March 4 2009 12:00 AM

Tastings offer wine lessons on a budget

With money tight and hundreds of bottles on the shelf of your favorite wine shop, how can consumers decide what they like without breaking the bank? Restaurants with good wine-by-the-glass programs, particularly those offering “wine flight” programs, are one solution. The wine flight premise is simple: simultaneously serve two-ounce pours of four wines from the restaurant’s list in themed groupings.

One of Michigan’s most extensive wine flight programs (perhaps the most extensive) is offered by the Kellogg Center’s State Room, which has won several national awards for its wine offerings. Culled from the 800 reasonably priced wines on its list are 68 wines available by the glass, including 17 preselected flights, plus an additional 45 dessert wines. Do you have a penchant for bright, fruit-driven, mouth-watering white wines and want to learn about regional differences in style? Try the Sauvignon Blanc flight, featuring wines from Napa, Sonoma, New Zealand and France; or the Riesling flight, featuring wines from two separate river valleys in Germany, the premier Riesling appellation in France and a rising star from Australia. Wondering what the hoopla is all about regarding the ever-escalating quality of Michigan wines? Two Michigan flights will provide clues. Other white wine flights include old standbys, such as Chardonnay, or you can get daring and explore Viognier.

Red flights will introduce patrons to the subtlety and finesse of international Pinot Noirs, the wonderful balance and fruit of Argentinean Malbecs, the smooth intensity of Zinfandels, the complexity and richness of Southern France’s Chateauneuf du Pape, the food-friendly wines of Italy, the outstanding and underappreciated wines of Spain, and, of course, flights featuring consumer favorites, such as Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah/Shiraz.

Heading east on Grand River Avenue, stop in at Dusty’s Cellar in Okemos for eclectic mixes of vinous education. Wondering how Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a Meritage blend stack up next to one another? The Rich Red flight is for you. Looking for fruitdriven whites with zingy acidity? Order the Crisp White flight, featuring Washington Riesling, Michigan Pinot Grigio (made by Okemos’ own award-winning winemaker Charlie Edson), South African Sauvignon Blanc and French Chenin Blanc. Take a tour of Old World red wines from four regions of Southern France, or explore a flight of reds from South Africa, California, Italy and France. And for those with a sweet tooth, order the Candy in a Glass flight, an international array, featuring the grape varieties Moscato, Semillon, Orange Muscat and Vidal Blanc.

Another convenient way to learn and make purchasing decisions is provided by wine tasting fundraisers. A great one is coming up at the Kellogg Center to benefit the MSU Museum. Beginning at 7:30 p.m. March 27, more than 25 wineries will provide 150 to 200 wines by the glass for a bargain price of $40, including appetizers. The wines will all be available at retail, and the event can serve as a rare opportunity to pack weeks of wine education into a couple hours. For more information, visit Tickets can also be purchased at the wine shop located in Goodrich’s ShopRite, 940 Trowbridge Road, East Lansing. And as a bonus, show your ticket before or after the event at the State Room and enjoy a discounted dinner.

In Vino Veritas.

(Michael Brenton is president of the Greater Lansing Vintners Club. His column appears monthly.)