Class notes: How-to

How to choose a decent wine for $15 or less

Paula Paradise, Owner, Paradise Wine

After studying English lit at UB and then working as a pastry chef, Paula Paradise found her true calling: wine. As director of wine education at industry leader Prime Wines Corp. for more than 12 years, she traveled around the world honing her craft while steadily building up a loyal following back home in Buffalo for her excellent taste.

Late this spring, she and business partner Lauren Kostek (BA ’99) opened Paradise Wine on Buffalo’s West Side. It’s the city’s first wine store devoted to organic and environmentally sustainable wines—all selected by Paradise. “I’m generally not impressed with wine that costs $100; it’s too easy and sometimes disappointing,” she says. “The thrilling hunt is to find wine in the $10-20 range that also succeeds in combining complexity, quality fruit and expert winemaking.” Luckily, Paradise adds, there are many to choose from.

Illustration by Penelope Dullaghan

Go high-low
An easy trick for finding good wine is to buy the entry-level offerings of high-end wineries. Examples include Barbera and Dolcetto from Piedmont, because the estates that make those mid-priced reds are also making coveted reds, such as Barolo and Barberesco. When I began seriously studying wine in 2000, I learned by drinking my way through a particular region. At the time, Côtes-du-Rhône was an inexpensive region jam-packed with quality wines made by the same producers who were sought out by collectors for their more costly Châteauneuf-du-Pape bottles.

Shop local, buy global
Avoid factory-scale wineries and seek out wines of character that represent a particular place and culture. These are generally from small-production, family-owned wineries that use sustainable methods to make wines full of personality.

There are great values right now from South Africa—red blends, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. South America (Chile, Argentina) has been a steal for at least a decade. Spain is also fertile ground, but you want to avoid the more famous regions such as Rioja and Ribera del Duero. I go for the old vine Garnacha and Monastrell for reds and Rueda for whites.

Know thy wine seller
If you feel overwhelmed by the choices and don’t know where to begin, attach yourself to a retailer who can guide you in the direction of your own tastes. Everyone has a different palate, so you’ll need to find someone in a wine shop who understands your individual preferences.

Make it social
Start your own wine-tasting group with some friends and pick a region to drink through. It’s a perfect excuse for summer al fresco sipping or taking wine tours in the fall.