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How to save money on good wine

You may want to impress a date or live a la the Europeans, but your wallet won't let you go wild with wine. Thankfully, there is a way to tingle your tastebuds while keeping the jingle of change in your pocket.

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To find cheap wine, don't limit yourself to the screw-top bottles at the convenience store. Good bargains are everywhere -- local wineries, small liquor stores, national chains and your grocery store.

"Don't be afraid to discover and explore. It's supposed to be enjoyed," says Gail Bradney, author of "Best Wines! Gold Medal Winners from the Leading Competitions Worldwide." "You absolutely don't have to spend a lot of money."

Find terrific wines at terrific prices ... by following these tips.

Look for different varietals (that means "grapes" for us regular folks).
Did you know there are at least a dozen other kinds of wine besides Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and white Zinfandel? Don't keep buying those old popular standbys. They're the most common, and therefore least likely to be a bargain. Yes, you can find cheap Chards and Cabs, but that won't mean they're good.

You're more likely to find a good price on a different white wine such as Pinot Grigio or Chenin Blanc. You can also find a treasure in a bottle of red wine like Malbec or Shiraz. Besides saving some money, you might learn a thing or two -- even enough to become a certified wine snob.

Look for different countries.
Yes, France is the home of some of the finest wines in the world and some of the most expensive. Sure, if you hunt long enough, you can find an inexpensive and palatable French wine. But save yourself some time by checking out a lesser-appreciated country, such as South Africa or Argentina. You'll find some fabulous bargains.

"Find emerging wineries or wine regions," advises Bradney. "There are some incredible wines from Chile and Argentina. They're inexpensive because they're trying to break into the market." She says some of these South American wines may cost less than $10, but they are the same quality as an established winery's $30 bottle.

You can also look for less common regions within the U.S. Though California dominates American wines, nearly every state produces wines. New York and Missouri are two of the largest producers after California.

Look for winners.
"I only buy gold medal winners," reveals Bradney. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find out which wines have won competitions without a lot of research. That's why Bradney wrote her book. A chapter in her book identifies Best Bargain Wines that cost less than $15 and have won a gold medal in a tasting competition.

Even if you can't find a particular award-winning wine, because that year has sold out or it's not available in your area, try another wine by the same winery. "Some of the same wineries win awards year after year," says Bradney. "It's really the winemaker. A good winemaker can work with what he has."

Look around
If you're lucky enough to live near a winery, you might save some money buying direct. But you can find bargain wines everywhere. You'll get more expert help at a wine store, but you'll probably find great prices at the grocery store. And when you find something you like, better buy more than one bottle. Because before you know it, that vintage will be gone forever.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy
-- Updated: Nov. 7, 2006
 
 
More stories by Cynthia Brodrick
 
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