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How to get the biggest bang for your wine buck

No matter how much or how little you have to spend on wine, no one likes to feel as though he or she has paid too much for a bottle. In fact the ideal situation, from a wine-buying standpoint, is to select a reasonably priced bottle that tastes like so much more. The trick is knowing how to find some of these little discoveries that we call wine values.

Getting the most for your money
Before we go further, please understand that a wine value does not necessarily mean buying the cheapest wine on the shelf. Value is getting the most for your money, and there are wine values in all price categories.

Here are some ways you can get the biggest bang for your wine buck:

1. Consider a lesser-known varietal. For white wines, instead of automatically heading over to the Chardonnay section, try a Pinot Blanc from Burgundy, or go with a crisp, refreshing Sauvignon Blanc. For reds, instead of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, think about a Pinot Noir or a crowd-pleasing Rhone-style wine.

2. Look at wines produced in lesser-known regions. In California, for instance, go beyond Napa and Sonoma, both world-class winemaking regions, and venture into areas like the Central Valley where you'll be surprised by the quantum leap in the quality of some wines there. Expand your horizons and check out wines from the rest of "The New World," including Australia, New Zealand and South America.

3. Get to know a winery's "second label." Some of the finest wineries in the world, from Caymus in California to first growth Ch�teau Lafite-Rothschild in Bordeaux produce other wines made from grapes that are not as high quality as those used in their showcase wine. A good wine merchant should be able to point you to some super seconds. In case you're wondering, the second label of Caymus is Liberty School, and Carruades de Lafite is the "super second" from Ch�teau Lafite-Rothschild. Other popular second labels are Hawk Crest from the highly-rated Stag's Leap Winery in Napa and Pavillon Rouge from the famous Ch�teau Margaux in Bordeaux.

4. Buy in bulk. Either buy by the case and receive a 10 to 15 percent discount at most wine stores, or buy your favorite everyday varietal wine in 1.5 liter bottles, the equivalent of two regular-sized bottles. You can get a very quaffable Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon for under $15 in the 1.5-liter size.

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