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



3. Trade Sauternes for Monbazillac

Sure, we'd all like to bathe in Chateau d'Yquem, but as long as the yields are around one glass per vine, it will remain out of reach for most. Good news is that Sauternes isn't the only village near Bordeaux that's blessed with "noble rot" conditions. Monbazillac, located east of Bordeaux and right outside the town of Bergerac, is also ideally suited to make sweet wines from Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. The wines are lighter and slightly drier than Sauternes, but they are a good introduction to the flavors of botrytised wines. Next time you're having foie gras or some cheese after dinner, pull a cork on some Monbazillac and enjoy the apricot, honey and candied orange flavors.   

Monbazillac, Domaine du Petit Paris

4. Trade Classified Bordeaux for “Second Labels”

Classified Bordeaux is the ultimate wine commodity. Much of the wine is sold on futures, long before the wines are bottled. Speculation is built into the trade. By the time a top-tier bottle of Bordeaux clears customs, it was already bought and sold several times, with every hand taking a piece of the action. One way around the exorbitant pricing of the best growths is to purchase the chateau’s second label. These are wines made from younger vines or selected barrels that don’t make the first cut for the estate, and they are offered at a fraction of the main wine’s price. In good vintages, the wines can be exceptional and give consumers a glimpse of the chateau’s style.  

Some fabulous Bordeaux second labels:

1. Pavillon Rouge de Chateau Margaux (Château Margaux, Margaux)

2. Les Pagodes de Cos (Chateau Cos d'Estournel, Saint-Estephe)

3. Chateau Marquis de Calon (Chateau Calon-Segur, Saint-Estephe)

4. Amiral de Beychevelle (Chateau Beychevelle, Saint-Julien)

5. Les Allees de Cantemerle (Chateau Cantemerle, Haut-Medoc)


5. Trade Chateauneuf-du-Pape for Cotes-du-Rhone

Rhone Valley wines are full of spicy personality and they offer tremendous value compared to Bordeaux and Burgundy. Although most Chateauneuf-du-Pape could already be considered a smart buy for the price-to-quality ratio, its little brother Cotes-du-Rhone is the greatest wine value going. Many producers of Chateauneuf-du-Pape actually declassify some of the wine into Cotes-du-Rhone because of strict yield regulations. Look for producers like the ones below, who follow the best path to quality Cotes-du-Rhone: they either make exceptional Chateauneuf-du-Pape and have quality wine to declassify, or they concentrate on making premium Cotes-du-Rhone from low yields and estate fruit.   

Cotes du Rhone, Coudoulet de Beaucastel

Cotes du Rhone, Domaine la Remejeanne