Wine Tasting Skills: Tips for Developing Your Palate

A woman sipping red wine as part of a wine tasting

Training your wine palate requires consistency, dedication, and a lot of practice. It is a skill that must be honed through hours of tasting and through noting and memorizing the smaller nuances that make different vintages and grape varietals distinct. While there are those who have a naturally attuned wine palate, wine tasting skills should and can be developed.  In this article, we will provide simple techniques and tips that you can use to help strengthen your ability to discern notes of fruit, floral, earthy, herbal and so much more.  The Art of Wine Tasting: Why a Developed Palate is Key The palate is triggered by four senses: sight, smell, feel (texture) and taste. In order to prime your palate, you need to ensure that you are fully engaged with each of these senses during the wine tasting experience. Only once you have mastered the skill of harmonizing all of the aforementioned senses, then you will notice an improvement in your ability to better detect various aromas and notes more easily.  Properly tasting wine should bring an elevated experience to your enjoyment of the product. That is why practicing and developing your palate is key in taking that enjoyment to the next level. Once you have mastered these wine tasting skills, you will notice your taste preferences broadening which will open your eyes, mind and palate to a wider range of wine.  Wine Tasting Skills: Tips for Training Your Palate Whether you are tasting at an event, in the comfort of your own home or with a group of friends, there are helpful tips and techniques you can use as part of wine palate training. These exercises will allow you to hone your analytical wine skills as well as refine your wine vocabulary.   Follow Your Nose A wine’s smell will play a large role in your perception of the wine before your glass even reaches your lips. Sniffing your wine prior to tasting will give you an immediate sense of a wine’s aroma. Having said that, it is essential to swirl your wine glass first as this will introduce oxygen and therefore, the aromas will open up.  Once the wine has been aerated, you can proceed to experience the aromas more profoundly. As part of developing your wine palate, training your nose to decipher between savoury and sweet notes such as spices or fruit aromas will tremendously improve your confidence in a tasting.  To train your nose, take time to smell fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs at a grocery or market. This will help with building a catalogue of smells in your mind as the olfactory system is linked to memory and this will really help you in identifying them when wine tasting. Take Some Air With Each Sip Since some flavours in a wine are only triggered in the presence of oxygen, you must learn the art of aspiration. This requires you to take a small sip of the wine and suck a bit of air into your mouth …

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The Importance of Understanding Wine Aroma

A man sniffing a glass of white wine as part of wine tasting.

We’ve spoken previously about the importance of mastering wine tasting skills in order to truly appreciate every glass of wine. One of the core basics of wine tasting is identifying the nose of a wine – its condition, intensity, and aroma characteristics.  As you may already know, determining a wine’s aromatic profile is just as important as being able to decipher whether a wine is bitter, salty, or sweet. After all, our first initial impression of a wine is based on the scents that we can identify – and the memories that they evoke.  Below, we discuss the importance of understanding aromas in wine and detail the core aroma compounds that can be found in a wine. If you’re looking to improve your next wine tasting, the insights noted below will help you achieve that.  Wine Basics: Why You Need to Understand A Wine’s Aromas There will always be those who roll their eyes when you use descriptors for wine aroma. Can you really denote hints of rose petal, grapefruit, and clay pot just by sniffing a wine? The answer is yes and it is cemented in scientific reasoning.  Our olfactory system allows us to discern between millions of aromas at any given moment. In fact, our sense of smell affects how our brain processes flavour. When evaluating and tasting a wine, the primary method by which this is done is by detecting the aromas. Therefore, having a mental library of scents that you can rely on is beneficial and will noticeably improve your wine tasting skills.  It is important to note that in wine tasting there is generally a distinction between a wine’s “aroma” and its “bouquet”. Aromas refer to the scents that are unique to different grape varieties. A wine’s bouquet, on the other hand, will note those scents that have been created due to chemical reactions during the winemaking process or exposure to oak.  The Core Aroma Compounds Found in Wine Aromas are a result of organic chemical compounds that are found in various grape varietals. Others known as esters are created during the fermentation process. Depending on how sensitive our nose is and how concentrated the compounds are, our brains can naturally decipher many of these core aroma compounds.  Below, we note the core compounds that every wine enthusiast should familiarize themselves with:  Terpenes – Terpenes are compounds that naturally reside in the skin of a grape. They are also commonly found elsewhere in nature such as flowers and plants. These compounds are responsible for scents such as rose petals, desert sage, lavender, white pepper and floral citrus aromas.  Thiols – The thiol compound is responsible for those bittersweet fruit aromas. Oftentimes in small amounts, they appear quite fruity. However, in large quantities, they can appear more earthy or smoky. Three classic examples of thiols are grapefruit in a Sauvignon Blanc, black currant in Merlot and chocolate in an Argentine Malbec. Pyrazines – Pyrazines are an organic compound that are common in various grape varietals. They …

