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Drink Different, Drink Thoughtfully and Drink Up: Simple Ways to Find Real Wine Values

How many of you have been seduced by a sale price only to open it up and realize, “Yep, it tastes cheap”? After years of working as a sommelier and wine consultant, I have an insider’s advantage: I can calculate what wines cost to grow, distribute and market, so I know real steals when I see them.

Here are some tips for your own treasure hunting. And keep this in mind: If you only drink mass-produced wines, you’re not giving your palate much exercise or room to grow.

Grape quest: Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find a lineup of wacky grapes. I am amazed at how many people claim they “hate” white wine because they’ve only experienced over-oaked Chardonnay, or people who will drink only Pinot Noir because they saw Sideways a few years back and are still chasing that tiger’s tail. Don’t be a lemming. There is a wonderful world of distinct grapes out there, many of which cost a fraction of their spotlighted counterparts.

Vive la différence! Americans can get lost decoding European wine labels because traditionally, these state the origin and not the grape. A classic example: raise your hand if you think Chianti is an Italian grape. Nope. Chianti is a wonderful place within Tuscany, where the Sangiovese grape is king. Don’t be intimidated; do yourself a favor and drink la différence. Assign yourself a different country each month, and do some quick research online as you taste its wines. You’ll be discovering a new world of great bargains.

Quality not quantity: See “Two Buck Chuck” and its army of imitators. If they make 5 million cases of it and it costs two or three dollars, they’re about quantity. Do yourself a giant favor: Instead of a $25 case, buy two $12 bottles and sip slowly. The qualitative price difference between $2 and $12 is something even a novice can taste.

Online is fine: It’s just like fashion or cars: we know we’re getting a deal when we spot a brand we know that’s below the price we expect – I’d buy those Jimmy Choos online too if I weren’t so busy paying for preschool. It’s just smart to compare products online, and unlike in a brick-and-mortar store, you can comparison shop while you browse. And with the Lot18’s curators, you can figure out tastemakers who like similar wines and you’ll have a shortcut to great bottles.