Love wine, but wish you knew more about how to choose it? Well, here's to you, LearnVester! We've come up with nine ways to enjoy lovely wine on the cheap ... without settling for cheap wine:
Be a Trend-Breaker
Typically, the biggest bargains are unknown, or off-trend. "Spanish Cava—Spanish sparkling wine—tends to be very good, even at $7 and $8 a bottle," says Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, author of Drink This: Wine Made Simple. She also notes that white wines made without expensive oak barrels, like most Sauvignon Blancs, will be cheaper than red wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon, that require barrels. For red-lovers, she suggests Merlot, which is under-priced because it's unpopular right now. "Washington State Merlots from big producers like Columbia Crest or Hogue are great under-$10 options," says Grumdahl.
Drink Out of a Box. Seriously.
Drinking boxed wine has moved from cheeseball territory to downright chic. One of our favorites, Black Box's Cabernet Sauvignon, is getting rave reviews from wine aficionados like Grumdahl. The bag-in-box technology shrinks around the wine as you squirt glasses out of the box, so it will last at least four weeks (!) without going bad. And, none other than the influential Wine Spectator gave a big thumbs up to Target's Wine Cube Chardonnay California 2007. These boxes hold the equivalent of four bottles of wine, and usually retail for about $20 (or less). So, you'll save $7 or more per bottle (if you usually buy $12 bottles), and you'll do your part for the environment, since boxed wine requires less energy to produce and transport.
Check Your Phone
Wine Enthusiast Magazine has a nifty iPhone app, which will function as your virtual sommelier. Search the extensive database for the perfect wine to complement your meal. Savings will vary, but ordering with confidence is priceless.
Make Your Wine Last by Giving It a Spritz
How do you keep your half-consumed Shiraz from turning into vinegar? Grumdahl suggests you buy a wine preserver. It's a small canister with inert elements for you to spray into your wine bottle, which create a buffer against the air that makes your wine go sour. "This is an at-home version of the elaborate nitrogen gas preservation systems that many cutting-edge wine bars have," she explains. One can will last for about 100 uses, and costs less than $9 on Amazon. At about ten cents per use, you'll save at least a few dollars for every glass that doesn't go down the drain. Grumdahl likes this method of preservation better than vacuum sealers.
Split Dessert (Wine)
Most good wine bars and restaurants are happy to split a dessert wine into two glasses. Not that many people get dessert wine, and "just about everyone in the industry wishes people would drink more sweet wines," according to Grumdahl. Savings: $6 to $8.
Buy in Bulk
Most wine stores will give you a discount (typically 10%) for buying a case, with some shops offering reductions when you buy just a few bottles. Ask. If they reduce the price by 10% for a case, see if they'll give you 5% off for buying six bottles. If you normally buy bottles of wine for $12 apiece, you'd save $14.40 per case.
Join the Club
CheapWineClub.com helps you find great wines for under $10 a pop (with plenty of picks at $4, $5, and $6). It was started by wine aficionado Harry Orlove as a labor of love. Membership is $25 annually, but Harry makes some articles with purchase suggestions accessible to everyone. Buy some of his recommended picks (locate them near you) and you'll get a glass of vino for less than a cup of coffee. Savings: As much as $7 or $8 per bottle.
We know that it sounds nontraditional to take your partially-consumed bottle of wine to go, but the wait staff in Mario Batali's famous NYC restaurant Babbo were unfazed when we asked about it. Apparently, New Yorkers don't ask very often for their wine to go because they are unaware that they can do so without breaking open container laws. The answer? Depends on your state; check here to see if it's legal where you are.
Even if it is legal, be sure that your restaurant wraps up your wine bottle in a way that complies with the law in your particular state, not to be opened until you get home. Depending on how expensive your bottle was, you can save anywhere from $15 to vast sums.