Cheap Wine and Harvest Time

By / Magazine / March 6th, 2014 / 5
I hear that there’s lots of cheap wine available in Europe. I’ll soon be there for a few months. Any tips I should keep in mind when I’m shopping?

Sounds like a long way to go for a glass of lame table wine, but you are correct, my friend. You will be able to find a bottle for somewhere next to nothing at most European grocery stores as long as you realize you’ll be getting exactly what you pay for. When I worked wine retail I used to hear on a regular basis from “world travellers” that Canada didn’t import the good stuff. By that they meant they couldn’t find that masterfully made glass of house vin they enjoyed at a bistro within eyeshot of the Eiffel Tower.

A bit of an Earth traveller myself, I can confirm that a glass of just about anything tastes better if you are (A) on vacation, and (B) have a view of anything that even remotely confirms that you are on vacation.

In reality, Canada does — hedonistic opinions aside — import the good stuff. Any wine that retails for less than two Canadian bucks in France, Spain or Italy would be lucky to make it to the dock for shipment, let alone survive the trip to a Canuck port of call.

They’re built for speed, not travel. Wine is the most human of drinks, meaning, like us, it doesn’t enjoy a rough ride. If I strapped you to a pallet, locked you in a container and tossed you on the waves for a few weeks I’m betting you’d feel a bit worse for wear.

Wines have to be solid to make the trip to the New World, and simply made European wines tend to come out the other end with little of their drinkability intact.

That rant ranted, you can find some pretty enjoyable wines that cost less than a cup of espresso during your travels as long as you keep an open palate.

Tip-wise, study your vintages. Even the most pedestrian juice will taste better from a great year. Not that vintage is everything. If your pick is a non-vintage version (and you see it at numerous retailers) odds are the producer massages it to taste the same no matter the year so it may be a safe, though less exciting, find.

My best grocery store selection tip (because a fancy wine shop isn’t where you’ll find the bargains in Europe) is all about the visual. Stand at the end of the wine aisle and observe. Any wines the locals are buying in bulk, I’m always interested in tasting.


When do winemakers harvest their grapes?

Ah, could you be a bit more specific? I’m sure my winemaking friends are waiting with baited breath to hear me tell you an exact date they should pluck their berries.

Sadly, there isn’t one. Geography rules the calendar when it comes to grape-growing, and there isn’t a magic date when a vine decides it’s right to reap its wares.

Harvest really is what it is, and that depends on place, the weather and a winemaker’s nerves of steel.

Remember the wine world is split in two. The equator divides the planet, so southern wineries are picking on an opposite calendar date to their counterparts in the north.

As if that fact alone doesn’t make your question unanswerable, countries in each hemisphere have to deal with the personalities of their individual terroir.

That’s what makes any comment that “France” has had a bad vintage such a misnomer. France, like the majority of wine-producing countries, is a pretty big place. You can’t paint every part with the same brush, because none of its regions share the same sun, rain, wind or any other excitement Mother Nature decides to throw at one particular part of it.

So in the end, the easiest resolution to your generic question is maybe in September in the north, and somewhere around April in the south — Bacchus willing.


Fresh, funny and down-to-earth, Peter Rockwell is the everyman's wine writer. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia he's worked in the liquor industry for over 30 years and has written about wine, spirits & beer since graduating from the School of Journalism at the University of King's College in 1986. His reviews and feature articles have been published in Tidings, Vines, Occasions, Where and on to name a few; he has been a weekly on-air wine feature columnist for both CBC-TV and Global Television and his wine column 'Liquid Assets' appeared weekly in two of Nova Scotia's daily newspapers, 'The Halifax Daily News' and 'The Cape Breton Post.' Today Peter's irreverent answer man column 'Bon Vivant' appears each month in Tidings Magazine and his weekly 'Liquid Assets' column is published across Canada in editions of the METRO newspaper. When not drinking at home, and at work, Peter travels the globe looking for something to fill his glass and put into words.

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