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Other People's Money
by Mike Supple
published: 24 Aug 2008 | Comments
You've graduated, had a birthday, gotten engaged or helped the neighbor get her cat out of the tree. Whatever the reason, you were given $100 and told to "buy yourself a nice bottle of wine". Life doesn't get much better than this.
Do NOT think of this as your money. Look at this as a chance to explore and try new things, not a way to stretch your dimes and stock up on two dollar schlock. You can buy cheap wines with your own money. Let other people's money treat you to something you wouldn't normally buy and give yourself that "wow" factor that comes from a higher quality wine.
Take this as an opportunity to go to your local wine shop instead of buying from the corner store where you normally get your liquor and beer. If you don't know where there's a wine shop near you, then take a 3 minute break from reading this and Google it. This is an important piece of information to have. Even if you only go once every few years, it'll come in handy the one time your Dad comes to visit and you need to know where to go to find a worthy bottle to ply him with before you ask for a loan.
Before going to your local wine shop, consider your level of wine drinking and appreciation. If you are a $4 bargain hunter, then buying one bottle for $100 will be a waste of money. This is not a reflection of you or your character, but more a reflection on the complex nature of wines. Wines that sell for $4 are generally simpler in style, and there are many steps of quality between a $4 bottle and a $100 bottle. Think of it like taking a math class. If you just completed pre-algebra, you don't sit for your calculus exam the next day.
The retail wine industry groups wines into different categories by price: value, fighting varietals, popular premium, premium, super-premium and ultra-premium. These categories are largely dumb and getting outdated due to price fluctuations, inflation and a growing knowledge of and appreciation for wine among younger drinkers. But the basic premise still works; almost everyone has a price range within which they feel comfortable regularly buying wine. Of course more money does not always mean a better wine, but in general, a $50 bottle is going to be better than a $10 bottle.
So what does that all mean? Take this $100 in your pocket and bump yourself up two price categories in wines. This will be enough of a difference in quality to show you the depth and complexity more expensive wines can offer, while not going so far as to make you think, "ok, I blew $100, what of it?" It is important to decide your price range before you go into the shop, because it is an unfortunate fact that if you walk in with $100 and no direction, you will likely be steered to the Napa Cabs that will require your whole bill and leave you with a bottle that shouldn't cost more than $40. (Sorry, but it needs to be said.) I'm not saying steer clear of all Napa, just the big names everyone recognizes that cost $100. If you like Cabernet and you happen to see a bottle of the Conn Valley Reserve Cabernet (retails for around $60) grab it.
Getting a little closer to my preferences, if you want to try something new and explore an area you normally wouldn't, get a bottle of Champagne. Somebody gave you this $100 in the first place, so there must be an occasion to celebrate. I think a day without bubbles is a day wasted, but I'm still in the minority on this one. If you need a special event to drink Champagne, seize every special event you can. And if you don't like Champagne, then you haven't had a good one. You've got $100, so don't cheap out. A good bottle of Champagne is going to set you back at least $40.00 (unless you can find Deutz Non-Vintage Brut, one of my favorites in the $30 range). And since you're exploring, do NOT pick names you recognize from TV, movies or songs. Wines like Veuve Cliquot and Moet & Chandon are fine, but they're not going to turn your head, and you will get much more bang for your buck elsewhere.
If you love Cab, get a pricier one, and try something new (like a Malbec). If you like Pinot Noir, then you probably already spend too much money on wine...so just keep going. If you like California Chardonnay, try a white Burgundy. If you like sweet wines get something from Sauternes (white dessert wine from Bordeaux).
What it all comes down to is this: explore and have fun - it's not your money!