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One is the Loneliest Number

May 12, 2009
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Just so you all know, nepotism is alive and well.   My sister left the below comment on my original post of how to shop for value wines.

Annie writes:

I like the idea of trying the unknown suppliers and appreciate your starting criteria. My problem is, that if I find one that I like, not only will I not be able to stop my qwest to “buy a lot of it”, but I’ll forget which one’s I liked. I’m not organized enough or willing to commit to a personal database.

Any suggestions?

Of course I do.

But first let me back up for a minute.

Cheese is what first really turned me onto food in a big big way.  One of the greatest things about cheese is that at a good shop you can taste everything before you purchase anything.  The bottom line is you know what you are getting.

For the most part, wine is the opposite of that.  There are so many mysteries as to what is inside the bottle, and the only way to reveal those mysteries is by pulling the cork.  Unless of course if you are buying wine at a wine bar, in which case you are all set.  But while that is a very appealing way to buy, you are looking at a much different value proposition.

The problem my sister faces, and that I used to face, is that while we were exploring new and interesting undervalued bottles, occasionally we would find one that was remarkable.  But then what?  Sometimes a significant other will recycle the bottle before we get a chance to run back to the wine store.  Sometimes we make it back to the wine store with the empty in hand to find they are all sold out.

The rule:  Never buy one bottle of wine.

If a bottle of wine looks promising enough to buy – promising enough to take a chance on – buy at least two bottles.  If there are bells going off in your head, and you have a hunch, some irrational feeling that this wine will be truly terrific, consider buying three or four.

Let’s keep to two for the sake of this illustration.  You bring home a few pairs of wines.  You put them in your wine rack, or shelf, or under your bed ¬– any place that is relatively cool and dark.  When you start out, you have a bunch of wines that you know a bit about, yet still have no idea how they taste.


After some time, as you drink a few of the first bottles, you will find the wines in your rack to be a known quantity.  On the first bottle, you may notice, “ooh, this would go incredibly well with duck confit” or “this would be perfect with puttanesca”.  On the second bottle, you can make it happen.  And if you find something that you love, and are floored by its ridiculous value, you can run out and buy a case or two (check back for more on this later).

Now, you won’t always get so lucky.  The downside to the rule is that if you do not like the first bottle of wine, you are stuck with another bottle of the same dreck.  For those situations a little creativity is in order.

1.    Depending on the season, you can try it out in sangria or hot mulled wine.
2.    You can hold onto it and hope that it may get more interesting after a year.
3.    It can be a gift for someone you don’t like.

All this wine buying can be dangerous.  But it’s also a lot of fun.  Let me know about what you find that you love for under $10.  And don’t be shy about including how much you paid.  I’ll be doing some sharing myself a bit down the road.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. spencer permalink
    May 12, 2009 6:28 pm

    This wine is $10 on sale, excellent example of Marlborough, NZ Sav Blanc, one of the most highly respected regions in the world for this varietal.

  2. May 13, 2009 8:52 am

    I like my wines sweet. Or at the very least, not dry. I like just about all of the Brotherhood wines, and you can find them all for <$10 per bottle.

    Also, I have a serious love for Lake Country boxed wine, both white and red. It is practically grape juice and insanely easy to drink. It’s like $10.95/5-ltr box @ Capital Wine in the Target plaza.

    Oh, and another sweet cheapie – Ballatore spumante sparkling wine/”champagne”. Easily found for < $8.

  3. Annie permalink
    May 14, 2009 3:18 pm

    Thanks, brother! I must say, the hunt is quite fun. I enjoy choosing a ‘book by it’s cover’ and it usually works out quite well. Not sure why I face psychological opposition to buying two of the unknown bottles at a time (despite your rational re-gifting and sangria advice).

    You don’t have to answer this, but your tips for selecting a wine seem less applicable when having to select from a restaurant’s wine list. Is it true that the second from the cheapest is the best value? I seem to remember hearing that somewhere…

    • May 16, 2009 10:24 pm

      If you are going for the “book by its cover” approach, just try to stay away from anything that has an animal on the label. K? And you just need to get over that hump.

      Keep the questions coming. I am considering adding a section that addresses reader questions (aka your questions). Not that I don’t have a full slate of topics to keep me busy for months to come. I haven’t even touched on Albany stuff yet, but I am building up to it.

  4. Grace L. permalink
    May 18, 2009 2:21 pm

    Yup. Instituted your buying policy when you first told me about it and it totally works for me!

  5. May 21, 2009 12:00 pm

    I am recently in love with South African wines because most of them are still pretty cheap and they are nice n’ dry. I’m the opposite of our friend AlbanyJane. Blegh! No thank you. I want mine red and dry as hell.

    Maybe it goes along with my acerbic personality:)


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