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Top Ontario Restaurants To Order Wine & Food From Right Now

Although we can’t physically dine at Ontario restaurants during COVID-19, we can still do our part to support them by continuing to order food and wine online.

  While all industries are struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant and hospitality industry certainly has been one of the hardest hit since the beginning of this crisis.  According to the latest news reports, social distancing restrictions in Ontario will be effect until potentially halfway through the summer season. Yet, there is still uncertainty as to how and when measures will be loosened.  As the isolation period rolls by, a number of restaurants in cities like Toronto and Ottawa have sadly been forced to close their doors permanently. The restaurant industry needs our help now more than ever. Below are ways you can show your support.  How You Can Support Restaurants In Ontario During COVID-19 With the capacities of most food and wine establishments across the province limited, many questions have arisen such as: Will our favourite restaurants still be around in a post-Coronavirus world? How will this impact the culinary experiences that we have become accustomed to?  Fortunately, there are many ways that you can continue to support restaurants in Ontario during this unprecedented time. Many individuals are choosing to donate to organizations that are fundraising to support restaurant workers who may have lost their jobs or are struggling due to a lack of income. Another popular form of support is buying gift vouchers for your favourite restaurants to be used when they re-open.  More recently, some agents have come together with a Restaurant Relief Case, which is a mix of 12 wines from 12 different agencies. A portion of the proceeds goes to help participating restaurants and Community Food Centres Canada. However, the best way that you can immediately help your local restaurant community is to order wine and food for takeout and delivery. Rest assured that gestures like this are highly appreciated by those involved in the restaurant industry.  Top Ontario Restaurants To Order Wine & Food From Small Winemakers Collection has been fortunate to work with many restaurants across Ontario as a wine agent for over 20 years. And we’d like to encourage you all to do your part and support local restaurants in any small way that you can.  Below is a list of some of the restaurants across Ontario that are continuing to make their food and wine menus available while observing health and safety guidelines.  Ottawa Restaurants Pelican Seafood Market & Grill, 1500 Bank Street Sur-Lie Restaurant, 110 Murray Street Das Lokal Kitchen & Bar, 190 Dalhousie Street Evoo Greek Kitchen, 438 Preston Street Mati Restaurant, 428 Preston Street  Pubblico Eatery, 1331 Wellington St. West Brassica Restaurant, 309 Richmond Road Town Restaurant, 296 Elgin Street Trattoria Caffe Italia, 254 Preston Street Vittoria Trattoria, 3625 Rivergate Way East India Company, 210 Somerset Street West North & Navy Italian Kitchen, 226 Nepean Street Kingston Restaurants Atomica Kitchen, 71 Brock Street Days On Front Restaurant, 730 Front Road Red House West, 629 Fortune Crescent Wooden Heads Pizza, 192 Ontario Street Harper’s Burger Bar, 93 Princess Street Casa Domenico, 35 Brock Street Olivea Restaurant, 39 …

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What is the Best Closure, Cork or Screw Cap?

