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Sharks and goats dot quest for good wine on the cheap

Natalie MacLean is a wine cheapskate and proud of it.
/ Source: Reuters

Natalie MacLean is a wine cheapskate and proud of it.

Her quest to discover tasty, drinkable vintages that don't put buyers too far out of pocket took her on an epic journey that included diving with sharks and milking goats as well as more mundane visits to wineries.

Her goal: finding a terrific, inexpensive bottle of wine for each night of the week, plus an extra one for Sunday lunch.

"I believe that you can find wines in the $10 to $20 range that taste twice as expensive as they cost," she told Reuters.

"Why pay more for pleasure than you have to?"

MacLean shares her secrets for sniffing out good but inexpensive tipples in "Unquenchable, a Tipsy Quest for the World's Best Bargain Wines."

"In the past, when I was asked 'Can you recommend a great wine that costs less than $20, my answer was: 'Not unless all you want is a wet tongue,'" MacLean said.

"But this journey proved to me that wine doesn't have to be expensive to taste great, and that every wine has a story and a person behind the bottle that brings it to life."

The book starts off in Australia with a chapter titled "The Wine Wizards of Oz" with a visit to the Barossa Valley and a meditation on poisonous snakes, and from there ventures around the world, talking with winemakers and sharing their passions.

"Telling the story of really interesting, passionate people, you tell the story of wine as well," MacLean said.

These characters include the vintner with whom MacLean went shark diving and then headed back to his winery for a pairing of seafood and wine.

"Mostly tuna and salmon, not shark," she said.

On the more mundane side, MacLean said the cost of winemaking has fallen due to a number of factors, including improved technology that helps winemakers know better which grapes work best in their region.

In addition, a number of new countries have emerged as strong wine producers and exporters.

"There are a lot of new regions, such as Argentina with its fleshy, robust red Malbecs. The prices are coming down but the quality isn't suffering," she said.

Other tips include hunting for bottles with "illegible gothic script and impossibly long names," such as German Rieslings, which are often great deals.

She also suggests that bargain-seeking oenophiles look to the south of traditional winemaking nations, including the Languedoc and Provence in France and Sicily in Italy.

"When you're not using a brand name grape like Chardonnay or Cabernet to make your wine, you have to price very competitively to get people to even try it," she said.