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Excerpts from Jim Budd Author of “Appreciating Fine Wines”

Buying Direct: The visit

The best and most interesting way of buying wine is to buy it at the vineyard from the people that made it. Obviously, especially for those living in a non-winemaking area, this is often not possible but visiting wineries and talking to winemakers is the quickest way to learn about wine. Also if you have met the person who made the wine and seen where the grapes were grown, then the wine in your glass seems much more meaningful. It has memories for you. Good wine producers tend to place their personality into the wines that they make.

Many of the world’s major vineyards, such as Napa Valley, those in Australia, and many French areas, are now well set up for wine tourism. Although it can be worthwhile to visit large vineyards such as Mondavi in California, it is often much more interesting to visit small producers of rare wine that you can buy direct from the winery. Large organizations have professional guides and frequent well organized tours, whereas with a small producer you may well meet the person who grew the grapes and made the wine.

Generally there is no need to book visits to large vineyards. These are set up for drop in visits. Rare wine producers are best to phone in advance otherwise you might find that there is no one around to conduct a tour. Remember that the small producer probably has to do everything from pruning the grapes to making the wine to receiving the visitors. It is not fair to expect a busy wine maker to spend an hour or two with you, if at the end of the visit you don’t buy any wine or just a single bottle.

Buying wines directly online:

So you have visited a winery that you liked, you have brought back a bottle or few that you have placed in your collection or drank, you can’t find the wine locally and you don’t want to join a club, so what do you do now?

Wineries from California to France to your local area are now providing direct marketing of their wine to your hands via the internet. Most of the wineries placed in this guide via wine clubs or other links offer the ability to order and buy wine direct online. Again, as with the clubs, make sure that the wine is one that you like, probably one that is hard to get in your area, and one that can be shipped to your state. Go online, seek out this wine that you are looking for place your order and wait for the wine to arrive. Buying wine directly online is typically very convenient and keeps you out of the stores hunting down that special purchase. Your rare wines shipped directly to you can provide hours of enjoyment for the connoisseur that you have become!

Shopping thoughts: Supermarket or Independent?

Is it better to buy wine from a supermarket, a national wine merchant chain, or from an independent wine merchant or liquor store? The answer to a large extent depends upon what sort of wine you want to buy. For most everyday wines, buying in the local supermarket or national outlet chain is probably the easiest and cheapest option. Such is the competition between individual supermarkets and between them and the national chains that these stores have a good selection of wine at competitive prices. Because the big stores buy large volumes, the small independent merchant cannot match these prices.

If you want advice about buying some special bottles of wine, such as Vintage Ports or expensive Bordeaux or Burgundy, then the best place to go is an independent merchant. They should have a bigger selection and, because these are small volume sales, their prices may well not be higher than a supermarket. Some independent merchants specialize in particular types of wine, either from a particular area or country or in old vintages of classic wines. If on your birthday, you want a bottle from your birth year the only place to go is to a specialist merchant. Nowadays nearly everyone provides mail order or home delivery.

Wine prices: How much to pay

(CNN) -- How much should a good bottle of wine cost? That depends on what you're looking for, but quality does not necessarily mean an expensive price tag. "There are some amazingly good wines for five dollars a bottle," says Karen MacNeil, wine teacher and author of the upcoming book, The Wine Primer. MacNeil groups the $5-7 wines together, the $8-12 wines as another group, and those over $12 as a third group.  

She likens wine shopping to clothes shopping. In the lower price range, "It's like going to Bloomingdales bargain basement sale. There may be fabulous dresses, but you have to hunt around a little more." When you get up into very high cost wines, you're paying for "nuance and subtlety, like stitching by hand in clothes," MacNeil says, cautioning that "It is not true that there is a linear relationship between price and quality. A higher price doesn't mean its better. The higher you go in price, the quality differences get smaller."

Take, for example, a $100 bottle of wine and a $10 bottle of wine. "Is the $100 wine ten times better than the $10 wine?" MacNeil asks. "No. Is it better? Probably yes," but with more subtle differences than dramatic contrasts.

Keep in mind the way you plan to drink the wine you buy. "If you're just looking for a group of easy wines to drink (in the) summer, should you pay $30 a bottle? Absolutely not," MacNeil says. You do need to experiment. "Never start by buying the most expensive wines." For example, MacNeil recommends buying some inexpensive wines of a type you think you might like, and every now and then try a more expensive version and see if the extra price was worthwhile.

"The foolish thing people do is figure they should spend a lot." That's not necessarily the case, MacNeil advises, stressing experimentation over expense.





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