On Buying Wine:

The key is to find a wine shop where you feel comfortable-both physically and in being able to communicate with the owner or salesperson there. Tell him or her, "I don't care about wines with big names; I'm interested in smaller producers." Buy an assorted case (to get the normal 10-15% case discount), and make notes when you try each wine-day, food, impression, whether you liked or didn't like it. Then go back to the same store and the same salesperson, and tell her what you liked and didn't like. This gives her a better idea of your palate, and should yield better recommendations.

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Since You Asked - Local Wines

I have been drinking wine with dinner. Good for the heart, you know. My question is why are local Rogue Valley wines so expensive? Wines from halfway around the world, as well as California and the Willamette Valley, are much more economical. Truthfully I don't taste that much of a difference.

-- Val H., Medford

Can't tell the difference? Let us introduce you to the Minute Market wine section, Val. Which goes better with the delicate sensibilities of a fresh salmon fillet ... Boone's Farm, Cisco or MD 20/20?

Seriously, the answer probably lies in the local wine scene simply not being as large or established as California's or even the Willamette Valley's.

"Some of the big districts that have thousands of wines in their portfolio put a lot of them on sale," said Jack Kendrick, wine director for the Jacksonville Inn and manager of its wine shop.

Local wines have not been marketed as aggressively as California wines, which may sell at the Inn's wine shop for $6-$10, Kendrick said. Higher pricing of Rogue Valley wines also may be the product of inexperience, Kendrick said.

"A lot of 'em are new to the market, and they're pricing things the way they think things should be priced," he said.

Still, not many Rogue Valley wines cost more than $30, he said, and many wineries offer more budget-conscious choices.

Shopping in the right places for your heart-healthy beverage can yield a price that's good for the heart, too. Mail Tribune wine columnist Cleve Twitchell has reported excellent buys (under $6-$10) on Bridgeview, Foris and Valley View wines at Bi-Mart. We've also found good deals on premium local wines at Costco.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.

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