Last month, I covered four hints that will increase your enjoyment of wine on a limited budget. Here are five more tips to help you make the most of your wine dollars — because the goal, as you know, is to Drink More Wine.
Look for vintners outside prime tourist areas
Great wine exists beyond Bordeaux, Tuscany and Napa Valley. If you like Old World wine, try Spain. If your tastes are more aligned with riper styles, look to Australia. Critics' ratings may point you in the right direction, but be careful and make sure there's not a bait and switch (the "shelf talker" should refer to the bottle that's on sale). Do yourself a favor and experiment with wine from Chile, Argentina or South Africa as well. You'll be surprised at the value for your dollar.
Develop a personal relationship with a mentor at a local wine shop
To increase your wine knowledge, you must expand the scope of what you're drinking. If you become a regular customer and tap a knowledgeable salesperson as your personal guide and mentor, you'll be glad. This is obviously more likely to happen at a smaller wine shop like, say, South Tampa's Craft & Curd on Gandy Boulevard, than big stores like Total Wine & More. Wine professionals know their inventory very well and will get to know your palate so they can direct you to bottles that will please. Once a level of trust is achieved, a mutually beneficial relationship develops. You're a happy customer who buys more wine; everybody wins.
Explore the world of cava and prosecco in place of Champagne
Champagne is expensive — and it always will be. But there are terrific sparkling wines being produced in Spain (cava) and Italy (prosecco). Explore affordable bottles of each and decide which style you prefer. You can save Champagne for special occasions, and if you're serving mimosas for brunch, you're just incorporating the wine for its bubbles anyway, as orange juice kills the nuances. Also, although a bottle of crème de cassis may be a bit more expensive, you can use a splash in a glass of cheap bubbles to create a Kir Royale. Add a fresh raspberry garnish and you've got a sophisticated aperitif.
Decant and/or aerate your wine
Red wines open up with exposure to oxygen after they escape the bottle. You've got to be careful with older wines, but when you're dealing with young budget bottles, you'll be amazed at how much of a friend a decanter is. My practice is to decant all young reds for an hour prior to serving. Take a taste after removing the cork and compare that memory with a sip after allowing the wine some time to oxygenate. There are many affordable aerators on the market that'll enhance your experience.
Find a winery with wines you trust
While vintages are really important when choosing the finest wine, many producers that specialize in mass production are remarkably consistent from year to year. Examples are Château Ste. Michelle (especially riesling), Nobilo sauvignon blanc, Fetzer (specifically Eagle Peak Merlot), Monte Antico (the sangiovese blend), or the entire Rosemount portfolio from Australia that perennially outperforms its price point. Find a vintner whose wines consistently deliver for your palate for reliable house wine to count on.