wine cork in bottle and corkscrew

What is the Best Closure, Cork or Screw Cap? We were recently part of an interesting experiment in our office. With considerable foresight, two New Zealand producers had bottled their 2002 Sauvignon Blanc under both cork and screwcap and tucked them away in the cellar. Eighteen years later we were able to see what the impact of these two closures was on the wines. Which was the better closure, cork or screwcap? Certainly, the wines were very different. The ones sealed with cork were deep in colour. The aromas showed dried fruit flavours (apricot, dried apple, dried pineapple) and the typical herbaceous notes of grass and green pepper had turned to canned peas and asparagus. But the wines were still alive, albeit quite different from what they would have been upon release. The wines under screwcap were very different from the ones under cork. However, they were also different from what they would have been upon release. They also had a deep colour, indicative of long aging, and the noses showed developed fruit, though not to the extent that the wine under cork did. It was like these wines were the younger brothers of the corked wine: aged, but just not quite as much. All told it was a fascinating exercise. This article will explore the differences between cork and screwcap. The History of the Cork? Throughout history, various materials have been used to seal bottles including cloth, leather, clay and wax. For a long time, glass was widely used but being hand blown, a uniform seal was difficult to obtain. It was only in the late 1600’s that it became possible to create glass wine bottles of an almost uniform shape and design, thus allowing cork to become the stopper of choice. Cork was chosen for many reasons but the main one being that the material is malleable and can expand and contract to the shape of the bottle neck so as to be almost air tight. This is an important point. A seal should limit the exposure of oxygen to wine, since oxygen destroys wine much the way it turns an apple brown. Nevertheless, small amounts of oxygen are important to allow a wine to develop. Cork allows a very small amount of oxygen to travel into the bottle so that the wine can develop tertiary qualities as well as expel unwanted gases and aromas. Natural wine corks come from the cork oak tree or Quercus suber. Cork oak trees are first harvested at about 25 years of age. The trees are not cut down, but rather stripped of bark. Only about half of the bark is harvested at any one time, so it can grow back without killing the tree. The cork will not be harvested from the same tree in another 9 to 12 years. Each tree can be harvested approximately 12 times, as it is common for the trees to live to 200 years old. The largest cork producing countries are Portugal, Spain, Italy and …

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A How-To Guide To Decanting Wine

Decanting wine is a great way to open up a wine to its full potential and elevate the overall tasting experience. With the right tips, this is a process you can do easily from your own home.

All wine connoisseurs will have heard of the term ‘decant’ and it is not unusual to see a sommelier in a fine dining restaurant decanting a bottle of wine before serving to a table. However, many are still unaware as to what this process is or why it is carried out. Below, we walk you through a how-to guide to decanting wine.  Wine Decanting: What Is This Process? Simply, the process of decanting wine is the act of slowly transferring the contents of a wine bottle into another receptacle without disrupting any sediment. Wine is typically poured into a glass vessel called a decanter. There are many different types of decanters including the swan, duck, cornett, and more standard options.  While the act itself sounds quite straightforward, there are other considerations that must be kept in mind. One of the many reasons why wine lovers approach this process with hesitation is because they aren’t fully confident as to the means for which it’s needed. For example, which bottles require decanting? Or, in what way should I be decanting the wine?  Why Is Decanting Wine Needed And Does It Make A Difference? Wine decanting isn’t just purely for spectacle and flourish. Rather, it is a process that seeks to elevate the wine experience and therefore, the appreciation of wine.  The question of why is often what causes the most confusion. Generally, as wines are laid flat in cellars, sediment tends to become distributed throughout the bottle. If left like this for a long period of time, it can lead to a more than sour-tasting experience if pouring straight from the bottle.  Fundamentally, wine decanting offers the following benefits:  Separates sediment from the liquid: Sediment isn’t necessarily harmful to wine but it certainly isn’t pleasant to taste. Red wines tend to contain the most sediment, especially older wines and vintage ports.  Enhances flavour through aeration: Allowing wine to ‘breathe’ by aerating it enhances the wine’s flavour by allowing the tannins to soften and releasing gases that developed through lack of oxygen in the bottle.  Recovers wine from a broken cork: It is not uncommon for a cork to break when opening a bottle of wine. If this happens, decanting the wine can ensure that no solid pieces stay in liquid and get transferred into your glass.  You may wonder exactly how much of a difference this makes to the wine tasting experience. If so, you wouldn’t be the first. The reality is that decanting wine not only ensures that an astringent taste isn’t left on the palate due to sediment but also opens up the aromas of a wine. For many wines, especially young wines, decanting before serving gives the wine’s flavour profile the opportunity to fully flourish. Therefore, enhancing the tasting experience.  How To Decant Wine: A How-To Guide  Next, you will need to learn exactly how this process is carried out. When it comes to wine decanting, there are two main methods: by sediment or by oxygen. Below, we guide …

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Tannins In Wine Vs Acidity: What’s the Main Difference?

