There are plenty of good wines on the market to fit everyone's palate profile.
This means there is no reason for anyone to overspend on a bottle of wine in order to enjoy a satisfying experience. I've preached this time and again, and yet wonderful people still call me and say, "Jim, I found this California Cabernet Sauvignon for $60. It got a 91 point rating by Wine Enthusiast magazine. Should I buy it?"
My first reaction is to say, "Did you taste the wine?" If the answer is "no," my next question is, "Who recommended the wine to you?"
First, I rarely buy a wine I haven't tasted.
Second, I do buy wines based on recommendations from people I know and trust. Once again, it's not a frequent habit.
Third, while I use wine ratings as a guide, they are not the most important factor in making a purchase. Taste, quality and value are the priorities.
Fourth, when I can't taste a wine but it looks appealing, I turn to several free apps I have stored on my smartphone for guidance. Vivino, Tasting Guide (Wine Enthusiast magazine), and CellarTracker are convenient. I prefer CellarTracker because it contains "reviews" from passionate wine drinkers who share their impressions in basic terms.
Most apps allow you to take a photo of the wine label, or scan its bar code, and information on pricing, grape variety, producer, etc., will pop up immediately on your phone.
So how does this work in practice?
Recently, I attended a wine tasting in which I zeroed in on four highly acclaimed, premium California reds: Justin Justification, $39.99; Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon, $39.99; Textbook Cabernet Sauvignon Stage Coach, $59.99; and Chalk Hill Propriety Estate Red, $45.99.
After consulting my apps, I learned they were all selling at a "special event" discount, but the Ramey and Textbook Cabernets from Napa Valley were particularly enticing. The Ramey was selling at a 35 percent savings to its $62 release price. One CellarTracker reviewer gave it 96 points, saying it was a "very good, bold cab." Textbook's Stage Coach hit the market at $70 a bottle and was selling at a 14 percent savings. It was a very low production wine -- only 141 cases produced -- and expert Robert Parker gave it 90 points. Digging deeper on my Vinous app (a paid service), I saw that Parker also had reviewed Ramey, giving it 92 points, and these words stuck out: "Best of all, the Cabernet Sauvignon (in this wine) is a remarkable value."
After tasting all four wines, it came down to Ramey and Textbook, both of which were creamy, layered in complex flavors, and powerful on the finish. I rated them a draw. In the end, however, Ramey's overwhelming value was too much to ignore. I would save $20 purchasing Ramey over Textbook and wind up with a similar, fabulous wine that I'll pop down the road on a special occasion. And that's what I did.
With my $20 savings, I purchased a bottle of Bell Cellars Big Guy Red, a lush blend from California's Sierra Hills. It was selling for $12.99, but in my mind it outperformed a half-dozen other wines in the $20-and-over category that were in the grand tasting. CellarTracker rated it 88.5 points.
I love bargain hunting for wine, and with the right tools at your disposal, you can too.