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"Wine, madam, is God's next best gift to man."
Ambrose Bierce, American writer and Civil War veteran, in "The Devil's Dictionary"


Wine Bargains


Everyone has a favorite wine bargain story. 


I have found through the years that wine-lovers take just as much pleasure, and maybe more, from pouring a "surprise" value wine as they do from serving the big-name Cabernet we all know cost a fortune.  That is just human nature, I suppose. 


After all, pouring California’s Opus One or one of the Premier Grands Crus of Bordeaux might mean you simply have too much money for your own good.  You might just be showing off.  Instead of demonstrating your knowledge and sagacity in the selection of vintages, it might mean you simply walked into a wine store and waved your credit card at the salesman.  Those jealous of your success might mutter that you were being crass and crude as they sipped from your crystal, the ungrateful whelps!  (Note: not me; anyone who pours fine wine for me is a paragon of virtue and grace.)


But if you bring out an unknown bottle, pour a little bit, and appear to gravely wait for the rewarding nod of satisfaction from your guest as if only his opinion mattered, how satisfying is it to see the smile come to his lips and the inquiring look on his face?

There are many techniques used at that point.  Some hosts will say nothing, or pass any questions off with “I’m so glad you enjoyed it!”  Then, as they pass on through the guests they will keep an eye out, watching to see as the puzzled drinker sidles over to the table to read the label.  Some will let fall a simple comment, “Yes, we were glad they stumbled on that one!”  Others will regale you with the whole tale, often involving a dusty bottle lost on the back of a shelf or a winery found by accident on a dusty country road.  Then, of course, there are those who will begin with “Great, isn’t it?  Only five bucks, too!” and proceed to imply that you have overpaid for every bottle you ever bought.


I have been thinking about that.  I used to think it was all a form of reverse wine-snobbery, where buying cheap was somehow a put-down to the host lucky enough to be pouring that great California Cabernet or French Bordeaux.  I still think there is some of that in it from time to time.  But I don’t think that is all of it.


Somehow, finding a wine that sells for less and tastes in a class with more expensive wines is a validation of our skill and knowledge of wine.  Like knowing where to find the best bagel shop in town or the little Italian restaurant with the best home-made pasta sauce, it puts you one up on the rest.  Better yet, it isn’t related to having money: anyone can do it, with effort and a sharp eye (or palate, in the case of wine).  Finding that wine is the accomplishment itself, while buying that Cabernet or Bordeaux might be only the reward for making a lot of money.  Not the same thing at all.


I was thinking of this for a particular reason, however.  For the last few years, a rising tide of wine married to major improvements in wine-making quality has made very drinkable wine bargains abound.  The California wine glut from the over-expansion of plantings there has brought us “Two-Buck Chuck” and the more recent Yellow-Tail phenomenon out of Australia: good wine at a price that was well below what was available in earlier years.

As I write this, the falling dollar is making the price of foreign wines relatively more expensive.  As the Euro rises, so do the prices of Italian, French, German, and Spanish wines.  The same holds true for Australian and New Zealand bottles as those currencies rise against the US dollar.  As the California wine glut works itself out over the next year or two, I think we might see prices there firm up and start to rise.  Our current bargain-friendly atmosphere might slip a bit.


Meanwhile, we all have our favorite wine bargain stories.  My favorites the last few years both involve Italian-style wines.  One is a Sangiovese from Di Majo Norante in Molise, Italy.  Normally about $8, I can sometimes find it for $6.99, with a case discount on top of that.  I had been enjoying it a year or so when I noticed that Wine Spectator and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate both thought it was a heck of a bargain as well.  Quality has stayed high, while price has stayed extremely reasonable.


The other is a Dolcetto from a local American winery we stumbled into one day on a narrow back road, Demarest Hill in Warwick, NY just over the border from New Jersey.  The wine there is made by Francesco Ciummo, who came to America, built a successful business, retired, and decided to be like his father, a winemaker back in Italy.  Where was he from?  Molise.


If you have a wine bargain of your own you’d like to share, please drop us a line at  If enough of you respond, we might put a list in the next edition of Winery Insight.

 Last modified: August 07, 2007