Tannins in wine vs acidity: Use these easy tips to learn how to taste the difference

Learning how to distinguish between the different tastes and structural elements in wine is an essential part of the wine tasting process. As a beginner, it’s easy to confuse wine tannins with wine acidity and assume that everything you taste falls along a single spectrum.  In fact, there are a variety of characteristics of wine, each with its own spectrum of intensity. These characteristics are sweetness, acidity, tannin, body, and alcohol. The easiest ones to confuse are tannin and acidity. Learning how to taste the difference between these two characteristics allows you to further refine your palate, and choose the best wine to suit your particular taste. Distinguishing Tannins From Acid: Their Core Differences  When learning how to distinguish wine tannins from acid, it’s helpful to first learn what they are and where they come from.  Tannins are chemical compounds — molecules of varying sizes and shapes that bind to proteins in your mouth and cause an astringent, sometimes bitter, drying sensation. They are naturally found in many things such as tea, coffee, chocolate and wine. The tannins in wine come from the skins, stems, and seeds of the wine grape.  This is why red wine is much more tannic than white wine – there’s more contact between the juice and the skins, seeds, and stems of the grape. Oak barrels that are sometimes used for ageing can also impart their tannins into the wine.  Acid is also a compound found in wine, but it contributes freshness and causes salivation. Furthermore, acids are generally sour, rather than bitter. Finally, while tannins are found in some, usually red, wines, acidity is found in all wines.  Acidity is a necessary structural component that balances sweetness, alcohol and the bitterness of tannins. Too much acidity can make a wine seem tart and light, while too little acidity can make a wine taste cloying and clumsy.  Well-balanced acidity is the key to making a smooth, drinkable wine. The Important Roles They Both Play Tannin and acid are both extremely important characteristics of wine. They add balance and complexity, and each do their part in making every vintage of wine unique. In addition to their taste, they each play a unique role in the winemaking process. Wine Tannins The more tannins in wine, the better it ages. Research on tannins also suggests that it brings its own unique health benefits. The polyphenols present in the tannic skins, seeds, and stems of grapes have been shown to inhibit the growth of plaque on blood vessels, lowering our risk for cardiovascular disease. Wine Acidity Wine acidity plays a central role in determining how a wine feels on our tongue. A wine with more acid feels refreshing and bright. Sweeter, less acidic wines feel heavier and fuller-bodied. When someone says that wine is crisp or fresh, they are referring to its great acidity.  There are several different types of acids in wines. The most common is tartaric acid which as the name suggests is tart, but is also …

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Wine Serving Guide: How Much Does Temperature Matter?

