To paraphrase the St. Paul Saints' slogan, free is good. And for wine drinkers, free is an option at dozens of stores in the metro area that offer regular sample pourings.

Getting a buzz is not the point, and enjoying something gratis in tough economic times is only part of the point. The best reason to partake of these samplings is to learn about wine in general and new wines in particular, to talk wine with others and to get to know a merchant.

And don't feel guilty about not paying. If you don't like a wine, say so, in a polite, "that's not for me" manner; a good retailer or wholesale rep will steer you to something that you might like enough to purchase.

Here are free tasting hours at some local stores (check with your local fave if it's not listed):

• Aurora: 2-6 p.m. Saturdays, beginning in mid-February.

• BrightWines: Regular tastings for newsletter customers (sign up at

• Byerly's (St. Louis Park): 4-7 p.m. Fridays and noon-6 p.m. Saturdays.

• Cellars: Seminars/tastings noon and 1 p.m. Saturdays at Woodbury store, 7 p.m. Thursdays at St. Paul and Roseville, 7 p.m. Fridays at Shorewood.

• Dolce Vita: 5:30-9 p.m. Fridays and noon-8 p.m. Saturdays.

• Excelsior Vintage: 4-7 p.m. most every Friday and Saturday.

• 1st Grand: Four wines are available during all store hours.

• France 44: 4-7 p.m. Fridays and 1-6 p.m. Saturdays.

• Haskell's (Bloomington): Wine class/tasting 1-3 p.m. Saturdays (room for only 20 people; sign up at store or

• Hennepin-Lake: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

• Kowalski's (Eagan): noon- 5 p.m. Saturdays.

• The Little Wine Shoppe: 4:30-7:30 p.m. every other Wednesday.

• McDonald's: 4-7 p.m. Fridays and 2-5 p.m. Saturdays.

• Solo Vino: 5-7 p.m. Fridays.

• Sorella: 2-8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

• South Lyndale: 4-7 p.m. most Fridays and Saturdays.

• Surdyk's: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

• Sutler's: 4-7 p.m. Fridays (sometimes beer or spirits).

• Thomas Liquors: 5-8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

• The Wine Market: 3-7 p.m. Fridays, 2-5 p.m. Saturdays (both stores).

• The Wine Shop (Minnetonka): 2-10 p.m. Saturdays.

• The Wine Thief: 5-8 p.m. Fridays and 3-7 p.m. Saturdays.

• WineStyles: 5-8 p.m. Wednesdays at Shakopee, 5-8 p.m. Thursdays at Champlin, 5:30-8 p.m. Thursdays at Medina, 5:30-8:30 p.m. Fridays at Woodbury.

• Zipp's: 3-7 p.m. or thereabouts (hey, it's casual there) Fridays and Saturdays.

Bill Ward • .