With the help of instantaneous search results, anyone can pick out a good $100 bottle of wine these days. The real question is how to bluff your way to the blue chip crowd and how to look good doing it. The answer breathes with more sense than dollars and with the admirable confidence exuded by those who know a good deal when they smell it. Of course, I'm not suggesting that there aren't times to splurge or that certain wines aren't worth the extra money. However, those on the inside know that there are high quality alternatives to the commodities of wine. They also know when to "trade down" wine selections and how to justify the move with a little "street smarts."
The five following trades are guaranteed to both impress your broker and excite your favorite wine pals:
1. Trade Champagne for Cava
Cava is Spanish sparkling wine. It's made by the traditional method and only produced in specific areas. It's usually made with a trio of varietals (Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel lo) although other grapes are now permitted. The best wines come from the chalk and clay soils around Sant Sadurni d'Anoia in the Penedes. Many of the best Cavas are only about half the price of basic Champagne, yet they often compete for quality. At that price, grab two bottles of Cava next time you're seeking some quality fizz.
Cava, Avinyo "Brut Reserva", Penedes, N/V
2. Trade Vintage Port for Madeira
Madeira is one of the world's great fortified wines. It's produced on the namesake Portuguese archipelago and has important trade ties back to the Age of Exploration. Madeira is heated up and oxidized during the production process and as a result is immune to further deterioration from air contact. This makes Madeira an ideal alternative to Vintage Port or old Tawny Port, which should be consumed fairly quickly after being opened. You can also find old Madeiras that are substantially less in price than Vintage Port of the same age. Madeira comes in a number of styles from light and dry to full and sweet. The Malmsey style is rich and sweet with fig, raisin and caramel flavors and is reminiscent of a 20- or 30-year-old Tawny Port.
Madeira (Malmsey), The Rare Wine Company "New York Malmsey", N/V