Sometimes, whether for a special occasion or just because, it’s nice to buy a more expensive bottle of wine. But that can be even more complicated than the complications involved in buying an ordinary bottle of wine. How much should you spend? How do you tell the difference between one expensive bottle and another? Is a $40 bottle that much better than a $20 bottle?

So four tips to help when it’s time to go up market:

• Look for a more expensive version of a brand that you already like. Oregon’s King Estate makes Acrobat, which is very nice red, white and pink wine for $15 or so. Its more expensive namesake label, like the pinot noir ($30), offers value, even for expensive wine.

• Trust your retailer. This is easier said than done, but it’s also much easier than it used to be. Our neighborhoods have attracted small, local wine shops like never before, where customer service is their reason for being. These are the places where you should be able to walk in, explain what you’re looking for, and get several solid options.

• Don’t necessarily believe everything you read. Every person’s palate is different, so wine critics (even the best intentioned ones) can give you only a general idea about what’s what. Case in point: I really like the Pio Cesare Barbaresco ($65), a dry, acidic and tannic wine. But if you don’t like what tannins do (that bitter, astringent taste), it’s probably not worth your $65.

• You can never go wrong with Champagne. This is the easiest way to make a safe splurge, and Champagne Delamotte ($45) is not only very well made, but a steal given how silly Champagne prices are.

Red velvet cake brownies

There are about a zillion of these recipes floating around the internet, of varying degrees of quality. This one, which replicates the best qualities of red velvet cake with the best things about brownies, is one of the best. And they don’t go badly with Champagne.

1/2 c unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 c granulated sugar

3/4 c brown sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 oz red food coloring

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/4 c all-purpose flour

3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 to 1/2 c chopped pecans

white cream cheese frosting


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour (or use parchment paper) an 8×8 baking pan.

2. Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add food coloring and vanilla and mix until the batter is red. Slowly add flour, cocoa, nuts and salt. Don’t overmix; the batter will be very thick.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-40 minutes (35 minutes for a thin crust on top and gooey underneath). Set aside to cool, and frost if desired.


Ask the wine guy

Q: Why is some wine so much more expensive than other wines?

Much of the time, it’s about quality, but it also takes into account the cost of production (land in Napa Valley in California is more expensive than land in Chile) and supply and demand. If a wine gets good reviews, but there isn’t much of it, it’s going to be more expensive regardless of whether the wine is worth the price.


ASK The Wine Guy