Sure, you can try to haggle with your local wine merchant

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This is the time of year that I wish Ray Isle lived across the street. Isle is the executive wine editor of Food & Wine magazine.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper: I understand you've been doing some investigating on real deals in wine.

Ray Isle: I figured this is the time of year when you're looking for bargains, because you don't want to spend a titanic amount of money on multiple parties. I have some retail tips.

One of the things is that popular, big-selling wines (like mid-priced chardonnay from California) rarely go on sale, because the retailers know they're going to be able to sell those wines. Instead, if you look for wines from lesser known places such as Alsace, Abruzzo or Alto Adige, those are wines that are more likely to go on sale during the holiday season. Every store wants to sell wine, and those are the categories that are a little harder to sell.

A retailer I talked to said that if a wine isn't on sale and it's not a really well known, popular wine, you can ask and see if they'll give you a deal. Especially if you're going to buy a case. Oddly enough, there's some flexibility in the whole thing, which was news to me.

LRK: Wait, you're saying you can bargain with a wine merchant?

RI: There's always a little bit of flexibility in pricing. Also, it's pretty common that if you buy a case of wine, stores will often offer a 10- to 15-percent discount on that. That's pretty standard. You won't get that at Safeway or another grocery store -- just at wine shops.

LRK: Is there a country where there are particularly great buys?

RI: Argentina Malbec has been hugely popular for the past few years, and part of the reason is that you can get incredible quality for a really moderate price. For $10-12, you can get a really nice bottle of red wine. Additionally, the Mediterranean coast of Spain -- places like Jumilla and Yecla -- produces wines from a grape called Monastrell, and those wines can be a great deal.

Alsace Riesling tends to be dry and crisp. It's not going to be like $5 a bottle, but what you get for $15 is an extraordinary deal. Value is a sliding scale.

LRK: What about in the United States? Is there a state that's going to give us a great bargain?

RI: I think there's a lot of really good red wine coming out of Washington State right now. You can get terrific Cabernets for $20 a bottle, because Washington is a little less well known than say Napa Valley and Sonoma.

There's been a real boom in winemaking around the country, in pretty much every state. It's not always a bargain proposition, but it's kind of fun to drink wines from your own state. It's a nice local vibe for your dinner.

LRK: What are your thoughts about inexpensive but really decent drinking wines for big parties?

RI: For big parties, I tend to stay away from the Chardonnay/Cabernet zone, because you're paying a little bit extra for the brand. Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance, is great, but it's basically become a brand name. You're going to pay more.

A couple of wines that I've had recently, there's a Viognier from McManis Family that's $11 a bottle. It's a really lovely wine; anybody who likes Chardonnay is going to love it.

There's a Chianti I had recently called La Maialina. It's crisp. It's bright. It has a really beautiful strawberry aroma to it. It's just a very adaptable and very drinkable red wine that's not too heavy.

And the Elsa Bianchi Malbec, 2010. It's a classic example of Argentine Malbec and the value it offers for $10.

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