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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Seven ways to avoid spending needlessly when wine tasting

Where to go, what to do, and what to buy
Don't buy this at the winery!
1. Grocery store wines.  Don't buy the mass-produced wines at the wineries. For example, La Crema Chardonnay or Ravenswood Vintner's Reserve Zinfandel are common wines found everywhere and they may be cheaper elsewhere.  Instead buy the Hartford Court Sonoma Coast Chard or the Armida Maple Vineyard Zin you aren't going to find at home.  If you're in Sonoma County, a great place to buy wine is at the Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa.

2. Tasting fees.  Most wineries charge tasting fees now.  You can search ahead for the ones that don't by checking out the various winery association's web pages such as the Wine Road.   You can at least be sure to visit those that don't overcharge and those that do refund your fee if you purchase.  Some will charge $5 for five wines; another may charge $25 for four.   Most of the high-priced ones are not that special.  Many wineries in Sonoma offer complimentary tastings to Visa Signature Card holders--check the Visa website.  Search the Internet for free tasting or 2 for 1 tasting coupons before you visit.  Tasting room fees are the biggest complaint of visitors.

3. Wine tiers.  Many wineries will have a particular wine, say Cabernet, at multiple prices with the most expensive having a fancy name, label and price.  Don't assume it will be the best.  Be especially cautious if they won't let you taste "the good stuff," but still try to push you into buying it.

4. Buying at the end of the day.  Speaking of being pushed into buying wine remember you get looser with your wallet after you've had a couple.   This is why some wineries stay open to 6 pm or later.  

5. Sales push.  Also speaking of being pushed into buying wine know that there are a few tasting rooms that specialize in sales, not hospitality or wine education.  These places can be about as much fun as visiting a car dealership sales room.  They are usually easy to spot as conversations start with tying to find out what kind of wine you like so the sales person can zero in on pushing theirs and end with, "So what will you be taking with you?"

6. Shipping wine yourself is expensive; figure about $80 a case if you take it to the UPS store.  Wineries will ship your wine at their cost, about $30/case, so your best bet is when you find a place you really like buy a half-case or full-case and let them ship it.  Don't ship in hot weather!

7. Wine clubs. Don't join every wine club!   Almost all wineries have wine clubs as they are good money makers.  Before you join any club be sure 1) there is no fee to join, 2) you can cancel at any time.   More than one visitor has gotten home and realized, "Oh my God, I've joined eight wine clubs!"