Drinking inexpensive wines does not have to mean you are missing interesting wine experiences.

This was brought home to me this past Sunday evening, when I invited a friend from work, and her partner, to my cabin for a dinner of home-made pizza.

My friend knew I wrote the wine articles for What’s Up Yukon, and professed to be a little nervous about choosing a wine. She certainly had no reason to be, and her selection introduced me to a new wine that I can definitely recommend.

I hope those of those of you who read my column occasionally have figured out that I’m not a fan of making drinking wine an elitist experience.

I often remind people that wine is a beverage that has been made by farmers for thousands of years.

It is only in the last 50 or so that marketers—people far removed from the actual creation of wines—have dressed people in sharp suits, cocktail dresses and high heels in their ads, to suggest what they think drinking wine should be all about.

I prefer to picture drinking wine as an experience among friends, sitting around a dinner table, passing hours in enjoying food, friends, conversation and laughter, all accompanied by wines shared with one another.

When I worked at a big wine store in Kansas City, the wine floor featured 4, 500 different wines on a huge selling space. It was three steps down from the part of the store selling beer and spirits.

So many times, I saw new wine shoppers, already intimidated by the prospect of trying to make a selection, actually freeze at the top of those three steps, like a child braving a high diving board, suddenly fearful at taking the plunge.

I would actually stand at the bottom of those three steps and say, “Come on in, the water’s fine!”

And it is, here in the Yukon as well. The Yukon Liquor Corp. (YLC) offers a well thought-out selection of wines for most budgets and tastes, as well as increasingly carrying interesting and tasty selections that would break the bank.

My friend who came Sunday evening brought her offering wrapped in paper, so I wouldn’t see the label.

We opened it while nibbling on some two-year-old parmesan cheese to accompany the first glass, then moved on to our main course of home-made pizza.

We did do one thing to the wine that I am increasingly becoming a fan of. For wines (particularly reds) that I serve with dinner, I’ll often open them an hour or so before my guests arrive in order to let them breathe.

This process of letting wines react with oxygen allows the smells of the wine to develop, so that the tasting experience is improved.

I often find that reds, if drunk from a freshly-opened bottle, will taste “tight”, with very little in the way of bouquet (smell), and a somewhat dimensional taste.

If I let them just sit in the open bottle for an hour, they “open” and I smell and taste much more of the flavours.

A kayaking friend from Alaska brought me a wine aerator that last time she visited. It is awesome in speeding the breathing process for newly-opened wines.

It’s a sort of plastic funnel through which you pour the wine. Because it has air holes in the sides, the wine flowing through the funnel draws air in though the holes and mixes it with the wine.

You just hold the aerator in one hand and pour the wine through it, directly into the glass.

I’ll often have my friends try the wine straight out of the bottle, then run through the aerator. Even novices can tell the difference.

So we opened up the wine my friend brought, and did just that.

She asked me to guess what it was, and while I couldn’t quite get it, I ruled out that it was from Australia or Italy, and also that it might be a merlot.

It was well-balanced, with nice berry fruit flavours, some spiciness and a hint of vanilla, with light tannins (what makes your tongue feel rough when you swallow it).

Once it went through the aerator, it had a decent bouquet. With our home-made pizza, it was a very pleasant wine.

It turned out to be a 2010 Marcus James Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendoza, the most famous of the wine areas of Argentina.

Even better, it runs only $10.80 at the YLC! I’d stack it up against any $12-or-better red wine I’ve picked up there… well worth a try.

So don’t be afraid to try new wines. You never know when you’ll find a bargain that will help you stay within your money budget.

Cheers!