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Good wine deals for the new year

The combination of a bum economy and the holiday splurge has turned many of us into cash-strapped connoisseurs.

What's a wine-lover to do? Bargain hunt, of course, and here's the upside: The budget-minded don't have to sacrifice quality.

"People shopping for $5 to $12 wines are often more discerning about quality than people on a high-end basis," said Jason Schneider, the general manager of Santa Rosa's Bottle Barn. "They really have good palates. If they're buying a case of inexpensive wine, they want the 12th bottle to be as good as the first."

Beth Durant was one of those "discerning" shoppers recently scouting at Bottle Barn for red blends and zinfandels.

"We're going to a 50th birthday party and we're wanting to take a boatload of inexpensive wine," said Durant, of San Mateo. "We're thinking of a box for them to serve, anything under $10 a bottle."

Shoppers like Durant are also keeping an eye on alcohol levels.

"After years of drinking over-the-top high-alcohol wines, low-alcohol bottlings are appealing to shoppers," Schneider said. "They go better with foods and people don't feel the effects of the wine as much."

For those watching their alcohol intake, here are several tasty bottlings under $12 in the 13 percent range: Round Hill, 2010 California Merlot; Geyser Peak, 2010 Sonoma County Chardonnay; Estancia, 2009 Central Coast Merlot.

For those looking for a top-notch pinot noir regardless of alcohol level, one of the best is the Decoy, 2009 Anderson Valley. It runs around $22 a bottle, but it's an entry-level wine within the high-quality Duckhorn Vineyards family of brands, and it's decidedly less expensive than their top-tier Goldeneye pinot noir, for example, at $159.

How do producers appeal to people with an appetite for bargains?

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