"Wine is water come of age." - Father Capon

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Great 10.00 Wine Hunt

My wife and I are constantly on the hunt for good wine values in the 10.00 price range. The professionals say that it's hard to make a good bottle of wine for under 10.00. Perhaps that's true, but there are better bottles than others, and, in our experience, you can find solid, food friendly juice for 10 bones if you know what to look for. I was reminded of this challenge recently when I was approached by an exasperated shopper while surveying the wine section at a local grocer (I only seem to talk to people in the wine aisle). She looked at the hundreds of choices before us and asked which of the wines was "good." That struck me as an excellent question. She appeared to have the same feeling I used to have while looking for CDs at Tower Records: "Is the 18.00 recording of the Beethoven really twice as good as the 9.00 recording? Maybe I should split the difference and go with the mid-price label at 12.00." (Thanks be to God for the Penguin Guide!) Another friend confided in me that she solved the problem by choosing the bottle with the most attractive label (too bad you can't drink the label). So, what's a person to do? Well, here are a few things I've learned:

1. Find a reputable wine shop that can narrow the choices down for you. Most wine shops taste wine before they buy which means that many of the wines they carry have already been through a selection process. Our local wine shop specializes in values from around the world and the proprietors know the wines in their shop. Don't be afraid to ask questions and ask for a recommendation (especially if you are looking for a wine to pair up with a particular food). Wine shops also carry wines that you can't find in a grocery store, which translates into more "gems" at any price range.

2. Do a bit of research. The next time you are at your wine store, write down the names of three or four wines that you've wondered about. When you get home, go online and do a basic search and see if there are any positive reviews. I have found cellartracker.com to be an excellent source for consumer reviews. It really is amazing how much information you can discover in a few minutes.

3. Taste and log. This doesn't need to be difficult. Designate a little notebook for your wine discoveries. Jot down a quick review of the wines you enjoyed (and those you didn't) and why. Take note of the producers that make wine that appeals to your palate. This really can be a lot of fun. Try different things and be adventurous. After a while you will have a good sense of your own palate.

4. Don't seduced by attractive labels. However, I have heard a compelling case made for the punt in the end of the bottle: the deeper the punt the better/more expensive the bottle and therefore the better the wine. Makes sense. Try it sometime.

5. Once you've identified a few bottles you really enjoy, watch your local grocery store for sales. I've learned that most chain grocery stores sell wine (at different times of the year) at a loss; especially before Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. So, if you pay attention you can really find some excellent deals (at Safeway...).

6. Take advantage of case discounts. A good wine shop should give you a case discount of 10-15%. Try mixing a case of 12 different wines to fuel your wine adventures.

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