If you don’t know much about wine, even buying a bottle may seem intimidating — the choices among wine types, brands, labels, and prices seem almost infinite. Here are a few tips to make your enjoyement grow, through learning.
Narrow the field
Before visiting a store, decide how much you want to spend and whether you want a white, blush or red wine. This will narrow your choices and provide some direction for the staff person helping you.
Try to shop at stores with staff trained to help customers make decisions. All wine shops offer this service and, these days, more and more supermarkets and upscale groceries do, too. These people are familiar with the wines they sell and can steer you in the right direction once they know your preferences white vs. red, dry vs. sweet, light vs. heavy — and the occasion.
You can also get further recommendations from newspaper, magazine and on-line wine columnists and from wine-knowledgeable friends. You can also consult wine websites of reference.
Notice storage conditions
It is important to purchase wine from stores that take proper care of their inventory. Extreme heat or cold, direct sunlight, and dramatic temperature fluctuations are enemies of wine. If you notice any of these conditions in a store, it’s probably best not to shop there. Also, before you buy, make sure the wine is filled up to the neck of the bottle, the cork is not pushing out of the bottle, and there are no signs of leakage.
Taste before buying
Many wine shops offer wine tasting, so you can sample before buying. Charitable wine tastings, local wine tasting classes, and winery tasting rooms (if you live near, or are visiting, a wine region) also offer this opportunity. Informal tastings with friends, where you can share the cost of trying different wines, are also a great way to explore.
Don’t spend too much
Good wine is made and exported all over the globe, not only from established producers like California and Italy, but from emerging regions such as Chile, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand and Bulgaria.
This sea of quality wine keeps the lid on prices and means you can always find great values. You needn’t spend more than USD 12 per bottle to begin your wine education.
Given the above, there’s no reason not to explore the wine world in all its diversity. Don’t stick only to well-known varieties like chardonnay or cabernet — experiment with other whites like sauvignon blanc, riesling and gewurztraminer or reds like zinfandel, gamay or syrah. Also, try examples of a variety from different countries to understand how regional conditions affect wine character. Expose yourself to every type of wine.
Trust your tastes
The ultimate goal of wine buying is to buy wines that taste good to you or your guests. Just because a merchant, friend or writer says a wine is good doesn’t mean you’ll like it. Conversely, don’t shy away from a wine because someone else trashes it. The only arbiter of good taste in wine is you.