Broadening Your Wine Palate on a Lighter Wallet

Which wine pairs best with an economic downturn?

In a weak economy, oenophiles may find it hard to justify buying their usual caseloads of vino. But tough times don't necessarily mean downgrading on wine quality, says Gary Vaynerchuk, host of the Wine Library TV online show and proprietor of the Wine Library, a Springfield, N.J.-based wine store.

Vaynerchuk says he reminds customers repeatedly that price has no bearing on quality — but he says it's a misperception that's hard to break.

"When you spend $100 on a bottle of wine, it's likely or very possible to not be as good as the $20 wine," Vaynerchuk says.

Still, many wine shops are feeling a backlash from the wilting U.S. economy. Vaynerchuk says his business slowed when the government began mailing tax-rebate checks this month as part of its economic stimulus package.

"Some six-pack buyers are looking like four-pack buyers. ... I feel like the checks coming in the mail have made people more scared," he says.

For consumers who are watching their wallets, Vaynerchuk recommends several inexpensive yet tasty wines, including the 2006 Prado Ayala Rioja. The Spanish wine, which has a ruby-red color, goes well with short ribs or steak and sells for around $10-$12. For wine drinkers who want to invest long-term on more premium vintages, he says the 2004 Chateau Pavie for around $130 makes a sound investment over a decade or more.

Vaynerchuk recently tasted a variety of moderately priced and more expensive wines with NPR's Scott Simon.

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