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On the cheap: 'For $10 no one expects single-vineyard, hand-tended fruit aged in French oak.' Photo: Peter Braig

Cathy Gowdie

My local bottle shop has bottles for $8, $10, $12. Is it worth grabbing a bottle of that $12 French sparkling? Why is it this cheap, and is it bad?

As Dolly Parton likes to point out, ''It costs a lot of money to look this cheap''. When it comes to wine, it costs a lot of money to sell it this cheap. With few exceptions, only big companies can afford the economies of scale.

To get an idea of industrial winemaking, Google ''winery tank farm'': the photos are the opposite of rustic. The grapes often come from huge paddocks where most vineyard work is by machines, not people. Few cheap wines see the inside of a barrel. If woody flavour is required, bits of oak thrown into a tank do the job. I tip my hat to these winemakers who, more often than not, turn out wine that is without technical faults and tastes fine.

Exciting? Complex and nuanced? Perhaps not. But for $10 no one expects single-vineyard, hand-tended fruit aged in French oak. If you sample widely you'll find something pleasant for Sunday barbecues.

All the above applies to still wines, not sparklings. If your sparkling budget is really tight, I'd point you to one of the big-brand Australian sub-$12 bubblies made from pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier. But I rarely find a cheap sparkling that doesn't taste like, well, cheap sparkling. Cheap fizz is a zone you enter at your own risk.

Cathy Gowdie owns Foxeys Hangout winery on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria.