Denver Bar Association
May 2012
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How to Buy Wine for Any Occasion

by Randie Thompson

Randie Thompson


et's be honest: Buying wine can sometimes be a real pain. It can be time consuming, expensive, and even embarrassing. But, buying wine should be fun! Keep these simple tips in mind to help you buy wine with ease, style, and confidence, without breaking the bank.

Everyday wine.Even though I try to be frugal with my "everyday" wine spending, it still adds up to a big monthly expense. To get more bang for your buck, always arm yourself with a shopping plan. One month you might focus on wines from the Pacific Northwest, then move on to reds from southern Italy the next. Focusing your wine shopping allows you not only to learn more about a particular region and your own personal preferences, but it also can save you time and money. (Ever wandered aimlessly around a wine shop only to wind up purchasing a perfect stranger's recommendation, which you eventually poured down the kitchen sink? Exactly.)

Ordering at a restaurant. Insiders know that Chardonnays and Cabernets have the biggest mark-up on restaurant wine menus. Why? Because they can get away with it! Avoid these varietals and your dollars will go much further. Increasingly, restaurant wine menus include offerings from Spain’s Rioja region and France’s Rhone Valley. These regions produce wines that have great potential for food pairing, and they can be found at terrific values, too. I also like to take a quick peek at the wine menu online before going to the restaurant. This gives me an opportunity to research any wines I’m not familiar with and also spares me the anxiety of having to review an ever-expanding wine menu in a minute or less in order to keep the conversation going with my guests.

Ordering for a business dinner.In a competitive corporate culture, every move we make is subject to scrutiny—for better or worse. How we order wine at a business dinner is no exception. If you’re the host, it’s your job to order the wine. You shouldn’t delegate this task unless you know for certain that one of your guests is knowledgeable about wine and comfortable ordering for the table. If you’re apprehensive about ordering, you can always ask your server for a recommendation. (But if you’re out to impress, you’ll want to make the selections yourself.) I recommend starting with a white wine aperitif for the table, such as a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or a domestic sparkling wine. These lighter, drier whites are generally better food pairing options for most salads and starters; plus, they hold tremendous value when compared to many of the more popular red wine restaurant offerings. When it comes time for making red wine selections, I usually stay away from the trendy Cabernets and Malbecs and instead opt for softer wines with lower alcohol. Pinot Noirs from the Pacific Northwest and Old World blends such as Côtes du Rhône are among my favorites. Not only are these wines appealing to most red wine drinkers, but they generally can be found at good values on higher-end restaurant wine menus.

Entertaining at home.Don't buy blind when purchasing wines for entertaining. A good host always tests his or her recipes, and wine should be treated in the same manner. Be sure to buy a few different bottles—typically, a somewhat fruity white, such as Sauvignon Blanc, and a couple different styles of red (a Pinot Noir, along with a fuller-bodied red, such as a Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon). This helps to make sure that there's something for everyone, and keeps the options interesting.

The gift of wine. Ah, there's nothing better than receiving a beautiful bottle of wine as a gift! But be cautious in gifting expensive wines, unless both you and the beneficiary understand what’s in the bottle. The nuances of expensive wines are lost on most casual drinkers, meaning that your dollars are more or less wasted. In addition, the more expensive the wine, the greater the chance that it will have unique (and sometimes funky) characteristics. Your top client may be less than impressed with that $200 bottle of Burgundy unless he knows that it’s supposed to smell like a barnyard. I find that most people love receiving New World Pinot Noirs, Malbecs, and Cabs—good bottles that are widely available at $15 to $20 a bottle, and up.D


Randie Thompson is a certified sommelier and 13-year ERISA attorney. She opened A Bottled Affair in Denver in December. A Bottled Affair offers an intimate wine venue, specializing in private wine receptions and tasting dinners. It also offers corporate team-building programs, such as group tasting dinners and wine tasting challenges, and a variety of wine tasting classes and other unique wine events. For more information, visit Thompson may be reached at (303) 534-1955 or

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