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So how do you take the next step in your wine drinking? Let’s say you have an interest or desire to drink better wine. Perhaps you feel stuck drinking the same $15 Tuesday night red or white.

grape-sense-logoThe easy answer is to spend more money. You can go out and buy a $30 bottle instead of the $15 and odds are good you’ll drink better wine. But perhaps the approach should be more discerning.

If you want to improve your wine picks then get into a wine shop or a liquor store, big box store, that has a big selection. And yes, you’re going to pay more for better wine.

Perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions is what’s the difference between a $15 and $50 bottle of wine. The answer isn’t neat and simple but several factors will help you appreciate the higher price beyond the taste.

Higher-end wines are usually made in small batches. Would you rather drink wine made in a silo or one made in a small oaken barrel? Would you rather drink wine where grapes are indiscriminately yanked from the vines by machines or hand-picked before heading to the winery? Would you like to drink wines where the vineyards produce seven tons per acre with no pruning or wines grown in a vineyard where leaves are trimmed for ideal ripening and fruit is dropped during the growing season to increase the intensity of the fruit? Those things greatly increase labor costs.

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There are reasons – good and bad – that bottle costs more than $100.

The biggest material expense is oak. Cheaper wines are aged in used oak barrels or oak barrels from less prestigious regions. In recent years, the much-derided use of oak chips has proven a popular and cheap alternative for low cost wines. Top-end wines are aged in new French oak barrels which can cost $1,500-$2000, while most are $1000-$1,200. American oak barrels often cost half or a third of that amount.

Is there a difference in the golf club you buy at the local big chain discount store and the club you’d buy at a top-flight pro shop?

There has always been something pseudo glamorous about a $100 bottle of Napa Cab. Now it’s hard to find a Napa Winey with a top bottling that costs less than $100. Napa’s top vineyard To Kalon is in such high demand that the vineyard owner will only sell to producers who price their wines at certain levels above $100 a bottle.

But, as noted earlier, lets move beyond price. One approach to drinking better wine is taking a wine you like and go online to see if the winery produces a more refined, and higher-priced, similar bottle. If the winery has a $15 Cab there is a good chance it also produces a $30-$50 Cabernet.

Going to a wine shop should expose you to someone with expertise who can ask you questions about what you’re drinking and suggest the next logical step. Logic doesn’t dictate going from $15 to $100. If you’re sold that bill of goods leave and don’t return to that wine retailer.

If’ you’re drinking mostly $15 wine, your next step up the wine ladder should be in the $25-$50 range. Look for wines from a specific region. If you’re buying Napa Cab – and that’s all it says on the label – the grapes could come from 16 different sites in Napa. That’s good wine but there are probably no defining characteristics. Instead, buy a Napa Cab from Rutherford, Mt. Veeder or Howell Mountain for nuance in the flavors.

You need to get to about the $50-$75 price point to start drinking the really fine wines. In lesser regions, $30-$50 will get you a really good bottle.

If you’re drinking wine costing less than $20 simply ask for some advice and try something that costs 50 percent more or double the price. You’ll consume much better wine.

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