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Sip savvy: value wines at recession prices

Posted on August 23, 2011

By Mara Grbenick

Taste Food and Wine, 1506 N. Jarvis Ave. in Rogers Park, offers free in-store wine tastings on Monday and Friday evenings from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The tastings are a neighborhood event; a “good way to get to know your own palate,” says Jamie Evans, a partner in the store.

The recession has drained demand for wine and other luxuries, but one Rogers Park wine shop is sustaining its business by sourcing quality wines at value prices for its customers.

Taste Food and Wine opened in 2008 and has maintained its business during the economic downturn by pricing quality wines affordably. This is what most customers want. During a recent visit to the store, most of the clients were casual wine drinkers who often spend less than $15 to $20 per bottle.

Jamie Evans, a partner and buyer for wine, beer and liquor at Taste Food and Wine, has worked in the bar and hospitality business since 1980. Mara Grbenick asked Evans about the wine business, buying wine, and debunking the cheap wine hangover.

What happens in the wine business during a recession—do people drink less wine or just less expensive wine? How does it change your strategy for buying for the store?

Contrary to popular belief, sales of wine and beer go down in a recession. There’s less money around! People downgrade their purchases. On the plus side, the more expensive wineries are forced to cut their prices, so consumers can get some good deals. We work hard to keep a wide variety of price points in stock, especially in the $20-and-under range.

What are some common misconceptions about drinking “cheap” wine? Is the hangover worse with cheaper wine?

Cheaper wine is not necessarily likely to give you a hangover. Hangovers are caused by overindulgence. Another common misconception is that sulfites cause headaches and are added to wines. Sulfites are actually a natural byproduct of wine production and are essential to the longevity of top class wines.

How can the average buyer know if he is paying a fair price for a bottle?

The best strategy is to avoid larger stores and frequent a small, local store with knowledgeable staff. That way, you can build up a relationship of trust with your wine shop and get good advice. It’s also good to try lots of different wines at free tastings, so you can build your knowledge and get to know your own palate.

Which wines are always affordable to drink?

Alsace (in eastern France) is one of my favorite regions for value at various price points. Great wines.

What is your current recommended bottle of wine under $14 in the store?

For a white, Quattro Mani Tohkai from Slovenia, $12.99; it drinks like a $20 bottle. For a red, try Caiden’s Vineyard Block Nine Pinot Noir, $14.99. I know, that’s not under $14. Close.

Mara worked for three years in New York City as an investment analyst covering environmental, social, and governance issues, but a love of adventure, sense of responsible citizenship and a desire to connect people to each other through stories led her to journalism. Mara received a bachelor of arts from Smith College (Northampton, MA) and is a master’s degree candidate at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.






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