My first column appeared in the Journal Review today. I haven’t heard when Frankfort will debut it. I have talked to a couple newspaper friends today who thought they knew of some people who might have an interest. I’ll post the column each week. The tone of the column will often be like this one – heavy on the education side, at least for some time.

Notice the expanding wine section at your neighborhood grocery? Or, have you seen the specialty wine shops popping up in more urban areas?

United States wine sales have grown at a dramatic rate in recent years, more on that in a moment. The sales are spurred in part by young people and non-traditional wine drinkers. Whether it’s the allure of a so-called sophisticated adult beverage, red wine’s widely-reported health benefits, or just curiosity, wine is finding its way into more homes than ever before.

Today is the first of what will become an every-other-week column about wine. The whole topic of wine scares some people – too much to choose from, not knowing which wine to buy for dinner, and the snobbery of wine experts.

First, I am no sommelier or connoisseur. I’m not an expert at all. But I have spent considerable time the last several years learning a lot about wine. I’ve found over those years a lot of friends turning to me with wine questions which furthers my interest in learning more and more about wine. I’ve traveled to Sonoma and Napa Valley in California. I spent a few days this summer in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

My qualifications – I like a nice bottle of wine in the price range of $10-$20. I read, shop, and spend a lot of time looking for good wines in that range. And, interestingly enough, value wine is the niche market growing the wine industry.

Total wine sales in the U.S. went up four percent in 2007. The number has continued to climb significantly over the past 15 years. The U.S. wine market is in the midst of one of the biggest business booms in history, increasing 66 percent in volume from 1993-2007. (U.S. Wine Institute and the U.S. Department of Commerce)

So, what will we do in the column? I hope to offer a little wine education to those who may drink some wine and would like to take a step up with their wine consumption without paying the big bucks. Second, I will write about types of wine and specific wines.

There are many great wines in the $10-$15 range that are substantially better wine than you can buy in the grocery. Before local grocers complain about the new column, there are some drinkable mass production wines. Bogle, Smoking Loon and some Yellow Tail immediately come to mind as palatable wines. What I’ve found with those wines are some varietals are decent bottles but others are not-so-nice.

So how does a couple of bucks make a difference? Think of it this way: Choose one of those supermarket wines with a familiar name. Odds are they are making thousands and thousands of cases of that Chardonnay you just picked up for dinner. If you go to a wine shop and get assistance picking a Chardonnay for just a couple dollars more, I’m betting (and writing this column to suggest) you’re going to find a substantially better wine.

That bottle from the shop probably came from a much smaller producer. So if you buy a bottle that is one in 500,000 or a bottle that is one in 5,000, which do you think got the most attention? Which wine was handcrafted? We’re going to call them value wines and bang-for-your-buck wines.

And that’s what this column is all about. I also visit Indiana wineries on occasion and will write about those as fun places for a one-tank-trip. I’ll write a lot about South American wines, which right now are some of the best wine available in the value-price range.

I have an electronic companion for this column. Each time I enjoy a new wine at home, I intend on writing about it on my blog, Red For Me. You can find it at http://www.redforme.blogspot.com

I’ll post this column to the blog after each publication and often insert links to go to related sites.

And please write me with questions, comments, or wine suggestions at: hewitthoward@gmail.com

I’ll try to answer either through the column or personally as promptly as possible.
Future topics will include wine terminology, finding a wine shop, learning what you really like, and perhaps an occasional stroll into higher end wine. But the focus will always remain value wine you can easily find for a very reasonable price.

“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” – Benjamin Franklin

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