By Colleen Helm
Explore Big Sky Contributor

Now that the crush of the holiday season is over, we can talk about simplification without sounding cavalier. I attended several holiday parties, get-togethers and smash-ups and honestly, I’m astonished at what people call food.

Several years ago I made a pledge to eat only whole foods, but not because I’m some sort of hippie who wants to change the world. I found myself with adult onset allergies and it became a necessity – and it was a challenge. So I started cooking for myself and in the process learned that you can concentrate on quality without being fussy. That goes for wine too.

You don’t need to drink a $100 bottle every night. There are many tiny producers that make really great wine, but you never hear about them because of their size. This is where the fun part comes in.

My husband and I like to reserve some time to slow things way down, using a “date night” kind of theme. The food is whole and regional, perhaps a thick-cut pork chop from a regional ranch, grilled to medium and served over Italian plums, roasted with olive oil, black pepper and rosemary. Then we’ll do a fresh kale salad with pomegranate, orange and pistachios, drizzled with French Lavender oil and Anjou Pear balsamic vinegar.

The wine is usually from some of the lesser-known regions like France’s Languedoc or Italy’s Abruzzo. You can get phenomenal wine across the board from these places, but more specifically you can also get the entry-level wine from a relatively famous Chateau for $20 or less. Obscure, native grape varietals can also be fantastic buys – some even less than $15 – and are often delicious and an exercise in exploration.

So, don’t fall into the post-holiday trap of thinking that you’re going to save a ton of money buying more popular wines. As the old adage goes, you can go broke saving money. Instead, concentrate on quality, not quantity. Slow things down and invest in experiences. Shop at locally owned stores for date night or time with the kids.

Finding good wine can be a rewarding scavenger hunt that will leave you amazed at what folks have to offer right here in the Gallatin Valley, as well as a discovery of the effort people make to bring high-quality ingredients to southwest Montana.

Colleen Helm bought Bozeman’s Vino per Tutti in 2012 after spending more than 20 years in the finance industry, and earned her Certified Sommelier designation in 2014. She started cooking and tasting wine at an early age and lived in both Italy and Germany for a number of years, gaining Italian citizenship and a healthy appreciation for European wine and beer.