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Frugal wines for the holidays

Looking for delicious ways to stretch your budget this holiday season? Award winning wine consultant Brad Haskel of Queens-based seafood restaurant London Lennies shares his top holiday tips to drink wine, be merry and save money.

Christmas Wine

Holiday tips to be a thrifty oenophile

Choosing wines for many people is a challenge and not just during the holidays or during this particularly tight economy.

With the options of red, whites and roses, coupled with the vast array of wine types, wineries and – don’t forget – prices, it might seem easier to just close your eyes in the “cheap wine section” and grab for what you hope is an acceptable money-saving bottle of vino.

However, drinking a bad bottle of wine, regardless of the money you saved, is hardly worth the meager price – and how festive can you really be if every sip is basically sour grapes? Haskel (who looks a lot like Sideways star Paul Giamatti) says you can spot a great bargain bottle of holiday wine with these six budget-friendly tips. Call it “grape advice,” if you will.

1. Find the hidden gems

Haskel recommends wines from lesser known regions like Argentina, Austria, Greece, South Africa, Israel and, stateside, Long Island. He says, “The world of wine is packed with terrific offerings that are sold at great prices. Some of the best values are not from the uber-trendy regions, but the countries and regions that focus on sustainability over commercial wine production.” Bonus: Undiscovered regions produce some of the world’s best wines, inflated price tag not included.

2. Trick of the trade – Read the back label

Wine importers are often listed on the back labels of wine bottles as well as on wine lists, so seeking out the ones you trust is one simple trick that even the professionals use to make smart selections, says Haskel. He suggests some of the more popular importers that offer great wines at bargain prices, such as Robert Kacher Selections, Winebow, Kermit Lynch, Michael Skurnik, Terry Theise and Polaner.

3. Know your wine type

Though this requires that you do some research on your own personal tastes, knowing what you like and don’t like can help you find wines that are great values – and great in taste. Haskel recommends that before you head to your local wine shop, determine if you like oaked or unoaked wines, full- or medium-bodied wines, sweet or dry wines. He adds, “These simple indicators will help your sommelier and/or wine retailer identify great value wines that will suit your tastes and your wallet.”

4. Keep it in the family

For many great wine producers, winemaking is the family business. Winemaking expertise and traditions are passed down among generations, so following a wine producer’s family tree of wines (meaning new or special labels) is one way to find great value wines that are created in a style that you like and trust. Haskel explains, “Bill Arbios, winemaker for Lyeth Vineyards in Sonoma County, is an excellent example. After many years with Lyeth, Bill has branched out with his wife to create two smaller labels: Arbios and Praxis. His knowledge of the Sonoma region and his relationship with superior growers make it a likely bet that his new wines will be as good as his old – and sold for only a fraction of the price.”

5. Host a blind wine-tasting party

Throw a holiday wine tasting party to learn – and teach your guests – first-hand that price isn’t always a good indicator of a wine’s real value. According to Haskel, it pays to explore wide array of styles and producers that a region has to offer, rather than simply chase the big names. “Lining up wines from a specific region, without regard to price, can be an eye opening exercise. Oftentimes, high prices are more an indicator of a winery’s real estate value than the quality of the wine it produces. It pays to explore the wide array of styles and producers that a region has to offer, rather than simply chase the big names,” he adds.

6. Seek the advice of grape gurus

Haskel says restaurants and retailers that specialize in boutique producers are your best resource for affordable wine suggestions. He adds, “Boutique wineries offer some of the best value/quality ratios out there, [and] Boutique-savvy sommeliers and wine retailers are never short on suggestions of new wines to try.” So before you head out on your value wine hunt, have a producer, style or region that you like in mind and let the “grape gurus” pair you with your perfect – and budget-friendly – holiday wine.

Best affordable holiday wines

Still at a loss for which wines to pick up this holiday season? Here are three of Haskel’s top holiday wine picks.

Giesen “Estate” Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (Marlborough, New Zealand) $13.49
Haskel adds, “This is not your typical ‘grapefruit-in-your-face’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It is subtle and balanced, with a price to match its savory sensibility.”

Sakonnet Vidal Blanc 2007 (Little Compton, Rhode Island) $10.99
According to Haskel, this is an oddball varietal that most would not think to try. However, it is a great thrifty alternative to pricier Reislings. He explains, “It is a balanced, aromatic white wine that pairs perfectly with an array of holiday treats – and the price is a treat in itself.”

Corte Rugolin Valpolicella 2006 (Veneto, Italy) $10.32
Italy’s Veneto region has been producing wine for centuries, but its wines do not carry the same hefty price tags as its commercial neighbors in Tuscany and Piedmont. Haskel likes this wine because it is a “light, spicy red that does the job without draining your wallet.”

Here are a few more holiday drinks to sip and savor

Colorful cocktails for the holidays
Holiday champagne and wine selections
Four can’t-miss mocktails

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