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Wine without pretense: Discount-priced wines not always a bargain
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The wine: Belle Glos Las Alturas Vineyard pinot noir 2010.
The grapes: 100 percent pinot noir.
The source: Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County, Calif.
The verdict: Belle Glos is the latest venture from Napa Valley’s famous Wagner family — think Caymus Cellars. Joseph Wagner is the third-generation winemaker who is producing the Belle Glos trio of pinot noirs. The Las Alturas is a stunningly good wine. This elegant red got lots of tender-loving care in the form of the finest fruit given gentle treatment throughout the process. Aging in new French oak barrels has lent a note of vanilla to the nose. The fruit is so rich you can pick up the berry aromas from 10 feet away as the wine is poured. Fans of pinot noir should run, not walk, to a wine specialty store and grab a few bottles of Belle Glos Las Alturas. The 2011 vintage may be on the shelves now.
The price: About $50.

We all love a bargain. Admit it; your head swivels on spotting a BOGO sign.

Bargains are a retailer’s way of enticing us to part with our hard-earned money. The compulsion to get something cheaper is like an addiction. That’s why we dicker with car sales people over the price of a new ride and generally lose.

It’s that way with wine. Some stores, wine shops or supermarkets will discount wine occasionally. You’ll find mounds of bottles in a barrel, a bin, a shopping cart or on a shelf with a sign screaming, “MARKED DOWN.”

That’s the time to be careful and shop wisely.

Wines get marked down for three basic reasons:

1. They haven’t sold well and the retailer needs the shelf space for something possibly a bit more popular.

2. These wines are tottering toward old age.

3. The wholesaler from whom the retailer buys the wines is not handling the wines any longer.

Here are some things to look for when buying marked-down wines.

1. Check the vintage date, especially with white wines. Think you’ve grabbed a real deal on a 5-year-old pinot grigio marked down to $5? Think again. Generally white wines more than four years old are a risky purchase. Ditto with average red wine — the kind for everyday drinking — more than six years old.

Vintage date tells you when the grapes in the wine were grown and when the wine-making process began. You have no clue where the wine has been and how it has been handled and stored since that date. I would not even consider bargain wines with no vintage date.

2. Give the cork a push. That, of course, assumes the bottle has a cork in it. Twist-off caps are exempt. A soft natural cork that gives with thumb or finger pressure warns you to walk away. Twist-offs, otherwise known as screwtops, are an ideal closure.

3. Look for label stains or wetness at the top of the cork. The foil covering the cork will show wetness. Not good.

4. Check color and clarity. That’s a lot easier with white and rose wines than with reds. If a white wine looks off-color, tending toward gold or light brown, put it down and head for the beer section.

5. If it’s a Beaujolais Nouveau from the previous year, check your calendar — you know, the one on your phone. Released in the third week of November each year, this fruity, light red is meant to be consumed within three months. Four months is stretching it.

So if it’s August and the retailer is trying desperately to get rid of this stuff with a 50 percent markdown, don’t bite. It’s probably all worn out and unpleasant. And it probably was not all that great when it was fresh, personal bias speaking.

Want to avoid all the angst about buying wines at bargain prices? Don’t we all.

So I’m providing, at no extra charge, a few recommendations for some nice value wines that provide enjoyment at sensible prices minus markdowns: two whites, three reds and one giggly bubbly.

Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvee (nonvintage). Is this Champagne? Negative. But it is a fun California sparkler, especially on a hot summer evening. Moderately dry, it’s good with most foods. About $11.

Vina Ventisquero Reserva sauvignon blanc 2012. Chilean sauvignon blancs are growing up and better. Crisp and dry, with a light touch of fruit, this is a lovely seafood wine. About $14.

Martin Codax Albarino 2011. From Spain’s northwestern coastline comes this classic seafood pairing. Great alternative to pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc. It’s very dry. About $15.

Handcraft Petite sirah 2010/2011. Wow, does this big red have full fruit flavors. Tastes of plums and blueberries waft through. Wants to cuddle up with a nice steak or lamb chops. About $12.

Mirassou merlot 2010/2011. Soft, cherry-like and very easy to drink, this one comes from grapes harvested from well-respected California growing areas. Lightly chilled, it’s a nice sipping wine. About $12.

Alamos cabernet sauvignon 2011. This Argentine beauty is full-bodied and requires red meat. From the famed Mendoza region, this cab has subtle but distinctive tannins and balanced dark fruit flavors. About $14.

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? Email him at His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month and on

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