How to Buy Wine
Wednesday, 28 September 2011
With prices that range from a few bucks a bottle to tens of thousands a crate, colours that pass from light white through rosé to deep red, and flavours described in terms as subtle as herbs and as bold as oak, choosing a wine from the hundreds of varieties on display even in a supermarket can be bewildering. How can you tell whether the bottle you pick up to accompany your dinner will enhance the meal or serve as a second dose of vinegar?
There are no clear rules when it comes to buying wine but there are a few useful guidelines.
Taste, for example, is a better guide than price. An expensive wine will often contain a more complex suite of flavours which makes it worth paying for if your palate is trained enough to spot them. But for more casual buyers the difference between a $30 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and an $80 bottle whose winery has managed to add hints of tobacco, berries and a heavier body may be lost. Rather than using a higher price as a guide to higher quality, look instead at the type of wine you know you like.
According to Carl York, beverage director at New York restaurant SHO Shaun Hergatt, the best rule is to buy the wine you know you'll drink. “Don't buy wine based on labels or what some critic you never follow recommends in a magazine because you don't know their tastes, only yours,” he told Saveur Magazine. “If they recommend a huge, bold wine, I won't try it because that's not the flavour profile I like.”
If you know you’ve enjoyed Merlot then, the simplest way to narrow down your search is by heading to the bottles that contain that grape.
That’s safe, but not particularly exciting. For the more adventurous drinkers, York also argues that wines from small vineyards are likely to be both better and cheaper than those from major producers because their owners are more focused on the quality of the product than the price of mass production. And lower cost wines, he says, also have the advantage of being produced to be drunk now rather than maturing over time to be poured in the future.
The best advice is to stick to a label and a grape variety that you know you like, branch out with small producers and low prices — and to find a small wine store that can guide you to new tastes that match your palate.