le Mont Sec 2015 at P2,500 or Domaine Champalou Vouvray at P1,715
  • Distributor: Premium Wine Exchange and Sommelier Selection, respectively
  • Sommelier’s Notes: “I would drink Chenin Blanc with Southeast Asian food as it has some spice and various sauces and components. Same with Vouvray as it will appeal to the complex flavors and ingredients of Southeast Asian food with fruit, veg, and spice.”

 

Best Cheap Wine with Sichuan Food

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  • Fritz Hagg Riesling Trocken Mosel 2017 at P1,400 or Will Schaefer, Graacher Himmelreich, Riesling, 2015 at P1,600
  • Distributor: Premium Wine Exchange
  • Sommelier Notes: “I’m also a big fan of Sichuan food so Kabinett Rieslings are my obvious choice. Rieslings from the Mosel have more fruit to battle the spice so you can also go one more notch to Spätlese Riesling as the kind of Sichuan food I like is the one that sets my mouth on fire."

Best Cheap Sparkling Wine  

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  • Gramona Imperial Cava 2013 at P1,870
  • Distributor: AWC
  • Sommelier’s Notes: “Well-made, aged for three years, biodynamically farmed, made in the methode champenoise method. I also like proseccos. All of them.”
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About The Author
Jaclyn Clemente Koppe
Chinkee writes and eats for a living. By living, she means cake. Or steak. When she's not eating, she's running her own blog-shop, OneBigBite.com.
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