We may have food down cold, but wine? This is where we'll conquer it. Join us; we don't want to drink alone.
At a recent auction, French Burgundy Domaine de la Romanée-Conti went for $13,061. A bottle. But there aren't many of us who can (or want to) pay that much for a few glasses of wine -- after all, when we uncork a bottle, drinking what we like should be our main objective.
So what makes a bottle that expensive? One of the reasons is that there’s precious little of it, and that’s because certain wine laws (for our Romanée-Conti, we’re talking French wine laws -- a canon you definitely don’t want to mess with) classify very specific parcels of land for a limited quantity of grapes. Supply is low, demand is high -- and so too are the prices.
To replicate that same experience, minus the lifetime investment, here's what you can do.
One Vineyard, Two Vineyard
On the label, look for the words “single vineyard.” That means, just like with that pricey French bottle, that all the grapes used to make the wine come from one very specific place. Get the same effect as something like an expensive Burgundy Prémier Cru for a third of the price with a single-vineyard, balanced California Chardonnay. (We like this one.) A single-vineyard wine is a wine that knows exactly who it is -- it's confident and pulled-together, partly because of its unified origin.
The Label Matters
Try looking for “second labels.” Some wineries have extra juice leftover from bottling their premium wines, and they either sell off the juice, or bottle it themselves under a different label. Some companies, like 90+ Cellars, have built their businesses on buying juice from superior wineries and simply bottling it under their own label -- these usually range from $10 to $16 dollars.
Look for second labels especially with rich, Napa Cabernet Sauvignons, which will often run you more than your nightly wine budget. In a blind taste between two cabs -- one a $60 well-known bottle, one a second label that ran about $16 -- my friends found the less expensive bottle to be a natural pleaser, over the expensive, more restrained one.
How to Experiment without the Price Tag
If you’re looking to be adventurous, remember these two things:
1) White wines tend to be less expensive than reds. You’re likely to find a larger range of bottles in your price range, making trying a lot of different wines easy. Just don’t drink them all at once.
It’s becoming just as easy to drink local as it is to eat local, so look closer to home than the expensive, well-known varietals of abroad. (This book can help.) Ice wines serve as a great example here -- indulge in a renowned Sauternes from Bordeaux for $200 a bottle, or choose a wonderful bottle of Eden Ice Cider, from upstate New York, for $25.
What are your secrets to drinking well on a budget? Have a favorite wine worth the splurge? Tell us in the comments!
Photos by James Ransom