11/30/2012 06:39 pm ET Updated Jan 30, 2013

Tips for Enjoying Wine at Affordable Prices This Holiday!


As a wine auctioneer, I've been privileged to travel across the country selling some of the worlds' bests wine for huge, sometimes staggering amounts of money. Anybody got a spare $232,692.00 lying around for a bottle of Châteaux Lafite-Rothschild 1869? No? Good, me neither. And there's the downside to my great gig -- you never get a chance to drink the wine -- ever!

So what's a wine lover like me on a budget to do? And when I say budget, my idea of a good affordable wine is to spend $20 or less. After all, wine is for drinking and there has to be a better way to break the bank.

With that idea, I set out to learn about good, drinkable wine in my budget. My approach was to study wine with the same approach I'd become accustomed to with my investigations as a History Detective on the PBS television show. After all, wine, like other objects, has history, culture, geographic influences, comparables in the market place and certainly a huge amount of literature, all of which to choose from. So I dove right in to my research and liked the topic so much I ended up writing a book, Great Wines Under $20 as way to share my love of wine and the good word that wine doesn't have to be expensive to be good.

There is much to say and I could go into great detail, but as the holiday season approaches, here are my quick tips about enjoying wine at affordable prices!

  1. For White Wine: use a smaller, narrower glass, preferably a tulip shape. For Red Wine: use a wider, larger rimmed glass. If you use one, go with red wine glasses for both.
  2. You do not need expensive crystal to enjoy your bottle and there are plenty of affordable options on the market, but whatever you do, please stay away from plastic.
  3. There is nothing wrong with a screw cap! It tends to be more common on economical wines than those higher priced, but it doesn't mean the wine is "cheap." Even better -- it's easy to open and easy to save.
  4. When drinking wine below $20, do not worry about the vintage. Most of these wines are meant for immediate consumption and are not produced to be stored in wine cellars for years.
  5. While the old axiom of pairing white wine with fish and red wine with meat is not a rule written in stone, it does have some validity and makes for a good starting point if unsure what do buy with your meal.
  6. You can not go wrong by pairing food and wine by region.
  7. Cheaper red wine usually needs to breathe before it is served. Keep it in your glass for a while or pour it into a decanter. No, uncorking the bottle is not enough...
  8. You do not need to spend a lot of money on a cork screw. The simple waiter style cork screw will do the job just as well and at a fraction of the cost.
  9. At wine under $20, you do not need to be a sommelier to pick the wine. There should be no snobby opinions or written rules here -- it's a matter of personal taste.
  10. Have fun! At these prices, you can play around, have wine tasting parties and just relax and enjoy without worrying about the price.
So, Cheers! Salute! L'Chaim! Kampai! Oogy wawa! A Votre Sante!