For the weekend, sir: The cash-strapped wine snob recommends...

I've learned two important wine-tasting lessons in recent weeks:

1. If you find a wine you really like at BevMo's 5-cent sale, get as much of it as you can (ill) afford. I was stoked to find that my local BevMo was offering the 2006 Tapiz Malbec as a selection in its "buy one bottle, get a second for 5 cents" sale. I first bought this Chilean wine, which normally sells for $15.99 a bottle at BevMo, on impulse and was more than happy with how it paired with my impromptu picnic of hard cheese, pears and crusty whole-grain bread. The Fincas Patagónicas winery, which considers the malbec its signature wine, suggests pairing it with Chile's national dish, asado, and has even posted a recipe for same on its website.

Sadly, I never got to try this pairing with the pair of bottles I procured from BevMo. One went to a friend as a thank-you gift, the other to a party where it was quickly consumed by other people, who damn well better have appreciated it. I went back to my local BevMo to restock, but it they were sold out. (The 5-cent sale ends April 20, and there are some pretty good dregs left, so stock up fast.)

A corollary to this lesson: If you want to ensure that you get a taste of the bottle you brought to the party, open it yourself and take the first swig--etiquette be damned.

2. If you want to know whether a $15 bottle of wine has chops, include it in a flight with wines that have better pedigrees. I recently brought a bottle of 2005 Bogle California petite sirah to a Sunday dinner/wine tasting with a bunch of my foodie/oenophile friends. While this vintage, which retails for $11 a bottle, made Food and Wine Magazine's list of "Best American Wines $15 and Under," It was definitely the lowest offering on the price point poll that evening.

Still, after decanting it opened up nicely, holding its own against an array of reds that included a couple cherry-bomb zins. It was also a nice complement to my friend's Italian sausage and pasta dish, drawing more fruitiness and spice out of the tomato and rosemary sauce. My friends had no complaints, and I'm looking forward to springing another affordable bottle on them at our next Sunday dinner. A nice malbec, perhaps.


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