wine serving guide

It may seem obvious that a wine that is too warm or too cold can be detrimental to a wine’s enjoyment. However, did you know that small changes in serving temperature can change a wine’s aromas and flavours, making the difference between a beautiful glass of wine and something boring, flat, or nondescript? Serving wine at the correct temperature has a huge impact on the overall experience of wine-tasting. Wine served at the correct temperature enhances the overall experience and allows unique aromas and flavours to come forward. Many wine labels will let you know the recommended serving temperature, but it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the overall guidelines for each type. How Temperature Can Affect the Taste Of Wine Temperature affects the way we drink wine because different aromas become apparent or more pronounced at different temperatures. And the smell of wine has a large impact on our enjoyment of it. When wine is served too cold, the delicate aromas that are such a critical part of wine may become muted. This makes the wine feel flat and uninspiring. It can also emphasize the tannins in red wine, making a glass of Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon feel astringent and sour. When wine is too warm, the taste of the alcohol is much more apparent, and it overpowers more subtle flavours.  Wine Serving Temperature Guide Each wine has its own specific wine serving temperature, and it can really benefit your bottles to serve them at the correct temperature. If you’ve been wondering how to serve wine at the exact right temperature, just follow this handy guide.   Sparkling Wine Ideally, sparkling wine is served ice cold. By serving your Prosecco or Champagne chilled, you keep the bubbles sparkly and fine, rather than overwhelmingly frothy and foamy like a soda. Think between 40 and 50°F, or between 5 and 10°C. You can use the freezer, but don’t leave it in for longer than an hour or it could explode! White Wine The ideal wine serving temperature for white wine is between 44- 57°F, or 7-14°C. The standard refrigerator will get your white wine to this temperature in an hour or two. Between pours, make sure to put the bottle back in the fridge or in an ice bucket so it doesn’t get too warm sitting at room temperature. Light Red Wine A light red wine should ideally be served cool, but not cold. Moving the bottle from the countertop to the fridge a half-hour before serving gives it a nice chill, but won’t make it too cold to enjoy. This would be somewhere between 53-63°F, or 12-17°C. Full-Bodied Red Wine Many people follow the rule that red wine should be served at room temperature. The problem is “room temperature” was post-war English room temperature, which was decidedly cooler than it is today.  Full-bodied red wines like Chianti and Bordeaux benefit from being served slightly cool, which is considered anywhere between 63- 69°F or 17-21°C. If your wine has a higher level of tannins, …

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Tannins Explained: A Guide to Tannins In Wine

Tannins will not be a new term for many wine tasters but are still a source of confusion. Their origins and the impact they have on the tasting experience is mystifying to many. This article acts as a guide to help you to understand what tannins are, what they do and their importance in a wine’s profile. A Guide To Tannins: What Are They And Where Do They Come From? Tannins are naturally occurring compounds that exist in many natural sources, including grapes. These compounds or polyphenols are found inside grape skins, seeds and stems. Tannins provide texture and a mouthfeel to the wine, as well as a sense of weight and structure. They also bind with proteins in saliva, drying out your mouth. This is why red wines typically pair so well with red meats – the tannins bind with the proteins in the meat, making them less astringent on your palate. Tannins form the basis of the structure of many red wines – and are known for their bitter or astringent components. How tannic a wine’s profile is will depend on a number of factors including grape variety, vineyard conditions, winemaking practices and vintage variation. For example, cooler climates tend to yield a more aggressive tannin. While the tannins of grapes grown in warmer climates are considered to be smoother and larger. As well, some varieties are more tannic than others. Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, is high in tannins, while Pinot Noir is typically much lower. Tannins In Wine: Knowing Their Importance Yet, what exactly is the importance of tannin being present in wine? They help to define the character of the wine while adding texture. Many winemakers will vary the winemaking process depending on the tannic outcome they are looking to achieve. The aim is to ensure that enough of a grape’s tannin is extracted during the maceration process. The more characteristics extracted, the deeper the complexity and personality of the wine. Another reason why they are important is the way they act as a natural antioxidant that protects the wine. This is one of the reasons why some red wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, can be age-worthy. Antioxidants play an essential role in the aging process of wine, while also providing great health benefits. Describing Wine Tannins During A Tasting For many oenophiles, being able to describe tannins during a wine tasting is a wonderful skill to have. However, it can be difficult to differentiate tannins from other structural elements of a wine, such as the acidity and alcohol. While tannins are known for their bitterness or astringency, there are differences in the quality of a tannin. For example, tannins that are “unripe” or “green” can leave a bitter taste and make a wine unpleasant, especially if they are not balanced by enough fruit. However, “ripe” or “fine grained” tannins can feel velvety in the mouth and have no trace of bitterness. Next time that you are tasting a glass of red wine, note the following observations: …

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Tasting Blind: A Step by Step Guide To Blind Wine Tasting For Sommeliers

