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The Artful Diner writes restaurant reviews for nj.com. To receive e-mail notification when a new review or article is posted, send a note to artfuldiner@verizon.net.

Part 3 of 3: Judicious Buying

Be judicious when purchasing wines. Whether you are a complete neophyte, or someone who has suddenly been bitten by the cellaring bug, OVERbuying is the most common (and costliest) mistake you are likely to make. Not only will it empty your pocketbook at the speed of light, it may also leave you stranded with a host of bottles that end up as holiday gifts for long lost, obnoxious relatives. Until you discover precisely where your taste buds are going to lead, it's always wise to take it slow.

As my wife will be only too glad to tell you, I'm as prone to wine buying frenzies as the next person---but I do my level best to protect against purchasing on impulse. I carry a list of vintages I would like to sample and, as far as humanly possible, try to stick to it. If I happen to stumble upon an unexpected bargain, I may pick up six or so bottles, but ONLY if I've tasted the wine previously and know it can be consumed over a reasonable length of time or fit nicely into my long-range cellar plans. Other than that, it is a waste of space---and money.

Most of us simply don't have the time or resources to sample each and every vintage that comes down the pike, so we tend to consult experts to steer us in the right direction. Robert M. Parker, Jr.'s The Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator are both extremely reliable sources of consumer information. If you are a greenhorn in the wine world, their sage counsel will be of invaluable assistance.

However, and I cannot emphasize this point strongly enough, no matter how highly-rated a wine or unequivocal an expert's praise, NEVER purchase any wine in bulk until you have had the privilege of sampling it first. It may be an absolutely stunning vintage& but not appeal to your palate. Or there is always the possibility that some expert's taster may have suffered momentary paralysis. From a consumer's point of view, it makes far more sense to sample a bottle of a given vintage than to part with copious amounts of pelf for several cases that could conceivably not be up to snuff./font>

Whether purchasing for immediate personal consumption or long-term cellaring, fine wines can be an expensive proposition. However, there are a slew of exceptional vintages to be had at less than exceptional prices; and if you are a relative neophyte, or simply watching your pennies (and who isn't?), it might be wise to seek them out before attempting to move on to more costly varieties. Both The Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator feature wines that retail for $10 or under per bottle. This would be an excellent place for a bargain hunter to begin his/her quest. But beware, retailers can read also. Knowing that these wines will probably be in great demand, they are not above jacking up their prices a few bucks to take full advantage of the anticipated windfall.

Another ploy is to prominently display the recommendations of either The Wine Advocate or the Wine Spectator and then attempt to pass off the wrong year on unsuspecting patrons. In some instances, this is merely a matter of oversight on the part of those stocking the shelves, most of whom wouldn't know Petrus from Pepsi Cola. However, the practice has become far too prevalent to be chalked up to coincidence. In a majority of cases, I suspect that this nothing more than a deliberate attempt to deceive.

It's still a jungle out there in the wonderful world of wine, so you would do well to keep your eyes peeled. If you're interested in knowing just how much of a jungle, you might give Andrew Barr's Wine Snobbery (Simon and Schuster, 1988), a read. Originally published in Great Britain, but completely revised for the American audience, Mr. Barr takes aim at the scandals and questionable practices that have tarnished the wine industry's less than pristine image. In my view, he hits the target more often than not. Not surprisingly, his book has propped quite a few corks along the way&

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