How to Save Money on Wine

Buying screw-capped bottles at stores can reduce waste.

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Facing the news that the stock market has plunged more than 300 points isn't the best way to start a Monday morning. As possible bank failures loom and our retirement accounts lose value, I think it's an ideal time to focus on what we do have. There are plenty of ways to frugally enjoy life, as many of our grandparents who lived through tougher times well know.

With that in mind, I'm continuing the " business of pleasure" series, which looks at industries—including coffee, chocolate, and now wine—that bring us enjoyment. I interviewed Tyler Colman, author of Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink. Before you tell me that wine is one of the first luxuries that should be cut during tight times, consider this: There are simple ways to reduce spending on wine without eliminating it altogether, such as buying bottles at the liquor store and refraining from ordering a glass with dinner at a restaurant. This month's Food & Wine magazine recommends plenty of bottles under $20. (If you're like me, anything over $8 is a splurge, and there are plenty of tasty bottles for less than $10, too.)

In addition to the full interview with Colman that will be posted tomorrow, I asked him where he stands on the cork-vs.-screw-top controversy, which recently generated much debate on this blog. Since then, I received a letter from Peter Weber, executive director of the Cork Quality Council, based in Forestville, Calif. He told me that the nation's cork suppliers have been working hard to reduce the rate of "cork taint" in wine. He estimates it's well below the 10 percent frequently cited, and probably below 1 percent.

Here's what Colman had to say:

I'm against wine gone bad. Unfortunately, corks make wine go bad a certain percentage of the time. Nobody knows exactly how much. It could be 5, 8, or 10 percent of wine with cork closures go bad, because of a volatile compound called TCA that makes it smell like a stack of moldy newspapers that have been trapped in the basement for weeks. It's really musty. That's called "corked." ... It's a real problem for the industry.

Screw caps don't let wine go bad. In that regard, I think it's a great thing, especially for wines that are meant for drinking every day. Screw caps can provide that freshness, especially for crisp, white wines.

For wines you keep in the cellar, there's a delicate interplay of oxygen because the cork is semipermeable. It makes them age in a neat way, and gives wine certain characteristics. So I'm not against cork totally. But for wines you're going to drink every day, the screw tap works well.

After learning about the details of the controversy, I've been less hesitant to pick up a screw-capped bottle. After all, if you decide to spend the 10 bucks on wine, you want to make sure it tastes good.