It's a grand time to be entertaining with wine, to dress up your party with some tasty fermented grape juice. Not just because we're embarking upon holiday season, and notwithstanding that any day that ends in "y" is a good time to be entertaining with wine.

No, it's largely because of the current economic situation, which has prompted a new approach in wine stores. "We have more sales than ever," a Surdyk's employee told me recently, "and if a wine is not on sale, some customers won't even look at it."

A glut of fermented grape juice has contributed to the raft of screaming bargains out there, as growers and vintners have been forced to sell quality grapes and wine at significantly lower tariffs. A recent sale at Morelli's included a bunch of absolutely delicious wines at insane prices, less than half what they cost two years ago.

So entertaining with quality wine should be cheaper than ever. Here's how to make it even more economical -- and easier.

Be $elective: Just because a wine is "on sale," or cheap to begin with, doesn't make it a bargain. If it's crummy or even mediocre (given all the good stuff out there), it's not a smart buy at any price.

Take the low road: Stick with low alcohol, lest your guests need a cab ride home or one of your beds. Sweet German Rieslings and muscat/moscato (still or sparkling) and drier vinho verdes from Portugal often have less than 10 percent alcohol. Some European reds get down around 12.5 percent. Ask your wine purveyor for some direction here.

The spice of life: If possible, have an array on hand, ideally including some bubbly, a sweet white, light- and full-bodied whites and light- and full-bodied reds. Given recent consumer trends, including a pinot grigio, malbec and pinot noir among the offerings is a good idea.

Case the joint: You should get at least a 10 percent discount on 12 regularly priced bottles, even if it's a dozen different wines. If a store doesn't provide that, consider taking your business elsewhere.

Have a "talker" or two: Include a wine made in Minnesota (from the red Marquette or white La Crescent grapes), or something you found on a recent trip or restaurant outing, or wine(s) that you've enjoyed with some of your guests.

Do the math: A standard 750-milliliter bottle (25.5 ounces) contains five 5-ounce pours. Figure one glass per hour, more or less, and you'll need less than a half-bottle per guest for a two-hour gathering; up to three-quarters of a bottle per guest for something a good bit longer.

Go with some H2O: Have plenty of water available and encourage guests who are having wine for two-plus hours to consume some. Also, no matter what other food you're serving, it's good to have some low- or no-salt crackers on hand.

Perfect pairings: They're few and far between, so just try to get close. First and foremost, remember that rich, robust wines require cheeses and appetizers with similar attributes to stand up to them.

Use good glasses: You can get perfectly good wine glasses for $1 or less apiece at Ikea and elsewhere. If you don't have storage space for lots of glasses, you can rent them for less than $1 apiece -- and not have to wash them. There's no longer any excuse for using plastic cups.

Opening act: Unless you are using all screwcap bottles, it's best to do most of the opening before your guests arrive.

Markups: More than one guest will set down a glass and lose track of it. Invest in some wine charms or make your own ID tags to loop around the stem.

Trust thyself: You should have no qualms about sticking solely with wines that you like. It is, after all, your party.

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643