Wine is expensive (Carlo Rossi excluded) and inflation is real. And many of us are feeling the wallet squeeze, which, inconveniently, might make lots of us want to drink wine a little more. Unfortunately, my personal drinking preferences were already out of balance with my budget, thanks to years of working in wine-focused restaurants in California, where — for better or for worse — I was exposed to some pretty great bottles on the regular, and now I have to forcefully steer myself toward the $20 and under section at my favorite wine shop.
Friends: There may be an answer to this need-good-wine-more-than-ever-but-can’t-afford-it dilemma, and it’s through négociant (read: wine trader) Cameron Hughes, which offers bottles from well-known, high-end producers — albeit without their fancy labels. Feeling equal parts thrifty and thirsty, I decided to try it out.
- Cameron Hughes sources high-end wines from vineyards all over the world, then sells them online directly to consumers.
- The wines are sold at a lower price point since there are no distributor or retail markups.
- You won’t know the wine producer, but you will know other details like appellation, tasting notes, vintage, and whether you should let the bottle age.
How Cameron Hughes Procures High-End Wines For Cheap
Cameron Hughes is a négociant, which means they don’t have a vineyard — rather the team is solely focused on finding premium wines from all over the world, and then negotiating the best prices to sell them directly to wine drinkers. The whole process is discreet, and generally involves not disclosing the source winery, so if you buy one of their wines, you won’t know the exact producer, and the bottle will sport the Cameron Hughes label. The wines are only available online, which means no retail or distribution markup. So how does this deal-making translate cost-wise? According to the brand, you’ll be able to get a Napa cabernet for about one-third the typical price, or a great bottle of $60 pinot for around $20.
What It’s Like To Shop For A Négociant-Curated Wine
When you’re shopping on the website, you’re not going to know the wine producer, which may be a drawback for some people, but Cameron Hughes provides pretty detailed information on each bottle beyond that. Aside from the varietal, they’ll offer information on tasting notes, the terroir, vintage, the appellation or region, and whether you should drink it now or let it age. The workers at my local wine shop are pretty knowledgeable, but I rarely bother to get into that level of detail when I’m running errands, so being able to access that with a few clicks is super convenient and scratches that itch for details. And speaking of regions — you’ll find options from famous locales like Napa as well as somewhat more under-the-radar places like the Santa Cruz Mountains and Langhe, Italy. Even better, they disclose specific appellations for many of their bottles — so if you’re in the market for a more cabernet-heavy Bordeaux, you can opt for a Margaux over a merlot-heavy Saint-Emilion. In short — while you won’t know the producer, you’ll know just about everything else.
Don’t know the difference between a left bank Bordeaux and a right bank Bordeaux? Who cares! Another nice perk of the Cameron Hughes website is that they make it pretty easy to pick out a wine. You can shop by varietal or region, or head straight to the bestsellers and award-winners. You can shop by style, too — think: big and bold, elegance and finesse, or daily drinkers. If all else fails, and you just want the most bang for your buck, click on the “Under $15 Finds.” (No shame. I’ll be lurking there, too.)
The two wine bottles arrived well-packaged in a protective cardboard crate. After inviting a friend over, I cracked them open: a Monterey County pinot grigio that rings up at $15 but normally costs about $36 in the tasting room and a French Minervois (syrah and grenache) that generally retails for three times its $14 price tag. The pinot grigio was a great summer sipper — juicy citrus with a little honey on the long finish — and the Minervois was a moody follow-up that served up dark fruits and black pepper. Most importantly, the taste and feel of both wines were on par with the more expensive bottles I’d had while waiting tables, and as a dyed-in-the-wool bargain shopper, I derived extra satisfaction knowing I could actually drink these again without dipping too deeply into my wallet. All in all: good drinking experience.
The Final Verdict
I like the idea of getting familiar with a specific wine producer, which you can’t do with négociant wines, but honestly, it’s not something I take the time to do often these days, and I found the Cameron Hughes route to wine drinking to be a fun and worthy tradeoff — you get to sip wines you might otherwise miss out on simply because they’re out of your price bracket. Most importantly, the wines were enjoyable and the quality felt very much there. I’m a sucker for a good label — and these labels are pretty straightforward in their design — but ultimately the contents of a bottle matter more, and in in that arena, the wines delivered. My takeaway? Cameron Hughes is a no-brainer for drinking something special at home any night of the week. And for an occasion, I’d gladly splurge on a $30 bottle that might otherwise ring up way out of my price range. (Looking forward to it).
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