Figuring out wine is easy — as long as you realize that once you think you know everything, you’ll learn something new.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t some basic guidelines in finding an affordable, easy-to-drink bottle. It means they are guidelines, and should be treated as such. The only hard and fast rule in wine is that if you like it, it’s a good wine.

Keep these in mind the next time you buy a bottle:

• Inexpensive wines should be young — drink something like Tyrell’s Long Flat Chardonnay ($8) from Australia in the year or two after it’s bottled. Just as beer goes flat, inexpensive wine will turn, tasting like cheap brandy if it gets too old. The cutoffs: three years for red and two for white.

• Blends are your friends. Varietals — chardonnay, merlot, cabernet, and the like — are usually more expensive than wines made from a combination of grapes. But there are hundreds of well-made red and white blends, such as Rabbit Ridge’s Allure ($9), a California red blend, that will make others marvel at your wine knowledge.

• Look for high-end labels at a low end price. Ravenswood, a California winery, is famous for its award-winning Zinfandels at $30 a bottle. But it also sells a bottle of the sturdy red as Ravenswood Zinfandel Vinter’s Blend at $10.


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