YOU’RE PRETTY CONFIDENT ABOUT WINE, as far as it goes. You know a good $10 or $12 bottle from a not-so-good one, and if one of your friends needs a recommendation for a decent red wine to take to someone’s house for dinner, you can offer two or three suggestions.

            But what if there’s a holiday or birthday or some such coming up, and it seems like the right time to spend a bit more? What do you do?

            Have no fear. There are general rules that apply, and the best thing about these tips is that you can even use them if your regular wine retailer is busy, unavailable or swamped by a holiday crush. Consider the following pointers:

            FIND OUT IF THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE THE $10 WINE YOU LIKE MAKE A MORE EXPENSIVE LABEL. Bogle, one of the best $10 wineries, does a couple of more expensive bottles. The Phantom, a red blend, and its Russian Rover pinot noir are both around $17. Italian Riccardo Cotarella, whose Vitiano line is a $10 legend, is actually more famous for his pricey merlots, like the $40 Montiano.

            BUY A LESS EXPENSIVE BOTTLE FROM A WINERY THAT MAKES HIGH-END WINES, such as Ridge or Newton. Ridge’s Three Valleys, a red blend featuring zinfandel, is a steal at about $22, while Newton’s Claret, made with mostly merlot in the Bordeaux style, is another terrific $22 wine.

            BUY A NICER WINE FROM A REGION THAT YOU LIKE. New Zealand is celebrated for its $16 sauvignon blancs. So why not try something such as Cloudy Bay, whose prices are closer to $30? This principle also applies to reds from Chilé, especially from producers like Concha y Toro and Montes. Both sell $10 to $15 wine, but may be better known for their more higher-priced offerings.

            UPGRADE YOUR GROCERY STORE FAVORITE. Most offer not only a basic line, but one or even two more at higher prices and, usually, better quality. Kendall-Jackson, for instance, sells its vintner’s reserve wines for $12 to $18. The next step up is the grand reserve, where prices run from $20 to $35.



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