The simplest way to scale back on the booze bill? Stop drinking. But for those who love a good glass of wine (or two or three), that’s not the most realistic advice. So I recently sat down with Matthew Lewis—he’s the wine director at Enotria Restaurant and Wine Bar, where wine is (obviously) a very big deal—to uncork a few savvy cost-saving strategies.
- Take the road less traveled. Buy a Bordeaux and the price can climb into the hundreds, even thousands. Rule of thumb: The better known the region, the higher the price tag. “Paying for a label doesn’t interest me at all,” says Lewis, whose wine cellar at Enotria boasts more than 700 bottles. “I’ve been in the business long enough that my infatuation with expensive wines has passed.” Lewis’ tactic: Try wines from the lesser-known regions. “The trick is to find the hidden values before everyone else does,” he says. “As sommeliers start to tout these regions, the prices start going up.” Example: Wine from Spain’s Ribera del Duero has become so popular in the United States that it’s exploded in price. But you still can get great wines for $24 a bottle from Spain’s lesser-known regions, such as Yecla, Almansa and Campo de Borja.
- Look in your own backyard. “Our own Sierra Foothills are starting to make world-class wines,” says Lewis. He hesitates to single out any one winemaker but mentions Terra Rouge (Amador County) as one that is “taking wine very seriously. I recently tried a great Pinot Noir by them that runs $40 a bottle.”
- Get crafty about corkage. Ever heard of the “buy one, waive one” corkage policy? It goes like this: If you bring in your own bottle, then buy one at the restaurant, your corkage fee may be waived. “A lot of restaurants in town do this, and I don’t think a lot of guests are aware of it,” says Lewis. With corkage fees often circling around the $15 mark, this single tip could save you some serious coin. His advice: Call ahead to inquire.
- Try a tasting. Tastings offer perhaps some of the best deals of all, says Lewis. To wit: For just $10, you can try six wines at Enotria’s Thursday-night tastings. On top of that, you can buy any of the featured wines at retail prices—a deal that’s offered at all of the restaurant’s wine events (and there are many). Other local spots offering tastings include The Firehouse (which just happens to be Lewis’ former employer) and Nugget Markets, where you can try $5 flights on Friday nights. (Check for locations.) At Il Forno Classico in Gold River, you can try any wine in a 3-ounce size—a nice way to test the waters before sinking big bucks into the wrong glass.
- Hop on happy hour. OK, so we’ve talked about it a zillion times in this column. But since some of the best deals do happen at happy hour, it’s worth mentioning again, especially since practically every restaurant in town has jumped on the bandwagon. May this trend never end!