Wining & Dining
Unraveling the Mysteries of Wine Buying
8/1/2019 1:00:00 PM
Wine Buying

Walking into a retail wine shop or the wine section of a grocery store can be quite overwhelming. Whether you are looking for a bottle for a special date night or a case for a weekend party, there is a lot of pressure to choose something that everyone will like and not break the bank. Unfortunately, higher price does not mean higher quality and the variety of wines from different countries can make picking the right one intimidating for many people. 

Let’s consider three steps to make that process a little less daunting: 

Consider the setting. Think about where you will drink the wine. Is it for an outdoor party in the summer, where a rosé or light white wine may work, or is it a romantic winter dinner, with roasted meat, suitable for a red wine? These environmental considerations will establish an overall framework and get you thinking about the direction you need to head in the store. Paring the wine with the food and even external factors like music, temperature and lighting all are part of the wine selection process. It need not be complicated. Just remember that warmer weather and lighter or spicy food is usually best for lighter white and rosé wines, whereas cooler temperatures and richer foods like meat and chocolate generally work well with reds. 

Determine the country of origin. Classic wine regions in France, Spain or Italy have a certain flavor profile and wines from California, Australia, South Africa and other newer wine producing regions have another. While it’s hard to generalize thousands of wines from a region, classic wine producing areas focus more on displaying unique characteristics from their geography like the soil, climate and specific grapes. Newer wine regions tend to focus more on the expression of fruit. For a wine drinker, this usually means that newer wine regions will be fruiter while classic wine regions will display more earthiness, some in the wine industry call this terroir – or expression of place.

Choose a specific bottle.  Here, the label is very important – unless you have the chance to taste the wines. Unfortunately, every label from every winery will be different. Even the type of information will be different. Classic regions will normally not place the names of the grapes on the level. They may only list a wine growing region. It is difficult for most buyers to know what grapes are in this wine, unless they consult a reference guide. For classic regions in Europe, look for an AOC or AOP designation on the label. This means that the wine maker needed to conform to specific standards to use that term on the label. For newer wine regions, look for specific grapes you may have tried in the past. A Pinot Noir will be lighter in color and flavor. A Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon will be deeper colored and richer in flavor. You will also find several blends that combine grapes. 

Winemakers realize that most wine is consumed quickly after purchase, so they have adapted over the years to produce styles that do not need to be stored in a dusty cellar for years. The best way to discover great wines is to explore, so don’t be afraid to make mistakes along the way to uncover what you really like. If you start with these steps, it will make the wine buying process a little less intimidating. 

Michael Biddick is a sommelier and author of the award-winning book 43 Wine Regions.

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