The Frugal Wine Lover
How to Determine Grocery Store Wine Quality
Wine ranges from a luxury to a necessity, depending on whom you ask. Whether you sip it nightly or only uncork for the occasional dinner guests, bottles noticeably raise the tab for groceries. Prices are going up, too, especially for domestic bottles. As SmartMoney recently reported, most California wineries aren't boosting production to meet increasing demand. The result, of course, is heftier price tags. Prices for popular Napa Valley Cabernet grapes, for example, shot up 35 percent in 2011.
If you don't particularly care whether your dinner guests ever come back, or if you've lost your taste buds in some unfortunate mishap, there are wines sold in bottles as big as your head for $4. For everyone else, there are thrifty ways to get good deals on pleasantly palatable products. As for which low-cost wines are the tastiest bargains, that's best left to individual taste; product reviews are readily available online, but ultimately, sampling is the only way to learn what suits you. Here are a few ways to keep wine costs down no matter which varietals and vintages you favor.
Begin where most shoppers start when looking to stretch their dollars, and that's with coupons and sale or buy-one-get-one items. If your state permits wine purchases in supermarkets and drug stores, their circulars likely offer coupons for wines from time to time. More often, though, wine sales go unadvertised beyond the shelves. Take a stroll down the wine aisle and look for sale items.
Buy wine in bulk if you go through enough to make it worthwhile. Cases are commonly discounted 10 to 20 percent. Just in case it needs saying, only purchase large quantities of wines you already know and love. Warehouse clubs provide bargains, too. These deals may even be available if you aren't a paying member. In many instances, their liquor stores are attached but separate and open to the public. Stock up during the fall and winter, when prices drop a bit.
Save time and money by shopping for wine online. Numerous websites offer deep discounts on frequently rotating highlighted products. Visit websites such as WTSO.com, invino.com, and Lot18.com for wines reduced 50 to 70 percent off retail prices. As an added bonus, you'll introduce yourself to wines you probably wouldn't encounter otherwise.
Skip familiar California wines for something more affordable from a different wine-producing region. In most instances, the quality matches. South American wineries are bolstering standards and gaining global market share. Try a Chilean Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, for example; the country's climate is similar to California's, so its grapes have similar characteristics. Shiraz from Australia is just a different name for California's Syrah, and many brands are reputed for quality surpassing their low prices.
Syrah from California is usually a decent deal, too, simply because it isn't as well-known as the state's Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. As with picking products from less familiar regions, choosing less familiar varietals provides bargains, too. Malbec grapes yield a full-bodied wine with which Argentinian wineries are garnering worldwide praise. Malbec pairs well with red meats and dishes with bold flavors and makes a good alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon. Try a Spanish Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre in France) or a Uruguayan or French Tannat in lieu of your favorite Zinfandel.
An adventurous spirit serves you well in saving money on wine. Don't be afraid of bottles from places and grapes you're not acquainted with. Of course, it's advisable to do some light research to get an idea of what you're buying. Next time you're shopping for wine, jot down the names of a few low-cost products you've never tried and look into them. Write down the results of your experimentation so you remember which bargains are worthwhile and so you don't repeat missteps. All these tactics reduce the cost of your wine habit, no matter how devoted you are to it.
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