A blind wine tasting is part of the test that all certified sommeliers must undergo. The truth is that anyone can learn the skills of a sommelier with practice. You need to work to refine your senses and structurally categorize the different qualities that make each wine grape, region and ageing practice unique. Maybe you are interested in developing your wine identification skills, or maybe you want to host a blind wine tasting at home. Here are some basic pointers to help you get started. Defining The ‘Tell’: Identifying A Wine’s Identity For a blind tasting, your eyes, nose, palate and memory all need to be up to the challenge. As you gain more experience in wine tasting, you will soon be able to discern a wine’s “tell” that helps you identify the classic wine grapes and region grown. Here are just a couple of examples from sommeliers identifying wines at a blind wine tasting hosted by Andrea Robinson: Sancerre Blanc 2013: Not enough pyrazines (herbaceous notes) for a New Zealand wine, but too much to be from most other places. Vouvray Sec 2012: A wet wool or beeswax character and “a certain old muskiness like an antique shop.” California Viognier 2012: Picking out the hints of jasmine, chervil and sweet basil amidst the opulent fruit. If you are just beginning your wine tasting journey you can not expect to have this level of granular expertise. Instead, you should focus on mastering the basic steps to categorize the different qualities of wine. Step-by-Step Guide: Improve Your Blind Tasting Skills Being able to identify a wine involves developing a system of structured tasting and observation. As you try more wines and categorize them, you build up an internal database of the unique qualities that define different wine grapes and regions. The three categories by which sommeliers assess a wine in a blind tasting are Visual, Nose\Palate, and Structure. The system they use has been handily made into the wine tasting grid below published by Wine Folly. You can print this guide and fill it out for each wine you taste, blind or no, to improve your categorization. Here’s a basic breakdown of the categories by which you assess wine. Colour Hold your glass angled away from you over a white surface to properly observe the colour. The primary colour and brightness of a wine can be indicative of a variety, age or climate. A secondary colour can also be observed in the meniscus (the edge of the wine in a glass) of red wine, or as a subtle hue of a white wine observed under a light. This can speak to the acidity of the wine, which can give you a hint as to the grape type (some have higher acid than others) or region (cooler regions tend to produce more acid than warmer regions). Lastly, the viscosity of the wine helps you identify the level of alcohol in the wine. Nose\Palate First smell, then taste. You can make a determination …

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Navigating A Wine List: A Helpful Guide

Matching the perfect wine to a dish in a restaurant can often leave diners feeling frustrated. Feeling perplexed by a wine list is not uncommon and many often tend to go with a familiar option when under pressure. Yet, this doesn’t have to be the case. This article will guide wine enthusiasts on the best way to navigate a restaurant wine list and ensure that your wine choice will elevate your dining experience to new heights. Perfecting Your Restaurant Experience A restaurant experience should be one you cannot duplicate at home. The chef is careful to source beautiful ingredients and combine them in a way that builds layers of complex flavours that you cannot make at home. Try to stray a little outside your comfort zone. Don’t just order the same wine you drink regularly. As many oenophiles know, the principles of wine pairing can help to enhance your dining experience. These same principles can be of assistance when navigating a restaurant wine list. If you find the thought of choosing from a restaurant wine list daunting, here are some helpful tips. Navigational Tips For Choosing The Perfect Wine As we have mentioned before, the basic principles of wine pairing can often help us in finding our way around a restaurant’s wine list. There are a number of core elements to keep In mind when choosing the right bottle. However, while matching wine with food is great, the most important thing is that you have a wine you enjoy drinking. If that means throwing out the principals of wine pairing, then so be it. It’s your night out! Select A Region It is often helpful to decide what country you would like to drink first. There are two benefits to this approach. First, it helps to narrow down the wine list dramatically, which is especially useful if the list is more than a page or two. Secondly, however, it also helps to match the region of the wine with the origin of the food. Wine often has a symbiotic relationship with the culinary traditions of the region in which it is grown, so pairing a wine based on place can help you choose a good match. For example, if you have ordered a dish with strong Italian and Mediterranean influences such as tomatoes and olives, this may guide you to choose a wine from Italy, Southern France, Western Spain, Greece or even North Africa. As they say, “What grows together goes together.” Decide What You Want To Spend Price should be a consideration when choosing a wine. However, don’t just choose the most expensive wine on the list because you think it must be best. Likewise, don’t just chose the least expensive because you think it is the best deal. A good restaurant will develop a wine list to accommodate most budgets and you should first decide how much you would like to spend. A good rule of thumb is to consider 2 to 3 times what you normally spend …

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